Wines to Drink While You Wait

April 18, 2013

We may have food down cold, but wine? This is where we'll conquer it. Join us; we don't want to drink alone. 

Today: Find yourself waiting? Grab a glass -- we know what to pour.

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A few weeks ago it was my turn to host book club, and I had prepared dinner for eight people who were due to arrive at 7. At 6:30, the doorbell rang. There stood my friend Jim, all smiles. “Am I early?” he asked.

Jim, fully aware of my love for wine and hospitality, knew he’d set us both up for a little something extra to sip. Not that I was complaining. But it made me wonder: what do you drink while you wait for the others to arrive? Or while you wait for your table at a restaurant, or for dinner to cook? 

First thing's first: go low alcohol.
You want to keep your guests happy, but not too happy. A good rule of thumb is to choose a wine that is 12.5% alcohol by volume or lower, which is a number you can usually find on the lower right side of the bottle’s label.

Choose a wine with balanced acidity.
In wine speak, balanced acidity is also known as "structure." Think of it as the wine's skeleton; it means that the wine has the bones to stand up to what you'll be eating. (Wines with good acidity are typically very food-friendly.)

When you find an aromatic grape, stop looking.
Get the most out of your wait with a wine that’s floral, aromatic and pleasant to drink -- grapes like Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewürtztraminer will do this for you almost every time. 

When in Doubt, Choose Bubbles 
Sparkling wine is tough to beat: it’s seriously underrated as a food-friendly pairing, plus it’s just plain fun. Order a glass if you’re out, or stock up at home, affordably. Less pricey alternatives to authentic Champagne from the Champagne region of France include wines from New York’s Long Island (Martha Clara Brut), California (Scharffenberger Excellence Brut), New Mexico (Gruet Blanc de Noirs), and sparkling Torrontes from Argentina (Raza Dolce).

For an older-world, European style, try Cava from Spain (Marques de Monistrol Brut), Sekt from Germany and Austria, and Prosecco from Italy (Ruffino).

More: Looking for other ways to stock up affordably? We've got your back.

What We Pour
If we’re in our own kitchen, one option is to drink the wine we’re cooking with. (I, for one, am a much better cook with a glass of wine close at hand.) But as Jim and I walked into my kitchen that evening, I knew exactly what I'd be reaching for -- a white Bordeaux from Chateau Ducasse. At the moment, this is my house wine, which means it fits all of those guidelines above, plus it's extremely well-vetted: I like it, it’s easily available, it isn’t very expensive, and I always keep a few bottles in the house. (Bonus: nearly every wine shop will give you a discount if you buy six bottles or more.)

Next time you taste a wine you really like, snap a picture of the label, and take it to your local wine shop. Buy a few bottles, and there you go! Your very own house wine to serve guests on the early side. 

Above all, go with the flow.
Start looking at choosing wine amongst your (also waiting) dining companions as an opportunity to try new things. Case in point: my husband and his family, who are Belgian, are in the habit of drinking Port wine before meals. It’s not customary, but it works for them and, when I’m in their company, it works for me too.

Photos by James Ransom

Read More:
Wines to Sip with Braised Dishes
How to Save Leftover Wine
How to Pour Wine Without a Drop Stop

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Eenee Pflum Ferrano
    Eenee Pflum Ferrano
  • Shalini
  • emily olson
    emily olson
  • Cathy Huyghe
    Cathy Huyghe
Cathy Huyghe

Written by: Cathy Huyghe

Best advice I've ever heard regarding wine? "Just drink the stuff."


Eenee P. April 24, 2013
I enjoyed this article because it spoke to me...the wine-neophyte. For one who has drunk a lot of wine in my life..there's so much to learn about it. You've hidden this talent from your Book Club friends. I hope to see you in SF-Napa soon so we can sip some wine together.
Cathy H. April 25, 2013
Thank you, Eenee. I'm especially flattered to hear that it speaks to you as a wine newbie, even having drunk your fair share of the stuff! As for sipping wine in SF/Napa? You're. On.
Shalini April 19, 2013
This is a great piece! I too swear by 12.5% wines. There is more to sip that way!
Cathy H. April 19, 2013
Thanks very much! It was certainly fun to write... I love what a friend of mine from school once said: "I start giggling whenever I even think of bubbles in my glass." If you're going to wait, why not make it festive? With lower alcohol, all the better.
emily O. April 18, 2013
Not knowing that New Mexico was a state known for any sparkling wines, I sipped a glass of Gruet's rose during a party a few months ago. Now I see it sold in a variety of grocery stores at a price to fit any wallet. Really enjoying this weekly column!
Cathy H. April 19, 2013
I appreciate that! The Gruet from New Mexico are a surprising, really fun, domestic sparkling option. And I'm learning quickly that there are sparkling wines produced from all sorts of off-the-radar places. British Columbia, anyone? Cheers!