Seasonal inspiration

10 tips for a memorable festive season

18 Nov, 2019

Top wine people share their rules for hosting and attending events these holidays, as well as insights into their favourite festive food and drink.

  • 1. Prepare to party

  • Sydney sommelier Bridget Raffal of Sixpenny says her tips for throwing a memorable party are to prep food before the day and make sure there’s plenty of booze. “If you’re a guest, turn up with way more than you plan to drink. If you’re a host, keep the glass full. No one wants to be shut away in the kitchen while everyone else has a great time, so plan a menu that either allows people to help, or that lets you get it done beforehand. Oh, and don’t forget the bottle you put in the freezer!”

  • 2. Keep it simple

  • WA winemaker Alana Langworthy of Nocturne has lots of extended family and a big friendship group, so she finds it’s best not to overcomplicate the get-togethers. “Everyone freaks out about putting on a perfect event, but people aren’t going to remember what the tablecloth looked like, or which silverware you used. What they will remember are the company, food and wine, so go in with an open heart and happy disposition and you’ll have a good time,” she says.

  • 3. Seek help (and sparkling water)

  • Jessica Ghaie, co-founder and head wine buyer at Blackhearts and Sparrows in Melbourne, has discovered the importance of letting go when it comes to the big events. “While I’d prefer to put on a huge feast and not let guests bring anything, between kids and the business, I’ve realised I need to relax this notion. A great guest should always offer to bring something, even if the host says no, and the host shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when needed,” she says. “Everyone loves to be involved somehow, even if it’s just picking herbs or carving a chicken. Also, remember the sparkling water and napkins! I always forget these essentials.” 

  • 4. Shake it up

  • Summer is an ideal time for cocktails. Star sommelier Jane Lopes, formerly of top Melbourne restaurant Attica, shares a few of her favourites: “A good whiskey sour can embrace the gravitas of the season while still being refreshing enough for warm days,” she says. “My husband also starts most get-togethers with some sort of frozen daiquiri, which is always a crowd-pleaser and an ice-breaker.”

  • 5. Think local

  • Steve Lubiana of Stefano Lubiana in Tasmania encourages people to get behind Australian wine this festive season. “I’m tired of going to restaurants only to find the wine list dominated by obscure, foreign wines. If only these wines were fresh and exciting or older cellar releases, but more often than not, they are just disjointed, faulty and volatile. There may be a few gems in there, but in my opinion, sticking with Australian vignerons who grow their grapes and make their own wine is usually much better,” he says.

  • 6. Get the inside story

  • For Alex Wilcox of Prince Wine Store in Melbourne, it’s all about shared experiences. “As a guest, bring something good to drink. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as you’ve put in some thought and effort and can explain a bit about where it’s from and why you chose it – that’s what wine is all about. For hosts, make sure you open the wines brought to share with your guests.”

  • 7. Keep it bright and breezy

  • Keep the location and drinks light and fresh, says Kyle Poole of nel. restaurant in Sydney. “Grape varieties such as gamay or trousseau can be chilled for 30 minutes prior to serving and will pair fantastically with your festive feasts. For summer parties, make the setting outdoors – nothing works better with a well-curated selection of drinks than some sunshine.”

  • 8. It’s a marathon, not a sprint

  • General manager of City Wine Shop in Melbourne, Bengt Baumgartner’s best advice for the holidays is to take it easy. “The festive season is a stamina game because not only does it culminate in the family events, but you also have the work end-of-year parties and friend get-togethers in the lead-up. So, pace yourself! Also, organise wine in advance of the big events. I travel to stay with family over the holidays, so I always send wine or arrange it with a local store so that it’s ready when I arrive, and I don’t need to worry about it – I can just enjoy entertaining and having people around.” Bengt also emphasises the importance of showing gratitude to those organising the occasions. “As a guest, even if your host tells you everything is taken care of, bring something along. Whether it’s a bunch of flowers or a thoughtful gift, it will be a lovely gesture and appreciated, as hosting is exhausting, especially with the busy of the season and lots of family members around.”

  • 9. Remember the little things

  • Master Sommelier Franck Moreau, of Merivale in Sydney, is of the opinion a memorable event is in the details. “Don’t forget good music and lighting when hosting this festive season. You want your guests to remember the evening fondly, so make them feel at home. Now is also a great time to try new things and treat yourself. And, importantly, have fun!”

  • 10. Experiment and indulge

  • With so many more opportunities to celebrate with great food and drink, Bailee Dewe of La Lune Wine Co in Brisbane reckons you should take advantage. “Get outside your comfort zone and try drinks you haven’t before. The party season is a great time to give a new cocktail a go, or splash out on a special bottle of wine,” she says. “And don’t forget to hydrate!”

    For the full story, including more than 30 wine recommendations for the season from industry insiders, pick up the festive issue of Halliday magazine, or subscribe and get every edition first.