How to Choose a Crowd-Pleasing Wine

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Looking for a wine that everyone at the table can enjoy? Michael Anderson of Virgin Wines shares with us his tips on choosing a winning wine for a crowd. 

At Virgin Wines we taste through thousands of bottles of wine each year to bring you the very best from around the globe. It’s an important job – a job that ensures customers are satisfied and their tastes are met. And while it has taken our talented team decades to garner the skills to taste and choose a crowd-pleasing style, we are here to ensure that the next time you are handed the wine list at a restaurant, you’re geared with the right tools to choose the best possible bottle.

You don’t have to be a wine snob to choose a great bottle of wine that everyone will enjoy! Here are a few easy steps that will help you and your guests get the most out of each sip at your next dinner party.

Make sure you match

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When paired poorly, certain foods can make wine taste harsh, tannic or overly acidic (even metallic). So, to stay ahead of the curve, remember these tips to ensure you’re getting the most from your wine choices.

When considering food and wine matching, the key word is always balance! It’s important to ensure that neither the food nor the wine overpowers the other. You are matching the richness of the food with the body of the wine, the flavour intensity, the acidity or the sweetness.

The key is the weight and richness of the food. For example if you are tucking into rich game or roast/red meats, then pair it with a powerful red like the brilliant, ripe, Black fruit laden BentWing Cabernet from the red soils of Coonawarra. If you’re not a big red fan, stick with a rich full-bodied white like a Chardonnay rather than a lighter red such as a Pinot Noir or Merlot.

Flavour intensity is also key. A delicate wine like Pinot Grigio would be overpowered by a shoulder of lamb. Light wines and strong flavoured food simply do not match. However if you have an intensely flavoured dish like a Thai curry, why not pair it with a lightweight, intensely flavoured wine like a Riesling.

DON’T FORGET – never serve a big red with any oily fish. The tannin in the red wine combines with the oil in the fish to give you a horrible metallic taste. However if you can find a low tannin red, like a Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or Gamay, these will partner the more meaty fish verities like monkfish or swordfish.

Know your guests

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It’s important to know what your guests like and what they don’t. Are you at a table with old world wine drinkers, big, bold red wine enthusiasts, Savvy Blanc fans or a mix?

Always ask around to make sure that every taste is covered. Importantly, a crowd pleasing wine isn’t always about taste… sometimes it’s about price and value too. Choose wines within the group’s budget. Avoid surprises and disputes.

Find a middle ground

A spread of tastes isn’t uncommon – from those who exclusively drink white to those who are willing try anything!

Narrow the group into sub-groups – white and rose consumers and red consumers. Then narrow it further. Ask for preferences pertaining to the wine’s body – that’s always a good place to start. For those who love bigger whites like aged Semillon, oaked Chardonnay and international styles like white Rioja should be put to one side and an attempt made not to serve them anything too light. Similarly, fans of lighter whites and precise, fresh and fruit driven styles like Sauvignon may not enjoy oak aged Chardonnay, but love the likes of Hot Seat Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (especially if salads and fresh seafood are on the menu).

On the other side of the coin, Pinot Noir drinkers who look for wines with low oak and little tannin will find a rustic Nebbiolo or BIG Barossa Shiraz overblown and hard to enjoy.

Medium bodied grapes like Grenache and Sangiovese offer a comforting middle ground between Pinot Noir and Cabernet or Shiraz. Try them out – you won’t be disappointed. In white, lightly oaked Chardonnay with forward fruit tones and lovely length like Slither of Sun or a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc like our top selling Angove can please a crowd, too!

Stick to what you know

Don’t try and get too fancy. Sure, tasting an aged Moldovan Băbească Neagră would make for an interesting dinner conversation, but would it be a genuine crowd pleaser? Probably not.

Look for names and places you know. Famous regions like Barossa in South Australia and Margaret River in Western Australia and quality destinations on the Australian wine map. Start there and see if you recognize any major names (think Penfolds, Torbreck, Wolf Blass, Peter Lehmann and so on) – producers who have forged a reputation for quality at every price point. 

The situation matters

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Whether it’s a summer celebration, a fine-dining dinner or everything in between, make sure the wine suits the situation. Champagne is great for party wine but can get expensive, so why not try something Aussie that’s made using the same grapes (normally Chardonnay and Pinot Noir).

If the sun’s out then fill the fridge with rose and refreshing whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Grigio – their easy drinking, fruit forward profiles make them the perfect crowd pleasers (they also pair wonderfully with seafood). Special dinners where richer foods are being poured are often reserved for weightier whites and premium reds (Black Pig Shiraz for example) and when the weather turns there is no better wine than a BIG, brooding winter red – soul warming wines that are perfect to curl up with and enjoy.

Cheers!

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