Large bot­tles, party pies and a lit­tle fizz make for the best cel­e­bra­tions.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents -

Party wines From left: stem­less Fish­net wine glass from Fran­calia. Viski 24-karat gold-plated corkscrew from Peter’s of Kens­ing­ton. Ex­treme rosé glass from Riedel. Stem­less goldrimmed glass from West Elm. Vi­tis Cham­pagne glass from Riedel. Ver­i­tas coupe from Riedel. All other props stylist’s own. Stock­ists p168.

Here’s a party tip you never thought you’d read: first-growth Bordeaux tastes par­tic­u­larly de­li­cious drunk straight from the bot­tle. The scene: a share house in north Lon­don. The time: a sum­mer’s evening, 1992. Along with a bunch of other young wine new­bies, I’d been work­ing for weeks at one of the world’s largest tast­ing com­pe­ti­tions, lug­ging boxes, open­ing bot­tles, wash­ing glasses. We de­served a party.

And party we did. Hoo­ley doo­ley. Any no­tion that UK wine folk are a bunch of stuffy fuddy-dud­dies was shat­tered that night. I re­mem­ber one em­i­nent wine jour­nal­ist run­ning around in a wig and a dress, singing Gilbert and Sul­li­van, while an­other danced on the roof in the moon­light, drink­ing Cham­pagne from mag­num. And I re­mem­ber peo­ple pass­ing round a bot­tle of Château La­tour, swig­ging the clas­sic claret with rel­ish and wax­ing lyri­cal like the wine-lov­ing tramps in Tam­popo.

Not all wine par­ties since have been quite as loose as that night in Lon­don. But the most mem­o­rable ones have shared some of its essence: plenty of fizz, a hint of drama, big bot­tles, and open­ing the best wines for friends.

Fast for­ward to the late ’90s and an end-of-vin­tage fes­ti­val party in the Barossa Val­ley. The old bar­rel hall we’re in is full of sweaty wine­mak­ers danc­ing badly, the fat sound of an oom­pah band, and the smell of that clas­sic South Aus­tralian late-night, af­ter-pub dish, the pie floater – ex­cept Mag­gie Beer has cooked the pies, so they’re a bit fancy: stuffed with kan­ga­roo, on a bed of fresh mushy peas.

Some­one hands me a glass of deep-pur­ple foam­ing shi­raz (wine­mak­ers were still la­belling it “Sparkling Bur­gundy” at the time) and ev­ery­thing clicks: it’s such a quintessen­tially Aus­tralian wine, per­fect for when you’re in an ir­rev­er­ent, party mood. Es­pe­cially when there are baked goods in­volved.

If you haven’t tried this combo re­cently, here’s an idea for your next party: track down a cou­ple of bot­tles of re­ally good sparkling red (Joseph, Sep­pelt, Best’s, Ash­ton Hills, for in­stance – or Rock­ford if you can find/af­ford it), in­vite a few friends over and launch them at a se­lec­tion of the finest party pies and sausage rolls you can rus­tle up.

Ide­ally, you want to be serv­ing your sparkling red in mag­num, too. I’m a huge fan of the big bot­tle at par­ties. For my daugh­ter’s 21st we had a fam­ily gath­er­ing at our place: grand­par­ents strug­gling to hear the speeches, par­ents won­der­ing where the last two decades went, chil­dren run­ning riot.

And we poured wine from mag­nums: some from my daugh­ter’s birth year, some younger wines, all in big, beau­ti­ful 1.5-litre bot­tles.

It looks so the­atri­cal, and feels so con­vivial to pour wine from mag­num – and the wine tastes bet­ter, too. No, se­ri­ously, it does. I once sat down with Gee­long wine­maker Gary Farr and tried 10 vin­tages of pinot noir he’d made, from both bot­tle and mag­num. And in every case the mag­num ver­sion was fresher, more com­plex, gen­er­ally su­pe­rior. Some­thing to do with physics, ap­par­ently: the larger the vol­ume of wine in the bot­tle, the slower the age­ing process.

Then there’s the ques­tion of the qual­ity of wine you put on. Here I think it re­ally pays to be as gen­er­ous as you can. Think back to your fond­est mem­o­ries of wines drunk at par­ties and I guar­an­tee you’ll re­call the bet­ter bot­tles and the peo­ple you shared them with – not the cheap plonk your host bought on dis­count

at the lo­cal liquor barn. I’m not sug­gest­ing you open the Grange – but then again, why not? That’s what wine’s for, af­ter all. Shar­ing and en­joy­ing, not hoard­ing and ad­mir­ing.

If you have a wine col­lec­tion – ei­ther a proper un­der­ground cel­lar (lucky you) or even just a stash of wines in the cup­board – here’s a sug­ges­tion for your next din­ner party. When your guests ar­rive, in­vite each of them to choose a bot­tle for every­one to share. It’s a won­der­fully gen­er­ous way to en­cour­age peo­ple to en­gage with the wine they’re drink­ing, and it leads to lots of ex­change around the ta­ble: “What did you choose?”; “Here, try this…”; “Oh, I love that wine!”

They won’t all choose your most pre­cious bot­tles: peo­ple are good like that. And if they do? Well, just en­joy the mo­ment.

A few years ago, I vis­ited a vine­yard in Western Aus­tralia with a pho­tog­ra­pher friend, and the host in­vited us to choose a bot­tle from his ex­ten­sive cel­lar to have with din­ner. Any bot­tle, he said. He didn’t mind. My mate picked out the first wine he saw and brought it up­stairs to the din­ing room. It was the 1973 Moss Wood caber­net, the first vin­tage of this clas­sic Aus­tralian red, and prob­a­bly our host’s last bot­tle, but he didn’t blink as he pulled the cork on this ir­re­place­able trea­sure. It was mag­nif­i­cent: su­perb, cedary, earthy, won­der­ful old wine. An un­for­get­table mo­ment and an un­for­get­table din­ner party.

It looks so the­atri­cal, and feels so con­vivial to pour wine from mag­num – and the wine tastes bet­ter, too.

From left: 2015 Mun­jebel Terre Si­cil­iane Rosso, 2001 Grand Vin de Château La­tour, 2017 Caves D’Es­clans Sacha Li­chine “Whis­per­ing An­gel” Rosé, and Sep­pelt Orig­i­nal Sparkling Shi­raz.

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