By now WU readers know how much I love and enjoy Elisabetta Fagiuoli of Montenidoli, so I won’t yatter on too much about her and her wine (although that is akin to sitting on one’s hands). She was recently in town for the SlowFood show and, long story short, I pulled together an impromptu wine dinner for 10 people. She brought a fellow Tuscan winemaker, a Tuscan cheese maker and a couple that own a bar here in the city. I had my family and a friend (retired wine importer and the person who connected me with Elisabetta). Over the past few days as I have been talking about this special night, everyone has asked me, “How did you pull that off?”
Here is how I pulled it off:
1. Supportive Husband and Daughter
Without my family’s support and enthusiasm for what I do for a living, this night would never have come off successfully. It’s hard not to take them for granted, and I continually remind myself to be grateful. Thank you, Joe! Thank you, Alex! Without you, it just wouldn't have happened.
2. Plan simple food, nothing fussy
This is not the time to dust off the extreme gourmet’s cookbook and start experimenting. Go for a simple menu and yes, you can use pre-made foods. For my starter, I grilled asparagus and made a truffle aioli, and then presented salumi with paté and crackers. Also, have everything mis-en-place (French for "everything in place" - all set up, as Americans say). Once guests arrive, there should be no more chopping.
3. Have lots of plates and glassware
Wine dinners, of course, require a lot of glassware. Also, with many courses, you'll need quite a few plates and silverware. Over the years I have amassed a large supply for parties. For plates I use plain white plates from Target and Ikea. For silverware, I have two nice sets for 12 and a few backup sets of lower quality. Glassware is tough for storage, and it does cost a pretty penny. It is more important for guests to have one nice glass for white wine and one nice glass for red wine, and guests can reuse them for whatever is flowing. Your guests do not need a clean glass for each wine. Of course, all these supplies need to be easily accessible and ready to go
Typically, I don’t really like potluck, but since this was Elisabetta I accepted the contributions. My guests brought all the wine, the cheese course, and dessert. I only had to do appetizers, salad, and the main course.
5. Linens clean and pressed already
Take a page from Martha Stewart and have all your linens pressed and ready to go.
6. Some Luck
Thank goodness the house happened to be clean!
Our friends make fun of us but Joe and I have our roles down to a science. I cook and plate and serve the food, and he removes the plates and rinses them in between courses. Our rule of thumb is that at least one of us has to be seated at the table throughout dinner.
8. Kitchen layout
When I designed my kitchen, I had my “counter extended” put in (see pic). This allows me to plate food for 10 or 12 with ease. For this dinner, when guests arrived, I already had the plates spread out in the kitchen with the beets already in place. So when it was time to serve the salad, all I had to do was dress the arugula and plate.
9. Guests can help
Let guests help open wine, decant, and serve. They can be taking care of the front of the house while you are in the kitchen busy putting on the finishing touches.
10. Don’t get stressed
Remember why you are doing this and enjoy your company and conversations.
All in all we had a blast. Were there mistakes? YES! Most of the time, guests don’t even notice (and friends are always forgiving). I just remember the magic of the evening and how at the beginning of the meal I didn’t know some of these people and by the end they were like family. Saluté!
Angela Camacho, a certified sommelier and author of a best selling wine tool, The Wine Wheel®, shares her obsession with wine and food.