Don't sweat the small stuff — or the major stuff either — if you're planning to host a New Year's Eve party in a few short days. Our local food and wine pros have you covered.
Holiday burn out can set in early, making hosting – or even attending – a New Year’s Eve party seem like a chore. You could put out a cooler of beer, some reheated frozen appetizers and call it a night, but your guests might expect a bit more panache. Hosting doesn’t have to be hard work, especially with the help of wine and food pros to squash your worries. Want to take your host something special? We have you covered, too. Take a deep breath and read on.
We ordered up a cocktail of help from our wine pros Dee Becker, wine expert at The Right Bottle, Smyrna; and Geegee Delaney, wine consultant at Kreston Wine & Spirits, Middletown and Wilmington.
Champagne screams luxury. True champagne, or that from the Champagne region of France, might be out of your price range. No worries said Dee Becker, of The Right Bottle in Smyrna. Choose a sparkling wine instead, Becker said.
“When selecting a sparkling wine, it’s a good idea to either lean toward a less dry variety or select a couple different varieties — one sweet and one dry,” said Becker. “Some guests may not enjoy a dry sparkling wine as much and then possibly won’t have more than just the sip with the midnight toast. This is often the case when people say they don’t like champagne or sparkling wine. Usually they just don’t like dry wines, so a sweeter option solves that problem.”
Try a Moscato d’Asti, a wine that’s enjoyed a major boost in popularity from the most unlikely of places – the Olive Garden.
Geegee Delaney, with Kreston Wine and Spirits in Middletown and Wilmington, said a few years ago the chain restaurant started pouring a Moscato, and the requests for it started flowing in Kreston’s as well. The stores pieced together the mystery and started stocking more Moscato to customers’ delight. The Middletown branch now offers about 20 still and 17 sparkling varieties.
“That’s definitely stealing the show right now,” Delaney said.
Another sparkling wine on the rise is Prosecco.
“Prosecco is definitely becoming more mainstream these days,” Becker said. “True French champagnes can be very expensive, so Prosecco can certainly be an alternative. Of the variations of Prosecco itself, the Spumante varieties (or fully sparkling rather than just slightly sparkling) will typically be the more expensive options.”
Food can be a game changer when picking a beautiful bottle for the party.
“People are a lot more interested in food and wine now,” Delaney said. “They’re really concerned with what they’re having, what their hosts are having, and matching it and making it work.”
If choosing a wine for a dinner party, a good place to start is Europe.
“There’s something to be said for French and European wines in general because they’re more food friendly, because they’re lower in alcohol, in general,” she said. “They were made for food, literally.”
MAKE A STATEMENT
Score points with the host by taking them something distinctive. Delaney suggested sticking with the sparkling wines for New Year’s Eve, but exploring the unexpected.
“Sparklers are the thing to bring, but there are all kinds of different ones from all over the world,” she said.
Becker suggests going red.
“One of my favorite options in the mid-priced range is Banfi's Rosa Regale. It’s amazing.” Becker said. “It’s an Italian sweet, red, sparkling wine. It has beautiful aromas of roses and tastes like fresh berries. Not only is it great to celebrate with, it’s also one of my favorite hostess gifts to take to a party I’m attending.”
BIT OF BUBBLY WITH A KICK
Create a signature cocktail for your soiree without breaking your back or the bank.
Becker recommends using sparkling wine — it is New Year’s Eve, after all — to create a Bellini or a Pointsettia. Bellini is Prosecco with peach nector or puree. Pointsettia is sparkling wine topped with a splash of cranberry juice.
Be kind to your designated drivers, too, and create something special (and simple) for them. The Office of Highway Safety offers recipes for a whole slew of “mocktails,” or cocktails sans alcohol. For a spirited but safe midnight toast, try a New Year’s Eve Kiss: 2 oz. passion fruit juice in a champagne flute, then fill with club soda.
SCREW THE BOTTLE (TOP), OPT FOR WINE IN A BOX
To box or not to box, that is a great question, Delaney said. Just like anything else, there are delicious boxed wines and there are ones that should come with a printed warning: Headache guaranteed.
They started in France where refrigerator space is more of a commodity than in the United States.
“It’s much easier for them to have four bottles of wine in a box than to have four bottles of wine taking up room in their fridge,” she said.
So don’t be afraid to serve a boxed wine, which can be more economical — not to mention easier to lug from the liquor store — than bottles. Plus, if you pour it into a carafe, your guests will never be the wiser.
Delaney recommends the following:White: Sauvignon blanc by Silver Birch, pino grigio by Bota Box Red: Cardinal zin by Bonny Doon
Another red-headed stepchild of the liquor store is the much maligned screw top wine, or Stelvin closure.
“This is something that is getting better but a lot of people still have issues with them, and there is nothing wrong with a Stelvin closure or screw top,” Delaney said.
More than 95 percent of the world’s wine is meant to be consumed between 2 to 5 years of bottling, so the thought that a wine needs to age with a cork is not always the case. In other words, get over your snobbery and embrace the screw top.
“It maintains the integrity of wine just as well if not better than a cork,” she said.
SPLURGE VS. STEAL
Becker and Delaney tell you where to scrimp and where to save.
Delaney:Steal — Casa Dora’s Cava. This sparkling, Spanish brut is one of Delaney’s favorites. “They’re made in the same way champagnes are made but they’re a tiny fraction of the price.” Splurge — Any true champagne. Try Aubry, a brand whose bottles are priced at about the $40 mark. Another option is to ask for a “grower’s champagne,” or one in which the grapes and the bottling are done at the grower’s.
Whether it’s caterers or bakers, they all share the same advice when it comes to deciding which desserts to bring or serve at a New Year’s Eve party — keep it simple.
Simple desserts mostly consist of light, easy to transport finger foods such as cupcakes, cookies, cake pops and pecan pralines (pecans covered in brown sugar and heavy cream). These are all items you can bake at home with the children or pick up at your local bakery; in the case of pecan pralines, the ingredients can be found at any grocery store.
Don’t view simplicity as being boring. For instance, Drew Hurst, with Cupcake Heaven in Wilmington, offers 150 varieties of cupcakes that are anything but dull. His holiday menu includes: gingerbread cupcakes, white chocolate and raspberry cupcakes, chocolate-covered pretzel cupcakes, reindeer, snowflake cupcakes and Hanukkah decorated cupcakes.
“I’m a believer that’s it more fun to have finger foods instead of a formal meal,” Hurst said. “People tend to mingle more when the food is light and easier to eat.”
George Carroll, with Dolce Bakery in Milford, agrees.
“Cupcakes are very popular this time of year,” Carroll said. “With the smaller [food items] you don’t have to deal with silverware and plates.”
Desserts are fun but complementing them with hors d’oeuvres will make for an even greater party. Similar to serving desserts, offering light hors d’oeuvres will do the trick, said Ben Porter, of Food for Thought Catering in Wilmington. You can’t go wrong offering seafood platters of cocktail shrimp, crab imperial, as well as shrimp wrapped in bacon, hummus, platters of vegetables or cheese, and bruschetta, which is “a huge party favorite,” Porter said.
Similar to wines, there’s an assortment of cheeses on the market from which to choose, so feel free to mix it up, offering a combination of soft and hard cheeses like brie, any goat cheese, cheddar and Colby-Jack.