Don't Fret It

Use dinner parties with treats and wine as the backdrop to bring family and friends together.
11/27/2012 11:31 am ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

As we contemplate stacks of bulging Tupperware and the aging plates of meat from last Thursday, it's appropriate to review the parade of beverages which graced our tables. And it's time to take stock of the concern and angst felt leading up to the food events of this week.

Let us again acknowledge that the food and wine we share during the holidays is but a foil for bringing together family and friends. Books and columns routinely tout ethereal pairings of all sorts, including the 95 point best drink with the turkey. Sure, some matches happen to taste better -- to some of us -- than others.

Cooks, hosts and visitors worry too much over perfect pairings at dinner party tables. Ultimately, more wines than not go well with the food and companions of the season.

The principal reason so many wines give pleasure with holidays is because variety is the nature of the party table. Most parties feature tapas-like finger foods and snacks, along with a main dish. Holiday fare tolerates many wine possibilities. Take Thanksgiving, for example. It's not just the main dish to consider when we mull bottles. One can bring wine to compliment the vast array of side dishes.

Perhaps your aunt has a thing for strong cheese at a gathering. Instead of providing wine for the main course, clear it with her when she'll serve the regional blue. It's the time for Barsac or something else sweet. Or if drinking is held to a minimum before and during the main event, surprise your mates with a well-chosen bottle of port or Vin Santo with tiny portions of dessert.

If ever there was a time to try out your favorite wines, it's upon us. Maybe it's the spirit of celebration. It's a grand opportunity to open your best bottles and to splurge on something rare or unique. Friends will forgive even if they don't like the way the wine supports the meal. Those grumpy about the wine choice can stew silently in the den. Do keep in mind it's likely the bottles you bring to really big gatherings will get lost in the shuffle; don't bring an '89 Bordeaux to the potluck with a house full of strangers. Do bring sparkling wines of all sorts; they're festive, great with toasts, and will convince the jaded to drink bubbles with food at all times of year.

Now is the time to share our own unheralded finds. The tasty, inexpensive Prosecco you bear entering the party may, over the course of the evening, become a new standard for others in attendance. At the very least, there's a chance to try something new out on wine guinea pigs.

Is the crowd adventurous or traditional? Understand the distinction and you're on your way to bringing the right stuff.

If you're into Piedmont and the host mentioned chili on the menu, bring the Arneis you've been pining to try for a palate wake-up, long before the main dish. Bring a six-pack of dark brew as well as a Syrah, Zin or a red blend. You'll cover many tastes and be remembered as a thoughtful and generous guest.

Are the hosts wedded to wine tradition? This my require sticking to just one particular wine. There's a time to play around and time to work with what the situation demands. Know some pairing basics.

What happens when there's a wine faux pas? As a point of discussion, missteps and the great bottles can make for generous group chat; a departure from sports, the post-election, kids, or our animal friends. Work through it and have a backup bottle of bubbles stashed in the car if you're not confident.

Chances are good that there will be plenty of opportunities to entertain and play in the coming weeks. Equipped with the experience of the Thanksgiving table, it's time to move along into December and to plan -- worry-free -- for joyful gatherings ahead. Use dinner parties with treats and wine as the backdrop to bring family and friends together.

Because let's face it: no matter what you decide to drink with the turkey, tofu or lentils at the holiday table, it will all be fabulous when the plates are cleared and the glasses empty.