What to Pour

If you're planning a party, we can help you select the beverages!

By Karen Berman


Many hosts and hostesses wonder what and how much to pour for a party. Both depend on the occasion, the time of day, your guest list and your budget and preferences.

You can go all out and offer wine, beer and a stocked bar, or you can serve wine or beer only. Whatever you decide, always have several non-alcoholic options available.

A “drink of the evening” (or afternoon) is always nice. A pitcher of punch, a shaker of martinis, frosty margaritas, hot rum, spiked eggnog or whatever you like can make a gathering more festive.

How Much?
For an all-hors d’oeuvres party of three hours, count on two to three alcoholic drinks per person. If you’re serving wine, know that each bottle contains four to six glasses. So figure on half a bottle of wine per person for an all-wine cocktail party or a sit-down dinner.

Wine Matches
Be aware of tough wine matches. If you’re serving seafood that has a natural iodine content, such as shrimp or clams, foods dressed with vinegar, or very hot spicy foods, avoid wines that are very tannic or aged in oak; these qualities will make everything—food and wine both—taste off. For hot, spicy foods, a wine with what the experts call residual sugar (what the rest of us would call slightly sweeter) will balance the heat nicely. When in doubt, sparkling wines go with pretty much anything.

For a formal dinner, it’s lovely to match your main course, or several courses, to the wine. The old rule of white wine with fish and red with beef no longer holds, but do try to match the “weight” of the wine to the food (a fillet of sole might not stand up to a hearty red, while a white might get lost if you’re serving beef stew). Ask your local wine merchant for help with specific pairings.

Hard Liquor
As for hard liquor, a basic bar should include Scotch, vodka, gin, rum, bourbon, Tequila, and dry and sweet vermouths. Don’t forget mixers: club soda, tonic, ginger ale, orange and tomato juices. And garnishes: lemon, lime and orange slices, and olives for martinis. And ice: about half a pound per person and more in hot weather. Also lay in plenty of bottled water, cola, diet cola, lemon-lime soda, and fruit juice for non-drinkers.

Karen Berman is a contributing editor to Wine Enthusiast magazine and the author of The Little Black Book of Hors d’Oeuvres, published by Peter Pauper Press in 2005.