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When gathering with friends and loved ones, wine is a versatile choice that will serve an elegant soiree, corporate function, or intimate dinner with equal aplomb.

How to choose wine for a special occasion by Jennifer Campbell

To help you plan your next party, here are some tips and guidelines for what to serve, how much to spend, and just how much wine your friends will drink.

How much do I need?

As a general rule, you will get six 4-ounce glasses from a 750ml bottle of wine. The average guest at a stand-up party will drink two glasses of wine an hour. With these numbers in mind, the math is easy. If you have 15 guests at a cocktail party, they'll go through 30 glasses, or five bottles of wine per hour. This means you'll need about a bottle per person for a typical three-hour party. At a dinner, the average is half a bottle per person, so a group of six will drink three bottles. Try opening a different wine for each course, or have white wine when your guests arrive and serve two bottles of red with dinner. For any party, it's a good idea to have an extra bottle or two on hand - wine goes fast when shared amongst good friends.

How much should I spend?

First off, set a wine budget. Since you already know how many bottles you need, a budget will help guide you to an appropriate price point.

For a small dinner party, especially one where wine will be the star, it's always nice to splurge on a few good bottles. Indulge your friends (and yourself, of course) with a special vintage or a limited production, small-lot wine. Or, choose a less expensive wine to start and serve a pricier selection with dinner, where it will complement the meal.
A bigger bash needs a crowd pleaser, something that's easy to drink, like Merlot. Also, consider what's trendy: Right now, Shiraz is big and Chardonnay is enjoying a renaissance, so these will probably be good choices. For convenience, you may want to buy wine by the magnum (that is, a size equivalent to two 750ml bottles) so you won't need to crack open a new bottle every twenty minutes.

Serving suggestions

When hosting a large group, create a wine bar so guests can serve themselves. Before everyone arrives, place several bottles on a small table, along with a corkscrew, a towel (for spills), the glasses, and maybe some wine charms. Open a few bottles to get things started, and your guests will take care of things from there. Plan on having 1 1/2 glasses per person. Consider renting the necessary stemware so no one's drinking wine from a coffee mug. For a dinner party, set up a table, similar to the one above, in the dining room. Serve guests their first glass of wine on arrival and then place open bottles on the table, where they can be easily accessed during the meal.

Of course the most important consideration is the comfort and pleasure of your guests. Don't fret over a specific vintage or just the right varietal. Relax with some good wine and delicious food, and enjoy an evening among friends.