10 Tips for Choosing the Best Wine for Dinner

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Wines and dinner on a table

If you’re hosting a dinner party, you’ve probably already planned out the main course, appetizers and dessert. You’ve checked music and entertainment off your list as well. Now you just need pick the best wine for your celebrations.

Not sure how to choose? Don't worry. Here are 10 tips on how to pick the perfect wine for dinner:

1. Determine your guests’ wine experience

Before you narrow your focus, you should take a few moments to think about your guests. How experienced are they with wine? Are they new to it and therefore unfamiliar with the incredible breadth on the market? Or are they discerning wine drinkers who have spent years building their own collections of high-class vintages and sought-after names?

Those new to wine might not recognize the distinction between an old world wine and a new world wine, or between a hundred-dollar bottle and a twenty-dollar bottle. Guests with extensive experience will have more wine tasting under their belts. They’ll likely recognize varietals and may know how to differentiate by region or even vineyard.

If your guests are a mixture of new wine enthusiasts and long-time connoisseurs, opt for a mix of price points and a blend of bigger names and local vineyards.

2. Find out their preferences

Now that you know where your guests stand in terms of wine experience, you should narrow in on their preferences as much as possible. Think about these four questions:

  • Do they like red wine or white wine?
  • Do they prefer a certain varietal?
  • How about country of origin – do they have a preference?
  • Do they tend to select wine from one region more than any other?

If you find widely varying responses (or if your guests aren't experienced enough with wine to answer those questions), you can try to select two bottles that will cover as broad a spectrum as possible. Picking a red wine and a white wine is a good start when it comes to accommodating different tastes.

3. Match the intensity of the wine to the food

When you think about matching wines with foods, make sure you factor intensity into your decision. Lighter dishes or those with delicate flavorings aren't usually able to shine when paired with a robust, full-bodied red, for example.

Likewise, a rich, heavy dish with bold flavors would simply overpower a delicate, floral-rich white wine. Typically, you want to choose white wines for appetizers and dessert, and red wines for the main course.

4. Choose an acidic wine for acidic foods

Wines like Champagne, Riesling, cooler-climate Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino all have a higher degree of acidity, which pairs well with acidic dishes and foods like citrus, tomatoes and fish. High-acidity wines also pair well with fatty or oily dishes, serving to cut through the oil and cleanse the palate.

5. Select a sweet or semi-sweet wine for a salty dish

If you’re serving a salty dish, you'll do best if you pair it with a sweet or semi-sweet wine. Pairing sweetness with saltiness creates the perfect balance. Wines like Riesling, Moscato, Champagne, Chardonnay and Sauternes work well here. Dry, low-tannin reds like Beaujolais and Pinot Noir work as well, as do rosé wines.

6. If you need to play it safe, choose a sparkling wine or a rosé

Both sparkling wine and rosé are quite versatile in terms of food pairings. It's hard to go wrong with choosing either one. If you're really trying to play it safe, it’s best to choose a well-rounded bottle of bubbly; something too sweet or too tart and dry could end up clashing with the meal.

7. To impress your guests, choose a well-known wine region

If you’re unsure about whether your guests will appreciate a specific wine you’ve fallen in love with, it’s probably best to save it for later. Whether it's fair or not, choosing a famous wine often has a higher likelihood of success. For example, within California, wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma and Santa Barbara will impress many guests and could spark some lively conversation.

8. Pair wines with foods from the same region

As a rule of thumb, it's often a good idea to pair foods and wines that come from the same region. For example, a Riesling from Austria perfectly complements freshly made Wiener schnitzel, Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc marries well with Chavignol goat cheese, and rustic Chianti brings out the best in Italian pappardelle. But as with everything, variability and experimentation often lead to intriguing new pairings.

9. Make sure the wine is as sweet as the dessert

When you have a sweet dessert, you don’t want to sip a tart or overly tannic wine because the two will never harmonize. Dry wines cannot reveal their complexity in the presence of all that sweetness. Of course, a dessert that's too sweet will never let a sweet wine shine either. The best plan for mixing wine and dessert is to pair a sweet wine with a dessert that isn’t as sweet – think of fruit tarts, pastries, poached pears, tea cookies, and so on.

10. Serve the wine at the proper temperature

Wine doesn't have a one-size-fits-all serving temperature. In general, white wines, sparkling wines and rosé wines prefer serving temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re serving full-bodied whites or lighter reds, aim for 50 to 60 degrees F. Full-bodied red wines appreciate serving temperatures between 60 and 65.

From choosing the right varietal to pairing wine with your main course, there are many decisions that go into knowing how to pick a wine for dinner. Luckily, JJ Buckley Fine Wines can help. Our extensive collection of fine wines will have you well on your way to hosting a spectacular dinner party that will leave your guests wanting more.

If you need personalized assistance with how to choose a wine for dinner, feel free to contact us. Our wine specialists would love to recommend one for you!