Tip #1: The Seating Chart
Pair your wines and food like you choose the seating assignments at the dinner table. Traditionally, you want to seat people who have things in common (like what region they’re from) or complimentary characteristics next to each other. If you’re feeling adventurous, go the more advanced route of choosing strongly contrasting— but equally bold— opinions that will make for interesting conversations. Like seating the family curmudgeon next to the perpetually positive cheerleader, pairing a sweet dessert wine (Canadian Icewine or French Sancerre) and stinky bleu cheese (Roquefort) may seem counterintuitive, but the results may surprise you and change your opinion of both participants.
Tip #2: Mosh Pit vs Tango
Seasonings and sauces— not the color of the meat— are the primary considerations when choosing your wine pairing. You don’t want to pair a bold fruit-bomb Zin with a delicately seasoned rack of lamb because the wine will overpower the subtle flavors of the dish. This is tantamount to throwing your doe-eyed grandmother into a mosh pit. The Zin would pair better with a tangy BBQ sauce or an aged gouda, and the rack of lamb seasoned with Herbs de Provence would enjoy the company of a wine from its homeland like a dry rose from Provence. Since both the herbs and the grapes are “of the same earth,” they will share characteristics. This is part of what wine geeks refer to as terrior (tayr-WAH). The shared traits typically result in a harmonious, spirited pairing— like two dancers doing the tango.
Tip #3: Know Your Audience
Another consideration when choosing a bottle is whether your guests will appreciate your carefully cultivated wine choice. Have you been saving your favorite mind-blowing Pinot Noir for the perfect event? If there’s a good chance your gum-chewing dinner companions will throw ice cubes in their glass because the wine’s not cold enough for their liking, you may want to put that gem back in your wine fridge for a different special occasion. Celebrating a particularly productive Tuesday with your significant other can be just as important as an annual holiday.
Tip #4: Do The Splits
If only one or two people will be drinking wine, you want to pair a different wine for each course for a small group, or you want to try a wine that’s a bit out of your financial comfort zone, 375ml “half bottles” (also known as “splits”) are great alternative to traditional 750ml bottles. Total Wine (locations in Summerlin and Henderson) offers an impressive selection of sparkling, white, and red half bottles from around the world at a wide range of prices.
Recommended Crowd-Pleasers For Every Budget
2011 Trader Joe’s Reserve “Lot# 80” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
($9.99 at Trader Joe’s)
2009 Ceja Pinot Noir, Carneros, California ($36.99 at Total Wine)
2006 Beaux Frères “Ribbon Ridge” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
($79.99 at Lee’s Liquor)
Yabber & Sons “Grinning Like A Shot Fox” Chardonnay (NV), South Eastern Australia ($4.89 at Fresh & Easy)
2012 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Gris, California ($11.99 at Costco)
2012 Cave de Genouilly Bourgogne Aligoté, France ($14.99 at Total Wine)
Montcadi Rosé Cava, Método Tradicional NV ($9.99 exclusively at Fresh & Easy)
La Marca Prosecco NV ($11.99 at Costco)
Support Locally Owned, Single Location Wine Shops
Note: Technically Lee’s Discount Liquor is locally owned but they’re viewed by local wine shop owners as the enemy, so I noted “single location” to exclude them – but I included them in the recommended wines list to play fair.
Double Helix Boutique
(The Shoppes at The Palazzo – 2nd Floor, Las Vegas Blvd & Spring Mountain)
Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits
(110 S Eastern Ave, Las Vegas)
Valley Cheese & Wine
(1570 W Horizon Ridge Parkway, Henderson)
(2620 Regatta Drive in Desert Shores, East of Summerlin)