Wine Pros’ Best Tips for Stress-Free Entertaining

three champagne flutes clinking

The pros spill their secrets to stress-free soirées.

by Erin

I absolutely love throwing a dinner party. But I didn’t always.

As a fledgling host, I would sweat the small – and big – stuff, preparing way too much food, but forgetting the ice. Trying to whip up frozen daiquiris painstakingly one-by-one à la minute instead of just making a gigantic pitcher for guests to serve themselves. Confusing a garlic clove for a bulb and ending up with a particularly piquant spinach dip. Cringing every time a guest tripped over the growing mountain of shoes in the front hall or wrestling with the weight of dozens of coats dumped on my bed as they tried to dig theirs from the bottom without losing their keys or throwing their back out.

Now, decades later, I literally throw parties for a living. But there’s always a pointer or two you can pick up along the way.

With Thanksgiving launching the start of high-water party season next weekend, I thought I’d ask some friends – excellent people who also make their livings in the wine, food, and hospitality industry – how they make sure their fête is a memorable one.

From top left: Priya Rao with writing partner Jennifer Huether, Emily Pearce, Rick Van Sickle, Dick Snyder, Heather McDougall 


Pick a Theme

It didn’t take long for sommelier Emily Pearce to reveal her signature party move. The founder of Femmes du Vin and the newly launched wine and lifestyle subscription service Coterie 72, says choosing a theme for her parties is a “signature EP move” and strongly encourages you to do the same.

“Building a theme for an evening can be not only easy, but a great way to make it a truly memorable night. Perhaps it is vegetable that is in season, a region in the world where you love the cuisine, or a killer bottle of wine you have had tucked away. Throw in a few topical selections on Spotify to your fête, think a little Édith Piaf with your Coq au Vin and Red Burgundy, and your friends will think you are the new Julia Child.”

Create Memories with a Unique Experience

Remember when I wrote about how my guests expect a signature cocktail when they come to my parties? Well, as you might expect from the Publisher of Wines in Niagara, Rick Van Sickle has his own festive trademark with a self-serve wine bar, complete with spittoons, extra glassware, and wine-friendly nibbles.

“Our favourite thing to do is set up a station in the kitchen, away from the main party area, where we open a few bottles with a theme. Sometimes it’s older bottles from similar grapes, or a vertical of the same wine from different vintages, or similar producers from the same vintage. You can also theme it to something like Sauvignon Blancs from around the world,” Rick advises.

“Now that we’ve done this for the past few years, repeat guests have started bringing their own older wines to place on the table to taste and share. It’s so popular, the keeners never leave the kitchen!”

Store Bought is Just Fine

A lady after our own hearts, Heather McDougall, sommelier and proprietor of Sips Toronto and its cottage country outpost, Sips at the Lake, suggests keeping your soirée super simple. “Put out charcuterie, crudité or a mezze platter (the more veggies the better) for your guests to nibble on as they arrive. Also, you don't have to make it all yourself, but you should plate it like you did *wink*.”

Heather also suggests stocking up on glassware, setting out two or three glasses per person, and a self-serve water station is key to night’s when imbibing might get a little more intense than usual. “The morning after feels so much better with an easier pace of consumption.”

Be Sensitive to Dietary Needs

The reality to dinner parties these days is that nearly everyone has a dietary preference. And a day centred around a bird may be extra challenging for vegan friends to gather round your dining table. But the culinary whiz behind The Social Herbivore, Priya Rao, has some easy solutions to include non-meat eaters during the holidays.

"Try substituting non-dairy milk and plant-based butter in your side dishes such as mashed or scalloped potatoes. If your main dish is a stuffed turkey, set aside some of the stuffing and use it in a roasted acorn or butternut squash for a pretty main-course. These days it's easy to find ready-made broth that is beef or chicken-flavoured while containing no animal products so it's super easy to add a mushroom or miso-based gravy to the meal. Taking small, simple steps like these will make all your guests feel welcome and thankful." Check out The Social Herbivore’s just released book on plant-based recipes and wine pairings – it makes a great hostess gift!

Self Service

Wine and food journalist Dick Snyder brilliantly masquerades his party impatience with the appearance of generosity and overabundance.

“When speed is of the essence, waiting for a guest to hem and haw over whether they want a glass of white, red, sparkling or rose, or a beer or a cocktail… this wastes valuable time. Have a dedicated bar station set up with pre-chilled wines – on ice, in a nice-looking bucket – and a selection of reds. Have some beers ready in a cooler. Open all the bottles just before guests arrive. A jug of batched cocktails is a good idea too. When guests arrive, you can just point. And whatever you do, don’t run out of ice. Hear me?” To keep up with what Dick is drinking, cooking and eating, follow him on Instagram @citybites.

Hear From Real People!

[They] quickly engaged our group with our wine themed engagement party. Guests were lined up all evening for the experience. [They] very willing to involve guests in tasting discussion. We are all a little more wine savvy - thank you The Wine Sisters
The unique programs and the tour we did with you was a huge success. Guests really enjoyed the afternoon!
You were such an awesome host and I appreciate all of the work you put into it. Thank you so much again!
Great energy, sense of humour and very knowledgeable! Thank you for making it an afternoon to remember!
The event was a huge success! Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and the group was quite engaged. The wine was also delicious! Thank you so much! I hope we can work together on another event in the future!
Everybody had a ton of fun and we very much see this structure as a template we can use with clients and friends in the future.
The Wine Sisters put on magnificent event in Unionville..... They did a superb job, both as Sommeliers and on the PR and overall event co-ordination ... Great job and we look forward to working with you on our event!
You and your team were an absolute pleasure to work with! From the get go, you were very flexible with our needs, communicated in a timely manner, and tailored your services to be exactly what we asked for.
Our guests had a great evening and Erin made sure that everyone (even non-drinkers) enjoyed themselves! Thanks for making the bridal shower so memorable!
Thank you very much for your services. Everyone had a fantastic time and loved everything! Thank you again for a successful event and making me look oh so good.

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