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6 Best Wines to Serve at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say

From your event's start to finish, here's what to offer your guests.

There are plenty of moving parts when you're throwing a dinner party. You'll need to tidy your space, plan the menu, rearrange the seating, come up with a killer playlist, and of course, decide what to serve when it comes to beverages—wine being the most popular choice. Etiquette experts say serving rules are evolving and that you now have more say in your selection.

"Traditionally, white wines were served with fish, and red wines were served with meat. However, etiquette evolves and changes with the times, unlike manners," says Laura Windsor, founder of Laura Windsor Etiquette Academy. "Nowadays, red wine and white wine can be served whether you are eating meat or fish."

The experts agree that it's best to be over-prepared with more wine than you think you'll need since it's better to have unopened bottles at the end of the night than risk running out of beverages to serve. A general rule of thumb is to assume that your guests will drink one beverage per hour. You should also be sure to have non-alcoholic options for your guests who don't drink, as well as those who may have reached their limit.

Ready to plan your party? These are the six best wines to serve at a dinner party, according to etiquette experts.

RELATED: 6 Best Cocktails to Serve at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say.


Two glasses of sherry served with tasty traditional Spanish tapas of olives, salami and fresh bread on an old wooden table

As your guests arrive, serving an aperitif can help settle them in and get them ready for the meal. While some hosts will opt for cocktails in the more American tradition of happy hour, the etiquette experts say that a wine aperitif can feel especially sophisticated at a dinner party.

Windsor suggests serving sherry, an aged wine from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, with a high alcohol content. Though this type of fortified wine has long been overlooked and under-appreciated, with sales in decline since the 1980s, it's now seeing a surge of interest among younger adults, some outlets suggest. It's especially popular at holiday events, which lend themselves to tradition and nostalgia.


Happy senior couple having fun drinking red wine with friends at dinner party
ViewApart / iStock

While serving a wine aperitif is negotiable, having a thoughtful selection of red wine to serve with dinner is not.

"Examples of good red wines include those from the Cote du Rhone region in France and Chianti from Tuscany, Italy. These are good solid wines with all attributes of fruit, acidity, and tannins," says Windsor, adding that each has a unique regional character. She suggests Grenache and Syrah varieties from the Cote du Rhone region, and Sangiovese for the Chianti wines.

Jules Hirst, founder of Etiquette Consulting, says it's hard to go wrong with a light and fruity Pinot Noir, which she says pairs well with both light and dark meats. However, she adds that you can also follow your guests' lead when it comes to wine selection.

"It is not a faux pas to ask your guests for their wine preferences," she shares. "You should ask them if they have any dietary restrictions, so why not ask about their wine preferences at the same time?"

RELATED: 5 Worst Things to Serve at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say.


Pouring white wine into glasses

If you're looking for crowd-pleasing white wines to serve with dinner, there are a few that tend to dominate dinner parties.

"Examples include Pinot Grigio, the best of which hail from the Italian regions such as Friuli and Alto Adige; and Chardonnay Blanc from Burgundy," says Windsor.

Hirst agrees, noting that Pinot Grigio is light and crisp and pairs well with appetizers and salads, while Chardonnay tends to be richer and pairs well with roasted chicken or a creamy seafood dish.

If you're overwhelmed by the vast array of options available, you can simplify things by focusing on local wines, Hirst adds. "These can be a great conversation starter, especially if people are not aware of local wineries," she says, noting that it also supports your local economy.

Sparkling wines

Mature woman, dressed up at a party, toasting friend with champagne – Yuri A / Shutterstock

If you're celebrating or planning to give a toast, you should be prepared with a sparkling wine.

"I would recommend the Blanc de Blanc wines, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, if you prefer drier and more acidic wines, which pair well with all types of foods. You can drink it from the beginning of the dinner and continue to the end if you so choose," says Windsor.

"With sparkling wines, a Prosecco or Cava is good for toasting or pairs well with light appetizers. If you want to impress your guests, you can serve Champagne," Hirst adds.

RELATED: 8 Best Things to Serve at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say.

Dessert wines

A glass of white dessert wine on a table in a cafe

As you wrap up your meal, serving a small glass of dessert wine alongside a cheese plate or confection can add a cosmopolitan touch to the evening.

Windsor suggests Port from Portugal, Sauterne from France, or an Italian Asti Spumante, "which is slightly sweet and sparkling. All pair well with dessert," she says.

Themed or seasonal wines

Group of friends toasting with rose wine at the dinner table
Drazen Zigic / iStock

If you want your wine selection to be a conversation piece, Jodi RR Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, recommends selecting a theme. You might choose an entire tasting menu of wines from one place, pit wines from two locations against one another in a head-to-head showdown, or highlight a particular vintage. Smith says you can then choose a selection of reds, whites, and sparkling wines for your guests to enjoy.

"Wine can also be matched to the season. Lighter wines, such as a Rose or a Chardonnay, are served in the summer. Full-bodied wines, such as a Cabernet or Zinfandel, are served in the winter," adds Hirst.

And, whatever you serve, don't forget that the presentation can leave a lasting impression on your guests. "It is important to serve wine in the appropriate glassware to enhance the tasting experience. White wines should be served chilled, and red wines should be served at or below room temperature," explains Hirst.

"You can also impress your guests by decanting the red wines using a decanter," suggests Hirst. "You should decant your wine roughly 30 minutes prior to service, and this will enhance the wine's flavors and aromas."

To go above and beyond, she suggests placing small description cards next to each wine with facts such as tasting notes, the vineyard, and grape, as well as pairing suggestions.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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