If you open one of those vintage books about entertaining, it’s like looking into a different world. It’s all chicken galantines and moulded salads, stuffed celery sticks and bizarre sandwich fillings (sardines and stewed apple, anyone?), and the kind of party food that back then would probably have been accompanied by a glass of medium-dry white or a “summer cup”.
In fact, it’s as hard to imagine a world pre-prosecco, pre-rosé or pre-New Zealand sauvignon blanc these days as it is to envisage an Ottolenghi-free Guardian. Mind you, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a party wine, any more than there is a dinner party wine: it all depends on the menu, the theme (if any) and the guests.
What party drinking is actually more about than anything else is numbers. Of course, you hope everyone will bring a bottle, but if you’re laying on the wine, the key is to pour bottles that taste and, ideally, look more expensive than they really are. (If your budget is really tight, incidentally, Tesco, which at the moment seems to be trying to outdo Aldi and Lidl on the value stakes, currently has two at less than £5: a soft, fruity, 12.5% Bulgarian merlot for £4.50 – make sure to buy the 2020 – and a remarkably decent, dry, Italian, 11.5% white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo for £3.95 that would do the job nicely.)
There’s also a festive aspect to parties, especially after the past grim and depressing year. A party should be fun, so it’s not an occasion for serious wines that merit thoughtful consumption; party wines are wines to swig rather than to mull over. A cheerful label helps, so if you’re taking a bottle, choose one that at least looks a bit upbeat such as the Vis à Vis shiraz or Les Chiens red in today’s picks, although I always favour the strategy of plonking it somewhere close by, rather than handing it straight to your host at the door and never seeing it again.
The other important thing is to have something interesting available for non-drinkers or those who are moderating their alcohol intake. As well as the beers I wrote about last week, there is also an amazing range of other options out there, with Wildpress apple juice being my current favourite. Try the gorgeously appley Rebel Harvest, a blend of james grieve, may queen and d’arcy spice that its makers rather nicely describe as sounding like members of an ageing rock band and that sells for £5.10 a bottle from wildpressjuice.com.
Mimo Moutinho Loureiro 2020 £6.49 Aldi, 11.5%. Fresh, food-friendly, cool label, modest in alcohol: this attractive, dry Portuguese white ticks all the boxes, and makes you look as if you know your wine.
Pierre Jaurant Côtes du Luberon Rosé 2020 £6.49 Aldi, 13%. The ooh-la-la on the bottle shrieks party, so take advantage of this classic Provence rosé at a less than typically Provençal price.
Vis à Vis Shiraz-Mourvèdre 2019 £7.99 Lidl, 14%. A gorgeously bright, lush, South African red – not cheap for Lidl, but it would be at least £2 more anywhere else. Perfect if the party’s a barbecue. Love the slightly surreal Dalí-esque label, too.
Castelo da Lapa Bairrada Brut 2018 £6.99 Lidl, 12%. If you’re looking for party fizz that won’t break the bank and isn’t as predictable as prosecco, this peachy Portuguese sparkler is perfect.
Les Chiens Catalans Vin de France Rouge 2019 £8.45 The Whisky Exchange (or £8.03 if you buy six), £8.35 Waistcoat Wines Loughborough, 12.5%. This cheery red is a great bottle to take to a party, especially if your friends are into natural wine. Nice chilled, too.