Tastebuds - Food Reviews & Recipes

Ideal Wines for Small Party

Tastebuds - Ideal Wines for a Small Party

How to select your wines for a small party? This is indeed a perennial problem.

Selection of wines is subjective. Besides pricings, it largely depends on the palate. But how could we know the type of palate that our guests has? Do not fret. There are antiquated practices that we adopt. We have to decide the type of meal, a simple cocktail reception that caters for 30 people or a formal sit-down dinner for 10.

Cocktail Reception

Wines for Cocktail ReceptionsIn a cocktail reception, you cannot be wrong to serve one white and one red wine.

A white wine could be one that is semi-dry. Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice. Chardonnay is a good alternative. Chardonnay, however, could taste buttery. This is common as it undergoes a process, called malolactic fermentation that causes it to take on a buttery flavor. This is especially distinct in the California Chardonnay.

A red wine should not be too difficult to choose. A soft to medium bodied wine is preferred. I would highly recommend either a Merlot or a Pinotage.

A merlot is distinguished by its soft and velvety texture. This wine does not pair with red meat although white meat and game meat is still acceptable.

Pinotage is a cross between a spicy, full bodied grape from the sunny South of France with a cool, complicated sophisticate from Burgundy. It was developed in the 1920s in South Africa when Abraham Izak Perold cross polluted the southern grape Cinsault with Burgundian Pinot Noir. Pinotage has a rustic red color with excellent aromas of plums, berries and even bananas. Whilst small amounts are now grown in California and New Zealand, Pinotage is still a signature South African variety.

Whilst Cabernet Sauvignon is a common grape, I am not inclined to recommend it. This grape is grown all over the world and the wine could be harsh in palate. Amongst the world, it is also known as the most tannic grape.

The next question is whether we should select a new world wine or an old world wine. As for me, it does not matter. The challenge is to find a wine that you like and you think your guests will like. Great wine is about nuance, surprise, subtlety, expression, qualities that keep you coming back for another taste.

Formal Dinner Reception
Wines for Formal Dinner Receptions

This is by far more difficult. The primary consideration is knowing how to pair with the food for the occasion. As an example, if you have a four-course dinner: a starter, a soup, a main course and a dessert. You can begin with champagne before dinner commences.

A Pommery or a Moet and Chandon is the choice. Indeed, these two champagnes have been served at every Nobel Prize dinner since the award was first given in Stockholm in the year of 1901.

A white wine for the starter is the obvious choice. It will be tantalizing.

A velvety Pinot Noir with the soup sounds great. Eric Asimov, a New-York based wine writer, once wrote “A wine like the Pinot Noir is bound to have a pretty big mystique, and Pinot Noir wears it like a rap star wears gold”.

A heavy-bodied wine like a Shiraz to pair with the main course of prime roast beef is desirable.

Finally, we have to take cognizant that as a rule of thumb, the progression of wine starts with a Merlot, then a Cabernet Sauvignon and a closure with Shiraz.

This is typical for an Italian wine selection. We start with a Chianti, then Barbaresco and end with a Barolo.

Dessert wine pairs very well with any kind of dessert.

Hungary’s Tokay Eszencia, although a highly sought after elixir, is the sweetest wine in the world, and may not be appropriate. At 40%-70 % residual sugar, it is considerable sweeter than the French Sauternes, albeit the latter is too expensive to indulge.

A South African Muscadel is always my favorite in terms of pricing and quality.

Remember, a white wine and a dessert wine has to be chilled properly. It should not be over chilled. An over chilled wine will not give you the best fruit flavor of the grape. The taste of acid over powers the grapes.


Jimmy Ler Before indulging in wine business, Jimmy Ler was working with a French financial institution for more than 10 years where he horned his knowledge on wine and the art of speaking French, albeit with much more difficulty on the latter.

He has been conducting Wine Presentation and Wine Lateral Tasting at the Changi Beach Club and other social events as far back in early 1990s.

Amongst the various corporate bodies, government agencies, financial institutions, tertiary higher learning that have availed his wine talk and presentation are, not exhaustive:

National University of Singapore, Singapore Institute of Management, Singapore Manufacturers’ Association, Bukit Batok Community Centre, Kim Seng Community Centre, Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), ABB, ERA, Shell, PAP’s South West Womens’ Wing, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce* , Hokien Huay Kuan, Media Station 95.8FM*.

Jimmy Ler is also a prolific writer. He writes for various local magazines, as well as for Reuters.