This Fall, Crush It with an Easy Wine & Cheese Party
Autumn, Napa Valley. The grapevines sag with voluptuous amethyst clusters, their fragile skins perilously close to bursting with sweet juice. Night or day, at the pinnacle of ripeness the winemaker shouts the highly anticipated order: “Start picking!”
Welcome to the Crush . . . that urgent, all-hands-on-deck imperative to get the fruit picked and pressed and the juice bottled at its very peak.
While researching The Napa Wine Heiresses series a couple of years back, I was lucky to be among the crush of tourists filling up Napa’s narrow valley roads, pouring into every winery to be among the first to taste the year’s bounty. That experience impacted me so powerfully that by the time I boarded my homebound plane, I was already writing A Taste of Chardonnay.
No matter where you are, celebrate this year’s Crush by treating your friends—and yourself—to a get-together that’s classy, inexpensive, and not at all tricky.
Start with an assortment of red and white wines. Don’t stress over labels. The point is to offer a selection and let your guests discover which ones they like. The simplest way to calculate how much you’ll need is to divide your guest list by three: fifteen guests equals five bottles. (Disclaimer: if your friends are anything like mine, have a few back-up bottles on stand by!)
Save room in your cart for some good artisanal cheeses. In keeping with the KISS principle, just choose an assortment that varies both in color—palest yellow to deepest orange—and texture—soft to firm. Don’t forget crackers. In the produce aisle, green and purple grapes serve as both edibles and décor. Toss in a few pretty gourds and mini pumpkins and you’re good to go.
Last stop—a well-stocked fabric store. Look for blackboard/chalkboard fabric. It comes pre-packaged, or ask to have a runner cut to the length of your table. Either way, it’ll set you back less than five dollars, no sewing required. Then pick up a pack of chalk markers, a little dear at $15, but they draw crisp and dust-free, unlike like cheap sidewalk chalk. (Ever wonder how those cute cafés get that professional look on their menu blackboards? You’re welcome.)
Now comes the fun part! Lay your runner, then set out the bottles of red to be served room temperature. Fill a container—anything with character will do; I use an old yellow-ware mixing bowl—with crushed ice and nest white wine to chill. Set out your crackers and cheeses on wood or marble boards, corkscrews, and any wineglasses. Identify the unwrapped cheeses using the chalk marker on the runner. Not only are you informing people, you’re also making it easy for them duplicate a favorite pairing back home.
Now, go and be a guest at your own party! When it’s over, simply wipe the chalkboard fabric off with a damp cloth, dry and roll up. One last thing—don’t forget to store Mommy’s Special Markers out of reach of curious little Picassos, so they’ll be ready for your next fête.
Though they each have their own ambitions and are known to be competitive—even with each other—the St. Pierre sisters are fiercely loyal. Chardonnay and Merlot are thrilled about Sauvignon’s wedding day, and it’s slated to be the soirée of the decade among Napa’s most elite residents. Given the family’s notoriety, it almost stands to reason that their eccentric father, Xavier, would arrive by helicopter. But no one could have anticipated the wedding surprise he’d brought along with him…
The product of one of Xavier’s many affairs, Sake is introduced as the half-Japanese sister the St. Pierre girls never knew they had. She struggles to break into clique-ish Napa society—and getting in with her sisters is proving more difficult than nabbing a ’74 Cabernet. It seems only high-end realtor Bill Diamond can tell there’s more to Sake than meets the eye. Afraid of repeating her mother’s mistakes, Sake just hopes that getting drunk on love won’t leave her with a hangover of rejection…