Ask an Expert: Choosing Wine

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Anthony Giglio is a wine expert and author of Cocktails in New York (Rizzoli New York, November 2004). Besides guest speaking on wines at events such as the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, he also helps event planners choose wines for events.

Do guests notice the quality of the wine they’re drinking at events?
A lot of people aren?t paying attention because of the sad reality that at most functions, the wine is the least thoughtfully chosen thing at the event. They've come to expect mediocrity.When you choose a wine for a large event, do you have to choose something straightforward and unexciting, or do you choose something unusual that might pique guests’ interests?
I absolutely choose the latter. I never, never ever want to pick a chardonnay or a merlot simply because there are [other wines that are] terrific values. Because of chardonnay and merlot’s popularity—they’re two of the most popular varietals right now—they’re overmade. They show no personality from bottle to bottle, brand to brand. A $7 chardonnay tastes like cheap movie popcorn. There are so many other grapes that you can get for under $10. Spain is the land of the greatest bargain in the world right now. You can get great whites and reds for $8.

New Yorkers are very jaded. Is it hard to find something that’s going to impress them?
No, they’re not hard to impress. Especially at an event where it’s not wine snobs. People are so pleased to be getting something different at a function, and say, "Wow, this is something I’ve never had before. What is it?”

Do you tailor your wine choices to the crowd, whether it’s old or young, or a certain profession?
Young people tend to be more open and more adventurous. An older crowd, the moneyed classes, and sixtysomething crowd, they want fancier wine, they want Europe. They don’t want California. So I’ll try to find something Old World, because it’s considered in better taste and better pedigree. They want European pedigree so they feel like they’re getting something special, and getting their money’s worth.

What about dessert wines?
People are getting more accustomed to seeing wines surround a meal. I’ve done events where the dessert wine is dessert, and they’ll put that alongside a cheese course. It’s definitely a food trend that you’ll see a cheese plate instead of a dessert, and paired with one final wine that’s served in a pretty small portion that doesn’t cost a lot. If you did a sherry or port, it’s a one or two-ounce pour at most. Sherry with a cheese course is delicious. Unless it’s a blue [cheese], then I would use a sauternes or something sweet.

Suzanne Ito

Photo: Stacey Rimassa
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