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Wine Event Planning


The 5 Golden Rules of a Successful Wine Reception

A few weeks ago a new client reached out, looking to brainstorm about her upcoming event – a large-scale and multifaceted occasion with some serious (and seriously important) deliverables in play. Jessica was doing her homework. And having learned a few tricks herself over the years, she wanted to tap our experience in planning as much as in facilitating a successful wine reception for her VIPs.

We discovered in speaking with her that we had never issued a comprehensive Best Practices Guide. So here it is – our 5 Golden Rules for planning a winning wine reception!


1.   Be Deliberate About Your Wine Theme.

While you do NOT want to be creative for creative’s sake, you can innovate with purpose, e.g. by leveraging a seeming deal-breaker planning element. Or if things are humming along seamlessly, jump in your time-machine and go old school. Tapping into childhood nostalgia is an easy way to dial up the fun factor.

2.  Serve Wines at the Right Temperature.

It sounds obvious, right? But this key detail for pleasure-enhancement is *always* missed. Do your guests, your wines (and their makers) a favor and nail this! You’ll stand out instantly.

3.  Don't Let Analysis Paralysis Kill Your Event Mojo.

Streamline options by choosing one white, one sparkler or rosé, and one red wine. Here’s why, and how.

4.  Offer a Sparkling Wine.

Any occasion can become a winning one if you throw a bit of festive bubbly in the mix. You’ll be surprised how many people opt for it (hint: buy extra).

5.  Level the Playing Field.

Naturally, we saved the best for last – and in fact, this is our special sauce. You can get a taste this summer!



Champagne or Sparkling Wine? How to Select the Right Bubbles for the Occasion

If you’re confused about Champagne and Sparkling Wine you’re in good company. Questions come up at nearly every event we host, regardless if sparkling wine is even one of the wines we’re sharing.

  •    Can you call this Champagne?
  •    What is Cava?
  •    What about Prosecco?

Today we take things sip by sip, exploring Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt, and Crèmant sparkling wines in turn – so you will not only know the differences between them, but also which style is best suited for the occasion at hand. Let's dive in!

Champagne | Champagne, France

ONLY sparkling wine from Champagne, France is Champagne, and can be called (or labeled) as such. The northern most region in France, this incredibly temperamental, cool-climate locale with its chalky soils ensures grapes with very high acidity – exactly what you’re after when it comes to producing exceptional bubbly.

There are also only 3 legally permitted grape types that can be grown and included in a Champagne wine: Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red) and Pinot Meunier (red). These can be blended (most often) or fly solo.

In addition to the tricky, cool climate (i.e. while you want ripping, fresh acidity, you also need grapes to ripen enough to give the wine some balancing fruit-mojo), the technique employed in making Champagne (méthode champenoise) is incredibly labor and time intensive. Winemakers must induce a second fermentation inside the bottle which, suffice to say, takes many, many steps over an extended time including, at the end, freezing the neck of the bottle to later disgorge unwanted sediment (key for flavor development, but not desired in the final product). The result is a bright, complex, layered and toastier/creamier style of wine.

Often Champagne is Non-Vintage (NV). Winemakers prefer to blend fruit from different harvests to achieve the “House Style” for which they are known. Only in exceptional vintages will wine be dedicated to a vintage year bottling.

INSIDER TIP.   While most of the Champagne we drink is dry (Brut), there are sweeter styles available. Extra Dry is actually slightly sweeter than Brut, followed by demi-sec and then, rarely, doux.

Cava | Penedès, Spain

Cava is the Spanish term for their own style of sparkling wine, and named after the cave cellars where the wine was aged.

It came into being in 1872 when Don José Raventos found himself tromping through Champagne, France and encountered their specialty. He was rightfully fascinated. Soon enough he had decided to employ the traditional French méthode champenoise technique at home, but wanted to put a uniquely Spanish spin on it.

First up, he used local, indigenous varietals: Macabeu (the dominant grape), Parellada and Xarel·lo – all white grapes – contribute their own unique characteristics to the blend and create a uniquely Spanish sparkler. (Producers today are also permitted to use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha and Monastrell in the blend.)

Next was his approach to aging: Cava is aged for only 9 months on the lees (this technique helps give Champagne its famous toasty character).

The differences go on, but the important thing is the result: Cava is a cheery, slightly less robust, citrusy/fruity, sometimes slightly nutty alternative to Champagne.

INSIDER TIP.   Wander off the ubiquitous Cristalino or Friexenet paths and you’ll often find even more value, while supporting smaller producers.

Prosecco | Veneto, Italy

Venetians, for their part, turn to Prosecco – aka Italian sparkling wine – daily. And whether you know Prosecco yet or not, you’ve probably noticed it is certainly an affordable bubbly option.

What makes it different than its counterparts? This wine is named for the largest proportion of grapes used to produce it, Prosecco. It is widely considered more straightforward, lemon-limey and leaner than traditional Champagne.

