Monday, 22 February 2010

Dinner party dilemmas - sometimes the best invitation is a reservation

Are you one of those people who love the idea of entertaining but stress out with the reality of actually doing it? It is, after all, an exercise in planning, lots of work and, not least of all, you are psychologically baring your culinary soul and exposing your personal interpretation of style. Of course you will also be fretting over whether your guests will get along together, plus all the other house and home related items that you will need to tick off, such as oven space, timing etc. No wonder we sometimes want to give it all a miss!

All this will be running through your mind before you even give a thought to whether the wine you serve will turn the fruits of your kitchen labour into a heavenly match or render your repast a sour discordant hotch-potch. The right wine to accompany your food, even a burnt offering (better bring the brandy out for this one), can really enhance the pleasure and taste of the dish, whether it be a simple pasta supper or cuisine that is more haute style.

Entertaining at home can be great fun, and is certainly a warm and wonderful way to spend quality time with friends. It is, after all, opening up your heart (and inevitably your purse), not just your home.

Anyway, enough chat.....get cooking. Actually, first things first, get planning. In our opinion there is nothing worse as a guest than to be sat at table whilst your host (read hostess most frequently!), constantly jumps up and down in the vain effort to be everything to everyone. Relax: you are not a restaurant, your guests want your company, that’s why they are there. So here are a few guidelines to make it simple and memorable.

1. PPPPP, that’s right five P’s. Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. This can be applied to all sorts of things in life, but don’t get carried away, serendipity still has a part to play. So, sit down, glass of wine in hand (come on, the whole process should be exciting and enjoyable), and write not just the shopping list, but also a detailed plan of action. Imagine how your recipes will taste and what wine will complement the epicurean extravaganza you will produce to astound your guests.

2. Keep it simple and use quality ingredients. Make just one fantastic dish, either preceded by drinks and canapés, or followed by a couple of distinctive and well kept cheeses. We feel champagne or sparkling wine are a sure way to put guests in the party mood. Prosecco makes a fine aperitif with savoury nibbles – try Majestic's Prosecco La Marca Extra Dry NV, £7.99 if you buy two or more bottles. However if, in your opinion, only Champagne will do, check out to find out if your favourite bubbles are on offer somewhere on the High Street, - the big names usually are. If you're looking for a smart Champagne without paying the premium for a grande marque, then search out good value alternatives such as Bredon Brut NV. It's made for Waitrose, but has no mention of a supermarket on the label and is just under £20 a bottle. Alternatively, you can never go wrong with white Burgundy, and the delicious Rully 2008 from Jean-Baptiste Ponsot combines a nutty savouriness with a touch of lime. From our Dinner Party Selection.

3. It is always a good idea to stick to a theme. For example, if the main course is of Italian influence, such as lasagne, or osso buco, then the cheeses should follow suit. A deliciously ripe Gorgonzola or Dolcelatte, contrasted with a hard cheese such as the classic Parmigiano served with figs or other small fruits, fresh or dried: Bella, bella, bella! Our cheese-friendly wine suggestion is Salentein Reserve Pinot Noir 2007, from Argentina. Brace yourself for the bouquet, this is a trendy purple Argentine 15% proof cracker. It has a suave nuttiness and will seduce you with its mellow latin charm. Also part of our Dinner Party selection.

4. Put the wine on the table - and tell everyone to help themselves. That is unless you have splashed out for “staff”! Forget doing the topping up yourself, no-one wants to see you madly jumping up and down like the proverbial Jack-in-the-box: we all drink at different rates and need to feel comfortable with our consumption. (One assumes that nowadays taxis home are a pre-requisite). And remember that, while you might have selected just the right red wine to complement your duck cassoulet, guests will have their own preference for red or white, so make sure you always have both on offer.

5. Be generous. Your gesture and effort will be appreciated and will no doubt open doors literally and figuratively. You will feel good and your guests will feel treasured by your hospitality.

6. Don’t Panic – actually a bit of stage-fright nerves isn’t a bad thing, it shows you are concentrating and caring. But if it is all just too much, Get Help! The Red White and Rosé Wine Events team can solve your problems from the viniculous to the sublime.

If you love the idea of entertaining at home, but would rather not face all the planning, cooking and wine sourcing (not to mention the washing-up afterwards!), then our wine and dine service could be for you. Details are on our website:

If you love to cook, but find the wine selection a chore, then our Dinner Party wine case could be just what you need. Two bottles each of three tried and trusted wines to suit most occasions, along with tasting notes and food matching suggestions. Delivered free in and around Guildford for £74.99. More information and online ordering at:

Finally, remember that not everyone is good at everything: you may be a rocket scientist, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a decent cook! Restaurants are sometimes the perfect solution.

Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Great (and grape) expectations

Love is the greatest refreshment in life” ~ Pablo Picasso

Love, a wildly misunderstood although highly desirable malfunction of the heart, which weakens the brain, causes eyes to sparkle, cheeks to glow, blood pressure to rise and the lips to pucker.”  Anon. Is this love, or is this alcohol?

We were wondering if we could get away without mentioning the V word, as THAT DAY is fast approaching and setting hearts aflutter and stress levels soaring. No chance! The much hyped Valentines day, when anyone who does not receive a card, a bunch of flowers or a teddy emblazoned with those unimaginative, mystical, but so powerful three words, feels like they must be an unlovely freak of nature.

If this is you – just relax, you are beautiful and you deserve to celebrate yourself with a glass or several of whatever tipple takes your fancy, and don’t worry, we will be suggesting a few. Just think, you will be smugly happy whilst so many poor pairs are perspiring over a pricey dinner in pseudo pressured passion and will possibly be rueing the commercialization of what was once regarded as a day of secret trysts.

How did Valentine’s Day originate? Firstly, the timing co-incides with the ancient pagan festival of Lupercalia, celebrating the start of spring and fertility. Saint Valentine himself was said to be a priest in Roman times: he was killed and gained martyr status, because of his illicit practice of marrying couples to prevent the young men being conscripted into the army....not really very romantic.

In 1929 during the era of alcohol prohibition in America, bootleggers and profiteer mobsters such as Al Capone thrived with their strong arm, bloody and lawless tactics. (Let this be a dire warning to keep the wine flowing!) The “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre” is also relevant if you eat the typical gift of chocolate and champagne together. If you want to match your chocolates with wine HD declares there is really only one choice, PX Sherry. Intensely sweet grapes left to raisin, then fermented, fortified and aged for years to produce the stickiest, smooth and nutty liquid. You could also use it to make a sensuous treat of a pudding – pour it over the best quality vanilla ice cream, add a few raisins if you feel like it. Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference PX is just £6.99.

What I do and what I dream include thee, as the wine must taste of its’ own grapes”. ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The Saatchi Gallery in London was transformed this week as all the priceless pictures were removed from the walls and thousands of litres of wine from around the world brought in. A different type of culture indeed. This was “open day” on a grand scale and mobbed by the cognoscenti and ignorati alike! Amongst the madness we made sure that on your behalf we sampled a few bottles – some of them pink – to make recommendations for your delectation on said14th, whether for sole use or à deux, (or more). As it is a celebration and a not very serious one at that, we felt that bubbles were appropriate. So we tasted from the sublime to the ridiculous. Our “afternoon delight” was Laurent-Perrier Grande Siècle Brut, and the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, followed up with Krug Grande Cuvée, all of which we sipped, savoured and didn’t spit! These “mistress tipples” (much enjoyed by Madame Pompadour, the celebrated, enterprising and long-time mistress to King Louis XV), range in price from £90 to £180, not everyday drinking for most.

Good value at a fraction of this cost is Sainsbury’s award-winning Blanc de Noirs Brut NV at just £16.98 a bottle. However, if that you feel that flashing a supermarket label just won’t do, then Majestic’s offer on classy Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV could be just the job. It costs £24.99 if you buy two or more bottles.

Your words are my food, your breath my wine” ~ Sarah Bernhardt

Aphrodisiacs come in many forms and classically oysters with champagne are renowned for their sensual heightening properties. However, there are many other foods that claim to be libido boosting, such as the Avocado, which in Aztec language was known as the “testicle tree”.....note the shape. Ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, saffron and chilli (curry anyone?) also lay claim to have a heating effect on parts not reached by the likes of fish and chips or shepherds pie.

We suggest that to go with your curry you should forego the usual lager, and try a softly structured and fruity red such as Beaujolais-Villages Hospice de Beaujeu 2007/8 from Waitrose at £7.99: a non obvious but nevertheless great match. Or for something a little more conventional an off-dry German Riesling Pfalz 2007 by Bassermann-Jordan, also from Waitrose, at £8.99 would be really simpatico.

You could of course stick to Champagne which famously goes with anything, though perhaps this has more to do with its ability to convey celebration and a sense of occasion, rather than any innate food matching quality. However, at the risk of overstatement, a well chosen glass of wine swirled and sniffed appreciatively, left to linger on the tongue, then allowed to glide gratefully down your throat hits the spot, and the pheromones.

Other than the above our advice would be simply to avoid arguments.
We are probably all romantics at heart so enjoy this day and whatever you believe love to be, and drink an un-cynical toast to - love makes the world go round.....

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”
The Beatles ~ Abbey Road.

With love