Wine for every occasion
Wine is a tricky thing. There really is a great deal of difference between red and white wines and between different varietals of grape (try a merlot. then a malbec and you’ll see how different two red grapes can taste.) An entire industry has been created to find you the perfect wine to go with your meal because, according to these authorities, the right wine can enhance a meal while the wrong one can, well, sour the whole experience.
So you want to pair wines at your party -- no pressure, right? In all honesty, destroying a meal with the wrong wine is really hard -- almost as hard as finding the perfect pairing. So forget all that. Don’t worry about trying to find the perfect match of food to wine and take comfort in the knowledge that there really are a few wines that are great in almost every situation.
Really, if you want to be a good party host, all you need are two wines: a good red and a good white -- and by good, you don’t need to spend more than $15 on each bottle. Then the only thing you should really care about is finding a wine that pairs with the most dishes.
The one white
If you are only going to buy one white wine, go for a chardonnay and specifically ask for a chardonnay that’s not too acidic. Most chardonnays are a little strong, with a nice acidic bite to them that wine drinkers love, but you can get ones that are a bit more fruit-forward (they have a fruitier flavor), which makes them good matches for almost anything that you would pair with a white.
Of course, if you can, buy two whites go with an acidic chardonnay and a fruitier chardonnay -- but even that can get confusing.
The one red to rule them all
Again, if you have to go with a single red wine, get a good, robust pinot noir. Pinot noirs aren’t too dry, but they certainly are not merlots, either. They’re a good pairing with an appetizer cheese course, where you need something full-bodied to stand up to the cheese -- and they can go with an entrée, too.
Both of these suggestions only take into account wines for starters and entrées. If you want a champagne, you’re safe going to your wine store and buying the second- or third-cheapest bottle, unless you're really looking to impress. This also avoids the topic of dessert wine, as that is an industry in itself. If you want one dessert wine, go for a riesling, which is sweet but not cloying.
When to serve each type of wine
So you have your all-purpose wines -- when are you supposed to use them? The easiest way to remember when to serve which type of wine is this: Before the meal begins, open one of each and let guests drink what they prefer. As the meal progresses, pair red wine with red meat and pork, and white wine with everything else. It’s not a perfect rule, but it will get you heading in the right direction more often that not.