Why? It’s snappy flavor and texture result because it is made using a different approach than its French and Spanish cousins. The Charmat method ensures the secondary fermentation (necessary to “trap” the CO2 and create the bubbles) occurs in large, pressurized tanks rather than in the bottle. This means the wine is oxygenated and bottled “on demand,” without a long aging regiment. And, since the wine is made in batches if you will, rather than bottle by bottle, this helps keep the price low.

INSIDER TIP:    Gravitate toward Prosecco if a sparkling cocktail is on the menu, too. It’s perfect for both sipping solo and for adding a little unobtrusive sparkle to your cocktail recipe.

Sekt | Germany & Austria

Fun Fact:   Germans drink more Sparkling Wine per capita than any other country. They also produce the most variety of options, all under the larger umbrella term “Sekt”.

Their bubbly can be made with any method described already herein. Naturally, pricier selections are made in the traditional méthode champenoise while cheaper offerings are bottled with the Charmat method. Stylistically you will taste the characteristics that each of these respective approaches imparts – leaner for the latter and toastier and richer for the former.

They can also be made from a wide selection of grapes, with the grape-type used also helping to dictate the flavor experience in the final product. E.g. Riesling Sekt tend to be more zippy with trademark high acidity; Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris deliver a fuller-bodied, rounder experience; and Pinot Noir rosé styles deliver more tang and berry fruit, with pretty aromatics.

While less widely known/imported, a German (and Austrian) sparkling wine experience is quite diverse – and certainly worthy of your interest.

INSIDER TIP:   Use your wallet as your guide. Spend more than $15 to avoid the plonk.

Crèmant de [Fill-In-The-Blank] | Non-Champagne Regions, France

You didn’t think France was having all of the sparkling wine fun in just one of its wine growing regions, did you?

Truth be told, French Crèmant is perhaps our favorite alternative to Champagne. Most often made in the same traditional method, each region in France has go-to varietals. These same grapes are pressed into service for their sparkling wines. For example, the Loire Valley is known for their Chenin Blanc. So Crèmant de Loire tends to be made from Chenin. In Burgundy they are world-famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so that’s what you should expect in bubbly forms.

INSIDER TIP:   Artisanal or small production winegrowers that decide to produce sparkling wine make a BIG commitment. They need the resources – economic and otherwise – to do so. If they are going down this path, they are doing it for a reason. In our experience, passion pays. Crèmant wines are an uber-affordable alternative to Champagne, with many exceptional selections falling in the $16-$22 range.


What’s the moral of the story?
No matter which country floats your boat, sparklers are not just for toasting and gifting; with the variety of styles available worldwide they can be for every day. And perhaps they should be! With their essential, naturally high acidity, sparkling wine pairs superbly with any cuisine. Plus, they’re just F-U-N.


Four Essential Tips for Last-Minute Party Planning

Forget what Andy Williams sang about this being the Most Magical Time of the Year – it’s the craziest, by far! Whether you always knew you were going to be the one planning this year’s holiday party and it just hasn’t happened yet, or the task just landed in your lap, you’re learning fast that all the venues on your top five, ten and now twenty list aren’t available. Or, just as bad, they aren’t able to budge on their minimums to keep you on budget.

You feel like the traffic light has gone from flashing yellow to red, right?

Not to worry – limitations can actually open the door to solutions. Here are four ways to help you stand out this holiday season, without compromising on the festive factor.


Stay put – it’s free, eliminates logistical hurdles + adds value
That’s right. You’re standing in your own venue! Going off-site to make an event special is a ruse. Businesses like those in the Innovation District in downtown Boston or over the water in Cambridge’s Kendall Square are in spaces that are built for a party; open square footage means freer think space – and greater gathering space! Take a page out of their book: optimize open spaces and take the logistics of finding and coordinating with a venue out of the mix.

Get people mixing + moving
Mix things up! Food and beverage stations are to a party what gravity is to earth: a natural rendezvous point. But we always find the people we know, right? It’s easy to get people moving by expanding on the familiar yet offering an interactive element (or two!) where people can converse over new things, make more meaningful connections and learn something along the way. Work with key vendors that have experience doing so, and let them take this planning element off your plate.

Pique curiosity – embrace the element of discovery or surprise
Everyone’s been asking what’s on tap for this year’s party, right? Embrace their need to know by stoking their curiosity. Make your invitation opaque, declaring only the party time and place (and maybe that its open bar). Better yet, consider designing a scavenger hunt element with clues to get people to the right place. (Need help with this? Bring key team leads into the planning process – have them design a hunt for their own team. This will foster additional interaction, personalization and fun without you having to do it all.)

Host during “regular” business hours
Make it easy for people to attend. Hosting an event at the end of a workday, say starting at 3:30pm or 4 o’clock, shows your staff that you value their attendance and their personal time (which is strained as it is during the busy holiday season).

With the holidays fast approaching creativity is your best friend. But you don’t have to have all the ideas! By keeping things on your home turf you have the flexibility to partner with a vendor(s) that can alleviate the planning process and add something different to your shindig.

