Entertaining season is here. We caught up with Barbara Drew MW, our Events Manager, to learn her top tips for hosting the perfect dinner party.
As we return to normality and the colder evenings draw in, our minds inevitably turn to the pleasures of indoor entertaining. We know that there’s nothing quite like uncorking an exquisite bottle in the company of friends – especially if your guestlist is brimming with wine lovers.
There's little that Barbara doesn't know about putting on a great event. From wine schools to luxury private dinner parties, Barbara's role at Berry Bros. & Rudd has seen her host magical evenings for a range of clients. She’s also something of a home entertainer herself; here, she shares her dinner party expertise.
The attentive host
The perfect host, Barbara says, is one who looks after every need of their guests, yet makes it seem effortless. “Nobody wants to be made a fuss of,” she tells me, from experience. "For instance, if there are a mixture of omnivores and vegetarians at your dinner party, ensure your dishes work for everyone so one group doesn't feel as though you've had to do lots of extra work for them."
A hands-off approach can also work when it comes to drinks, she says: “No-one likes that awkward moment when their glass is empty, and they have to catch the attention of the host to offer them a refill. To avoid this, I place a selection of drinks on the table and allow guests to help themselves. Not being overly attentive can often be the most hospitable approach."
For a group of wine lovers, the bottle on the table is the focal point of the evening. With this in mind, Barbara imparts her advice for effectively preparing your wine: “Make sure that whites and sparkling wines are well chilled ahead of time. It is far easier to gradually bring a wine up to room temperature as needed than chill it down rapidly,” she points out.
“This advice also goes for reds. They don’t need to be in the fridge, but ensure they are lightly chilled, and not sat by the oven. I generally don’t decant wines at home – I think it’s much more fun to watch the wines evolve in the glass during the evening. Besides, it’s nice to keep the bottle on the table so guests can be reminded of what they’re drinking.”
That's preparation sorted, but what of the wines themselves? Barbara has a few go-to rules for what to serve throughout the evening:
“Sparkling wines are a wonderful way to start any dinner,” she enthuses. “The acidity and bubbles help to wake up your palate and prepare you for the meal. If Champagne feels too extravagant for the occasion, I will often serve a Crémant like our own Crémant de Limoux.”
And for the main course?
“I tend to gravitate towards New World Pinots – they hit the sweet spot between fruit and spice without being too tannic. Guests who don’t like heavy red wines will tend to be happy with a glass of Pinot Noir. Also, they work wonderfully with most foods.”
The question of food
“I generally stick to quite simple, homely food – dishes where most of the work is done by the oven,” she suggests. “Roast chicken stuffed with oregano and crusty bread, with roast tomatoes; or, as we head into autumn, slow-cooked lamb shoulder with root vegetables. They free me up to spend more time looking after guests.”
Any tips for pairing wine with specific dishes?
“If you want to dive a bit deeper, then think about weight as well as flavour,” Barbara advises. “Lighter dishes need wines with lower alcohol, lighter body and fewer tannins. Rich, heavy dishes can match wines with plenty of tannic grip and high alcohol.”
There's a lot to consider when putting on the perfect dinner party, but Barbara urges hosts to not pile on the pressure for themselves: “Don’t overthink it. All too often, I see hosts being too modest about their food. If your soufflé is a bit flat or the meat is a little overcooked – nobody cares. Know that everyone is there to have a good time. If they wanted perfection, they’d go to a Michelin-starred restaurant.”
“Dinner parties are not competitions – they should be fun and relaxed. There are some truly sublime food and wine matches in the world, but if you have a nice bottle of wine, and a nice plate of food, I think you're set for the evening.”