How to Choose a Wine Store
Picking the right wine store means you always have someone to pick the right wine. Peter Marks, a Master of Wine and the wine director of Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, in Napa, California, explains:
Listen to recommendations from friends.
Good retailers usually have good reputations.
Take a good look around.
Are the wine bottles usually dust-free and out of the sun? Does the store have a consistent temperature of below 70 degrees? Is there a newsletter or website to educate customers? Are the small descriptive signs next to the bottles ("shelf talkers") actually written by someone who works in the store, or are they just copied from a wine magazine?
A good relationship doesn't happen by chance. You have to open up and describe the wine you want, and that includes a price range. The salesperson should listen and then help determine which wine is right by asking questions, not just offering you the deal of the moment.
Keep a notebook and record your impressions of the wine, returning with specifics. Ideally, this information will help the salesperson steer you far enough out of your comfort level to expand your horizons.
Instead of a place card, each diner gets a red-wine glass stain with his or her name written in it. There are four glasses at each setting--one for each wine to be tasted at the table. Threaded with a golf pencil, a wine-tasting scorecard rests on each napkin.
Rebecca Robertson, Blueprint Senior Home Editor makes the following suggestion: "Use brown paper as a tablecloth instead of linen. It feels more 'humble Italian' and you can crumple it up at the end of the night with no worries about red-wine stains."
At a wine-tasting party, have guests graze on basic but filling, dinner-worthy fare such as cheese, prosciutto, bruschetta, fruit, and a little something "dolce".
For bruschetta, slice a baguette into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Lay on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 400 degrees until lightly golden brown, about 10 minutes; then top according to the recipe that follows. Makes about 40 slices.
ARTICHOKE WITH MORTADELLA BRUSCHETTA
Place contents of 6.7-ounce jar of artichokes (see our checklist) in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Toss with 1/4 teaspoon dried red chile flakes. Spread onto toasted baguette slices, and top with two 2- to 3-inch pieces of mortadella. Makes about 12.
ROASTED EGGPLANT, TOMATO, AND BASIL BRUSCHETTA
Cut strips of roasted eggplant from a 9.9-ounce jar (see our checklist) into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Toss with 3/4 cup quartered grape tomatoes and 1/4 cup torn basil leaves Spoon onto toasted baguette slices. Makes about 14.
WHITE BEAN AND ROSEMARY BRUSCHETTA
Gently toss drained and rinsed contents of 12.7-ounce jar of white beans (see our checklist) with 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt, and spoon onto toasted baguette slices. Makes about 12.
More Appetizer Ideas
Olive oil with fresh rosemary or red pepper flakes
Fresh ricotta with truffle honey
Grape, pears, and figs
Pistachios in the shell
Parmigiano-Reggiano with Lambrusco wine jelly
Gorgonzola dolce Pecorino Toscana with mostarda
DIY Affagoto Al Cafe
A clever way to serve coffee and dessert together: Let guests scoop vanilla gelato into a glass, followed by a pour of fresh espresso. Serve pronto, as they say. You can also put out amaretti cookies and almond torrone (near left) if you like.
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