Bottom Line: Planners should be able to enjoy the festivities, too, even if they happen to be late to the planning game. With a little help, they can!



Screw it! Why You Can't Judge a Wine by Its Closure


When I (Rebecca) worked for a boutique wine shop I remember feeling self-conscious whenever I chose to work with an awesome wine packaged with a screwcap. I personally felt like a trader to the tradition of uncorking a bottle of wine even though the wine quality was in the bottle, as it were. And whether absurd or not, I wasn’t the only one; I knew it would be a tougher “sell”.

So I called it out, ahead of the inevitable question “won’t my friends think that’s a cheap wine?” and worked harder to convince people to take a leap of faith. I probably had a 60/40 success rate.

...I no longer even think about the type of closure a bottle has when I curate a flight of wine for an event.

In writing this piece, I realized I no longer even think about the type of closure a bottle has when I curate a flight of wine for an event. In fact, it’s not until we pull the wines out of their boxes during set-up that we (re)discover which are screwcaps, cork, synthetic, crown (yep! – the same as beer bottles) or glass stops.

Now when we spot at least one wine has a screwcap, we sigh in relief. We know the wine won’t be impacted with cork taint. And since we will only have to open that wine with a quick twist of the wrist, we’re better able to keep guests seamlessly engaged, not having to physically work a corkscrew while geeking out about the wine. Convenience and consistency are our best friends.

Instead of being a sign a wine is cheap, mainstream or basic, closures today are simply a sign of the times. Good ones!

New technologies, systems and processes are perpetually evolving to help us do things better. And we’re thankful the wine industry is no exception. Still, we hear you – the physicality of using a corkscrew definitely taps into our nostalgia for tradition. In the publishing world this could be related to hardcover, paperback or e-reader.

So let’s be fair and dig into WHEN the closure could impact your opinion and experience with a wine, rather than just an added bonus of convenience:

FIRST.  For the great wines out there that are intended to be or are better when consumed “young,” screwcaps simply aid and abet!

SECOND.  For those occasions when a wine will benefit from aging, screwcap closures could impact that success. But not necessarily…

Check it out:

  • Not all screwcaps are created equal. Winemakers have control over which style of screwcap closure they wish to use. Some wines that simply benefit from a little time in the bottle (for flavors to integrate, tannins to mellow and the like – kind of like your soup being better on day 2) may also benefit from a little teeny tiny breath of fresh air via the carefully crafted foil “seal” that exists (or doesn’t) under the lid.
  • There are high end winemakers in this category who have been bottling with screwcaps for a while now (aka at least a decade) with happy results.
  • And their innovation is being rewarded with a recent study that proves (the operative word!) wines can age well with a screwcap closure. These wines not only exhibit terciary nuances that only time can impart, they also deliver greater freshness (i.e. acidity remains intact).


Bottom Line?   Screwcap wine closures are like driving home from work every day withOUT traffic. It’s hard to argue with convenience and consistency, right? Besides, there are still plenty of other closures out there, for the days you don’t want to do the twist and shout!




How Much Wine to Buy For Your [Holiday] Party – The Formula for Success

Making a memorable impression with your event or party is no small task. But we think it's safe to say that not having enough for your guests to drink (our preference, wine!) and eat is a sure sign you won't be remembered for the right reasons. While the "rule" for ordering food is less scientific (so we'll spare you), we do have just the formula to guide your wine purchasing decisions. Here’s how it works:

While your guest are likely to drink less as your festivities progress, some people will become even more enthusiastic. The good news is: taperers always mitigate imbibers. So if you assume one drink per person per hour* you’ll have more than enough to go around.

Now, how does this translate to bottles of wine?

There are (conservatively) 5 glasses of wine in every bottle, 6 when it comes to a sparkling wine toast.

If you have 100 guests and a three hour event figure 300 total drinks.* Divide 300 by 5 to figure out how many bottles are needed (60). (To find out the total number of cases needed, divide that figure by 12 (bottles in a case) = 5cases of wine.)


Naturally you’ll want to select a few different wine options – e.g. a red, a white and a sparkling wine. You can decide how many bottles (or cases) of each of these styles of wine you’d like to have on hand based on the season in which you are celebrating and the venue set-up (e.g. hot summer day under a tent vs. cold and wintry indoors). For example, if you are celebrating the holidays around Boston, you’ll probably want more red than white, plus a splash of sparkling on hand to at least toast the occasion – or using the above example, something like 2.5 cases of red, 1.5 cases of white, and 1 case of sparkling wine.

Yep, that's it! Some parts of planning can be this simple - say, cheers!

 (*) NOTE:  This is the total number of drinks consumed, not just wine. If you are serving beer, wine and liquor, estimate the number of probable wine drinkers and go from there to gauge your actual wine purchase. Alternatively, you can adjust the number of hours people will be drinking wine based on the format or style of the event, e.g. cocktail hour (1.5 glasses) + dinner hour (1.5 glasses) + dancing (1 glass) = 4 wine drinks per person, or 400 total glasses = 80 bottles of wine = 7 cases (always round up).