August 28, 2008

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Achieving the impossible
The challenge: wine for 50 people for $150
By Tim Protzman†letters@hippopress.com

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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7/24/2008 Reviving a star
7/17/2008 Champagne staycation
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6/26/2008 Leftover wine
6/19/2008 Fortune favors Opus One
6/12/2008 In the year 2048
6/5/2008 Tea, the original infusion
5/29/2008 Hello old friends
5/22/2008 Ancient in the new world
5/15/2008 You are the expert
5/8/2008 The must-drink list
5/1/2008 Gaming wine futures
4/24/2008 Chronos and me
4/17/2008 Getting lucky
4/3/2008 The daquiri's of spring
3/27/2008 Germans play well with others
3/13/2008 Complain yourself happy
3/6/2008 Operatic wine tasting
2/28/2008 Everything must go!
2/21/2008 His & hers bottles
2/7/2008 Friends in spam
1/31/2008 Warm up the wine
1/24/2008 A drink to them
1/17/2008 Stalking the barking dingo
1/10/2008 Wishes and predictions
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12/27/2007 Drinking blind
12/20/2007 Not fighting for the right
12/13/2007 The liquor store suite
11/29/2007 World of drinkin'
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11/15/2007 Drinks with Diwali
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11/1/2007 Drinks with History Channel
10/25/2007 Schooled in Shiraz
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6/14/2007 Jack & Jill and a pail of wine
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5/10/2007It's OK to be pink
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4/26/2007 Invention-tini
4/19/2007 More 'Mas'
4/12/2007 Futures in a bottle
3/29/2007 Uneasy glass of spring
3/22/2007 Chateau de blech
3/8/2007 Finding new beauties
3/1/2007 Infatuation or addiction
2/15/2007 The extraordinary ordinary
2/8/2007 A glass of sweetness
2/1/2007 A glass of sweetness
1/25/2007 Ham it up
1/18/2007 Cheating on wine
1/11/2007 Burning down the tree
1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
11/23/2006 YouTube for YouWine
11/16/2006 Welcome to wine
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11/2/2006 The geography of grapes
10/26/2006 Please continue to hold
10/19/2006 The trouble with reds
10/12/2006 Making new friends
10/05/2006 TiVo-ing the wine
09/28/2006 From an unknown battle
09/21/2006 Toast to turkey
09/14/2006 Wine for life
09/07/2006 What are Malpeques, Alex?
08/31/2006 Hanging out wines
08/24/2006 Falling into new wine season
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08/10/2006 Bringing out the dead
08/03/2006 The birth of a wine fop
07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
07/20/2006 The pain of adolescent wines
07/13/2006 Nice day for a white wedding
07/06/2006 Scoring goals with booze
06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
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06/15/2006 A summer of beer and fried clams
06/08/2006 Keep your cool, fool
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05/18/2006 Big fat greek wine tasting
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04/20/2006 Immigrant wines
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02/16/2006 Love and vine
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01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
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Adventures in and past the Euro-Cave
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Red For Everything
A Red Wth Your Leftovers?
A Tasty Way To Put Wine To The Test
A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
A wine for every holiday

Basking In The Mondavi Light
Behind One Door Is Great Wine
Beware The Hot Bottle
Brandy and the nude beach
Champagne, The Other White Wine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Days of wine and jelly beans
Deep in the heart of Texas
Drinking for your health
Drinking like a newspaperman

Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
Finding A Great Medium Weight Drink (II)
Gifts for blood, love or money
Gin
Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
Hey baby, stay cool
How The Corleones Saved Wine

In Praise Of An American Wine
In search of the girl next door
Keeping it in the family
Keeping up appearances
Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
Mondovino
My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
The Best Drinks On A Budget
The Highly Drinkable (Mostly) Merlot
The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
Old French grape in the New World
Olť! to a week in wine
Opening the Parker book

Our French friends ó really
Our Northern Neighbor
Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
Presenting The Wines Of Spring
Rewarding Your Support Staff
Schooled In The Art Of Wine
Shopping for Wine Bargains

Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
Slipping A Little Sideways
Spending the holidays in NYC
Spirit World Tales
Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
Sudden ugly mood swings
The new face of fine wines
The wines of fall
Thinking ahead to the holidays
Time To Stay Frosty
Tipples for turkey day
TV worth drinking
What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
What's Your Wine Sign
Whiteís OK after Labor Day
Wine Between The Season
Wine for the NASCAR set
Wine is in at the Inn
Wineíll make you crazy
Wine Works With Red Sauce