Buying wine for parties throws up a number of pitfalls. Adam Lechmere has the wines to buy in bulk that your guests will love and won’t break the bank
Winter parties, if you’re having one this year, present a peculiar difficulty when it comes to choosing the wine. For a summer soirée, there are any number of good-value fresh whites and light reds that can be drunk without substantial amounts of food. But winter demands more robust wines, and good, solid reds with some sort of sophistication have to be chosen with care. Then there’s the cost. If you’re having 30 or 40 people round for a convivial evening, you’re going to need at least a couple of cases of white and red – and unless you’re reading this in St Moritz, you’re probably not going to want to splash out on grand cru burgundy in those sorts of quantities. And nor should you – people standing up with a pulled-pork bun in their hands are not going to be giving the wine the attention it deserves. But that’s not to say you should lay on the cheapest merlot and sauvignon blanc you can find: you want to pay your guests the compliment of something fine and complex, but not too expensive.
The great thing about contemporary winemaking styles is that the over-ripe fruit bombs we were so used to in the Nineties are now much easier to avoid. Your jam-detecting antennae might start twitching at the mention of affordable Chile, for example, but there are some lovely crisp styles around. The Viu Manent Carmenere below is an example; Oddbins also has a fine selection of no-nonsense Italian reds – have a look at its £6.75 Gufo Rosso from Abruzzo, which is charmingly light and fresh with a bright, red-berry nose (and what could be more festive than that?).
I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I didn’t mention Rioja, surely the most reliable wine region in the world. I’ve recommended Ramón Bilbao’s fine Viñedos de Altura below, and was much impressed by the young team at a start-up called Paco García. Their lively Seis tempranillo has ‘party wine’ written all over it, and it costs less than £10 a bottle.
When it comes to whites, at the risk of generalising, I would steer clear of Italian pinot grigio, which – apart from some fine exceptions – can be as bland as tap water. The good news is that there’s a vast array of Italian whites on the market, from refreshing grillo and trebbiano, to the spicy garganega and a minerally cortese. The Zensa Fiano tastes of honey and white lowers, delivered with tingling acidity. Another Sicilian white to look out for is the Tannu Bianco (Oddbins), which has a grapefruit and mineral palate, all for the price of a cinema ticket.
My other two whites below are wines I’d take anywhere. Tyrrell’s is synonymous with luscious and ageworthy Hunter Valley Sémillon (get hold of a bottle of their Vat 1), and its Lost Block is a crisp delight, with real heft for a wine with 11.5% alcohol. Finally, I’ve mentioned the self-effacing English couple Jack and Margaret Reckitt at Clos Rocailleux before. They’ve only been making wine for a handful of vintages, but they know what they’re doing. There’s one thing that made me hesitate with this mauzac for a party: it’s so restrained, so elegantly structured, if your guests are busy gossiping about house prices, they’ll miss its nuances. Get half a dozen, but keep them for more intimate gatherings.
Ramón Bilbao Viñedos de Altura, Rioja, Spain, 2011, £11.99
This is half-garnacha, which gives it a perfumed freshness, with lifted raspberry on the nose and interesting and juicy blackcurrant on the palate.
Secret de Viu Manent Carmenere, Chile, 2013, £11.25
Restrained, herbaceous nose with hints of violet perfume, sweet, ripe tannins and rich damson on the palate. Juicy and refreshing.
Tyrrell’s Lost Block Sémillon, Australia, 2013, £11.70
Spicy attack with grapefruit. Bracing acidity, stone fruit and real body for such low alcohol. Refreshing and dry heft ending in juice.
Clos Rocailleux Classique Mauzac Blanc Sec, France, 2013, £11.99
Slow-building and deceptively light until the structure reveals honey, white flowers, wet stones and citrus zest. Nuanced, grown-up and seductive.
Available at:Red Squirrel Wines
Zensa Nero d’Avola Terre Siciliane, Italy, 2013, £9.95
Lifted red fruit on the nose and fine-grained tannins, create charming redcurrant and red cherry on the palate; very decent length.