tips for selecting wines for your next event

advice for selecting wines for your next event from a wine expert

Wine is a big part of many events. Event planners (and good hostesses) need to know at least a little bit about wine in order to select menus for their events. I like to think of myself as a fan of wine (or at least vineyarding) and I know a little bit – but I’m certainly not an expert. Since selecting wines is a topic that many a planner and hostess may feel some anxiety over, I reached out to a true expert – David White, founder and editor of, the award-winning daily wine blog. David offers his advice on selecting a wine menu and hits on some current wine trends.

Planning It All: How many wines should an event planner serve at a cocktail party or dinner event? At a wedding?

David: I typically urge event planners to go with three wines — one white, one red, and one sparkler.

Anything beyond three wines creates needless confusion. Events already cause enough headaches — the last thing you need is a guest asking which red matches the entrée or which white goes better with the salad course. So keep it simple and let guests drink whichever wine they prefer.

Of course, plenty of friends reject this advice. That’s fine, but definitely don’t offer more than five wines – two whites, two reds, and one sparkler.

Whether you’re organizing a policy conference, a large dinner, or a wedding, remember that your event should come off as a celebration — not a wine tasting

Napa Valley makes some exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon. But it’s nearly impossible to find a decent bottle for less than $25. Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley produces some lovely Chardonnay, but most cost $20 or more.

Planning It All: Are there certain wines that are crowd pleasers that most guests enjoy? Are there wines that are polarizing or many guests might dislike?

David: When I’m asked to help select a crowd-pleasing white, I often suggest Albarino, a high-acid, aromatic variety grown across northwest Spain. Good Albarino is almost always a hit, as it’s appealing to almost every white wine drinker – it has qualities that remind me of Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

When I’m asked to help select a crowd-pleasing red, I typically steer people towards Spanish Grenache. Most Spanish vintners produce Grenache that’s juicy and approachable, like Pinot Noir, but ripe, like Cabernet Sauvignon. So it appeals to almost every red wine drinker.

Of course, it’s important remember the crowd. While values are easier to find with obscure grapes from outside popular wine regions, some guests might be terrified of grapes with names they can’t pronounce.

If that’s your audience, consider an unpopular grape from the United States, like Merlot from Washington State, or a popular grape from an unpopular region, like South Africa.

This is painful to say, but if you’re only selecting one white and one red, you should probably just steer clear of polarizing varieties. Unfortunately, many novice consumers think all Chardonnay tastes like movie theater popcorn and all Riesling is sweet and simple.

Both these assumptions are totally false, but again, your event isn’t a wine tasting – so skip the wine education seminar!

Planning It All: Are there any trends in wines that planners can incorporate into their events?

David: Absolutely – local wine.

A couple of years ago, Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post explained why regional wine matters. “It’s easy to think of local wineries as novelties instead of neighbors. But as we increasingly support local farmers and ranchers, why not vintners as well? Viticulture is agriculture. Locavore should be locapour.”

He’s right. And fortunately, more and more critics and consumers are taking regional wine seriously.

For one thing, good wine can be made virtually everywhere. Almost every week, I’m surprised by a wine from somewhere obscure — whether it’s nation, like Slovenia, or a state, like Michigan.

Plus, today’s wine drinkers are adventurous.

Local wine inspires conversation and surprises people, so would make for a great addition to any event.


Thanks so much to David White for sharing some suggestions for event planners! Another challenge that nonprofit planners like me often face is how to offer great wine on a beer budget. To read David’s suggestions, read his post at Grape Collective.

Photo Credits: { Hope at Home }


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