Wine for Every Day and Every OccasionRed, White, and Bubbly to Celebrate the Joy of Living
Morrow CookbooksISBN: 0060548177
The Nouveau Thing
"I would love some recommendations for a home wine-tasting party. We want to get a total of about ten people and just try some wines that ordinarily we would not try back to back. I was wondering if you had any overarching advice. New glasses with each bottle? Salty treats between wines? Make sure everyone has a cab ride home?" — DAN PIETTE, HOUSTON
Some people say that Beaujolais Nouveau, which arrives with greatfanfare on the third Thursday of every November, is nothing morethan an excuse for a party. To which we say: "Yeah, what's yourpoint?" To us, Nouveau is such a great excuse for a party that our Nouveauparty is the only one we throw all year. It's also the perfect way to proveto yourself that a wine-tasting party can be far more fun than you everimagined.
Our party-giving days began badly. Many years ago we threw one to welcome an old friend to New York. Dottie's famous dip didn't set, the recordplayer (yes, this was a long time ago) broke midway, and it seemed asthough everyone stayed for five minutes and then said they had to go hometo put the kids to bed — although none of our friends had kids back then.The party was so notoriously bad that we're sure it's still studied at hospitalityschools all over the world. Our parties have improved since then, andwe give all the credit to the Nouveau.
Beaujolais, which is made from the Gamay grape, is one of the greatestwine bargains in the world. There is plain Beaujolais, then the slightly betterBeaujolais-Villages, and then the even better Beaujolais with names like Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent. All of them are fruity, fun, and reasonablypriced. They go with a wide variety of food, from hamburgers to salmon,and can be served at a variety of temperatures. Gosh, what more couldanyone want in a wine? These Beaujolais show up several months or ayear after the harvest, so, for example, the 2004 vintage will be on shelvessometime around the middle of 2005. Nouveau, though, is picked, fermentedvery quickly, and released right away, just weeks after harvest. Ourparties celebrate the fact that it's the first wine of the new harvest inFrance. A serious wine? No. But it is serious about being fun. It's meant tobe drunk young, when it's filled with fruit and exuberance. By tradition,it should never be consumed after the end of the year in which it wasproduced.
Because it is such an unpretentious, fun, gulpable wine — and becauseit's inexpensive — it's just the right place to start if you're thinking about awine-tasting party. Now, we're not talking here about a serious wine tastingfor a group of serious wine tasters; for more on that, see "Wine-TastingGroups," which is about how to form a wine-tasting group. Those are fun,too, but here we're talking about un-self-conscious, unrestrained, informalfun. Not only does the exuberant wine help create an exuberant party, butthe tasting itself gives people who may never have met each other somethingto talk about. Here's how we do our party.
• Buying the Wine. If you are going to hold a Nouveau party on the actual day that the wine is released and is therefore available forpurchase — and it's always the same day all over the world — you need toleave your morning free to buy it. Call a few days before to see whichstore is expecting the wine — you can never be sure. If you're lucky, onestore will have three or four different ones. For a good wine-tasting partyexperience, you should have at least three different wines, and four isbetter. More than that begins to get cumbersome for a casual party,though we have served as many as six.
• Which Ones to Buy. It really doesn't matter — the fun here, after all, is deciding on the favorite among them — but there are a few we've found consistent year after year. See the list at the end of this section.
• Number of Bottles. For our sixty friends, we buy six bottles of each wine. There are usually six glasses of wine in a bottle, but this is a tasting, not a frat party, so we figure ten glasses per bottle.
• Chill Out. These are better slightly cool, so if your house or apartment is warm — and ours is always overheated in late November — you should put the bottles in the refrigerator for a little while, even a couple of hours, before the party if you have the time.
• To Bag or Not to Bag. We put all the wines on a table with a big number in front of each one, and we don't hide the labels by putting the bottles in bags. For an informal party like this, that's too complex.
• What Food to Serve. Because Nouveau is young and fresh, we think vibrant tastes go best with it. We serve flavorful finger food and plenty of it, such as fried shrimp with ginger garlic sauce, asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon, sesame chicken with brandy apricot sauce, beeftenderloin on puff pastry, foie gras mousse, sweet potato tartlettes, andbourbon pecan bread pudding. For many years, we did all of thisourselves, but it just got to be too much. We realized we were workingso hard that we weren't enjoying the party. So now we hire a caterer toprepare the food and to move around the crowd serving it. (Before wehired a caterer, we certainly never made foie gras mousse.)
• One Glass or Many? When our friends arrive, we hand them a glass of No. 1 and tell them that they should ultimately taste all of the wines. One glass is just fine. This is informal, after all (and more than one makes cleanup a real chore) ...Continues...