August 28, 2008


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Achieving the impossible
The challenge: wine for 50 people for $150
By Tim Protzman†

Did anyone ever tell you you couldnít do something and that only made you more determined to succeed?

Usually for me itís something like sneaking into a second movie free on the way out of the one you paid for. But what makes the story best is when the something youíre told you canít do is remarkable. Fly the Atlantic? Climb Mount Everest? Land on the Moon? Win eight Gold Medals? Red Sox win the World Series? They all were supposed to be impossible.

Last week in my capacity as a wine consultant I bought the wine for an event. Fifty people were coming. There were some hors díoeuvres. It was in the afternoon and my budget was $150. And that included bottled water and iced tea. And I didnít think it could be done.

The first thing you need to know when planning an event with wine is how many glasses of wine come in a bottle. With the 750-milliliter bottles you get about five. Thatís not a hefty grand bowl type of goblet; itís your standard restaurant wine glass like the kind youíd get at a diner. It holds about seven ounces if itís filled to the top, so have the bartender stop a little less than an inch from the top.

So if you do the math youíll see that 50 people will get one glass of wine each from 10 bottles. Now factor in the 15 percent who wonít drink for whatever reason and you can reduce your count to nine bottles. And donít think this is just for picnics and buffets. Imagine you paid $175 for a ticket to a wine event and theyíre six bottles short on the 1967 Chateau Doisy Daene. There will almost be a riot. Those who got to taste the second growth sauterne found it remarkable. Apricot, sugared almonds and caramel rolled flawlessly around their palates. Those who didnít get a taste got a free bottle of Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc ($29.99), which cut into the profit margin and got one event planner fired. So make sure everyone gets at least one glass. The event I was consulting on was free, so people couldnít complain about being gypped, but if they were paying Iíd have bought more wine.

The second consideration was the time of day. This was late afternoon. People tend to drink a little more when itís dark outside and if this were an evening event Iíd have added five more bottles. Some very serious wine tastings happen at 10 in the morning, when your taste sensationís at its peak. They also drink a lot less at that time.

The third consideration is the audience. Is it a bowling league or a garden club? A group of men will drink less wine because itís generally not their drink of choice. A higher percentage of women will order wine in a bar or restaurant than men, who still, as a group, are beer drinkers.

My event was 60 percent female. So we decided on a case, or 12 bottles.

The fourth consideration isnít about quantity, itís about wine sophistication. Letís stop here. This has nothing to do with Juicy Couture clothing versus flannel and khaki. Some of the smartest people Iíve met knew little about wine. If the group is a bunch of grape heads who easily get 11 points on the Wine Test in the Marketing part of New Hampshire Liquor Commissionís Web site, then you might want to serve some special. And special doesnít always mean pricey; you can impress grape heads with an obscure varietal or something from an out-of-the-way region. Think Finger Lakes (upstate New York) or Uruguay. This might make you a hero. Imagine if you served them a New Zealand wine 25 years ago before it was well known and recognizable.

The fifth consideration is patriotic. Red, White or blue? Blue is the Wine Rookiesí little code for ďweíre serving bottles of red and white together at the same time.Ē White is more approachable for the casual wine drinker and the public at large. We chose two bottles of red to go along with the 10 whites.

Hereís what we came up with to serve to our afternoon, slightly-more-women, relatively-unknowledgeable-about-wine event crowd.
ē Four bottles of Post House Blueish White Wine, $7.99 a piece. This blend of Chenin Blanc with 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc was very nice and finished better than some $30 bottles. Not very dry, with melon hints and a very pleasant finish. From South Africaís Stellenbosch region.
ē Four bottles of Les Rials, $8.49 apiece from the Gaillac region, about 70 miles southeast of Bordeaux. Dry, with lemon fruit notes.
ē One bottle of Alois Lageder Portico dei Leoni Bianco, $12.99. A Pinot Grigio/Pinot Bianco blend with a nice bouquet and backbone and some herbaceous and lemon fruit.
ē One bottle of Campogrande Orvieto Classico, $9.99. A hearty white with a strong rustic heritage. Produced by Antinori, the Italian wine giant. A nice-with-food wine.
ē One bottle Sierra Cantabria Rioja Tinto, $11.99. A nicely dry and mouth-filling red from Spainís Rioja region.
ē One bottle (1.5 ml) Stone Cellars California Cabernet Sauvignon, $9.99. Stone Cellar is one of Beringerís labels and itís plummy and jammy with fruit and a little alcohol in the finish.

And we did it for $111, which I consider a great price for 50 peopleís bar tab. And the weather was so cooperative ó a sunny day, followed by a sudden squall which sent half the guests away, soaked the rest and allowed me to taste a tiny remaining bit of each wine.

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