How to: the modern dinner party


Party host pressure noun – leading up to a social occasion, a host becomes increasingly concerned the meal, wine, or setting may be unimpressive to their guests. Symptoms include heart fluttering and slight nausea.

Sound familiar? Being the ‘perfect’ dinner party host can be nerve-wracking. So our latest Inspirational Collection feature is dedicated to dinner party dos and don’ts, with stylish tableware, beverages and nibbles. For us, the menu is the easy part, the wine selection and table dressing is where it gets tricky. We caught up with Laithwaite’s Wine for help with choosing the perfect bottle, and designer Alison Cork for top hosting tips.

Grape expectations with Guy Watson, Educator at Laithwaite’s Wine

In terms of the perfect wine for you, ultimately, pick what you like! Only you know if you like white or red. Then, choose from crisp and refreshing, rich and mouth-filling, soft and juicy, or powerfully smooth.

If you’re hosting friends, it’s a different story. You don’t need to go for anything pretentious, and don’t focus too much on you. Think broad appeal and cheerful, such as our Alessandro Gallici Pinot Grigio (in our White Case), or our PS Pétillant Rosé NV (in our Rose Case).

Finally, here’s some quick pointers on storing and serving your whites from your reds.

Keep them chilled, but not too cold so you don’t kill the flavour. Chardonnay has twice the flavour when served only slightly chilled (after half an hour in the fridge). For a quick chill, use a bucket of water with ice in or wrap a wet dishcloth around the bottle and put it in the freezer for 20 minutes.

We all used to say store at room temperature, but be careful. With good central heating, ‘room temperature’ can be a lot hotter than it once was. Chill your lighter, soft and fruity reds. It’s an amazing revelation with sweet fruity-forward wines, such as a Spanish Garnacha (La Pena). Just avoid the reds with noticeable tannins.

Some oxygenation will bring the wine out of its shell so splash decant by pouring your red wine into a jug, or – dare I say – stick it in a food blender if time is short. Just don’t tell the wine maker…

Dine with designer Alison Cork

I like to host small dinner parties and gatherings, and I carefully choose the people I invite, so that they all have something in common with each other. I absolutely love hosting as I am always interested in people.

For me, the perfect dinner party table is one which is appropriate for the occasion. If it is a simple supper, then plain white linen, sparkling glasses and a small posy of non-scented flowers does the trick. If it is a celebration, I go all-out theatrical: cake stands dripping with grapes, candles all over the place, multiple wine glasses, and a general sense of drama.

Even with the addition of impressive props and tableware, always leave ample spacing. I think people tend to overcrowd the table, and that can make eating a less-than relaxing affair. If you want to put a lot of decorations on the table, you need to make sure that there is still a clear area around each table setting in which people can manoeuvre their plate, glass and cutlery. The aim is to relax your guests, not traumatise them.

With your colour scheme, I would keep things simple. I love colour, but when it comes to dining I’m a bit of a purist. It’s about the food. I was a food critic for 10 years so feel very strongly on this subject! My dinner party table would most often have pure white linen with silver- or gold-themed cutlery.

I do have a passion for coloured glass, so the wine glasses might well be the multi-colored bohemian crystal glasses that my grandmother gave me. Other than that, the focus is what’s on the plate! My horror table setting would be something drab such as a dirty brown or green, with an overload of gold accessories.

My biggest tip is to make sure everything is aligned! I hate to see wonky place settings and practically go round with a ruler to measure the space, although I have a well-trained eye now. Even the simplest table looks smart if it is neatly set out, and there is something very impressive about a long table of many settings, all perfectly lined up.

And finally, my dream dinner guests?

1) Queen Elizabeth 1 – She lived through a captivating period of history and I’d also love to see what jewels and fabrics she was wearing
2) Margaret Thatcher – I met her once and was surprised just how easy and engaging she was to talk to and I am also interested in politics
3) Zaha Hadid – I love architecture and think she was supreme in her art

Sadly all deceased, but fascinating nonetheless.

Visit our Host with the Most editorial for more dinner party inspiration

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