How to add some French style to your festive event, whether its for Christmas, a birthday or any other reason to celebrate – The Good Life France’s very own wine expert Jill Barth shares her top tips to help you with her French style party ideas…
French Style Party
In France, without a doubt, guests are treated to the best in food and wine. Imagine the essence of this glowing and chic feeling in your home, from the moment you open your door for the first guest. Does that sound like a fantasy? Are there are a few details that seem unattainable, too elegant to hope for in your home? Mais non, French style and grace can be a part of your party, with a few embellishments to the wine service.
How to serve the wine
Hopefully everyone will be chatting and catching up at your celebration, so don’t interrupt the vibe to announce what you’re doing with the wine. There is, however, a graceful way to deliberately feature wine in your meal. A few tips:
- Start with the Champagne, if you are serving bubbly. It can be enjoyed as your guests begin to fall into the party mode. Have it chilled prior to pouring – include a cool-down on your meal prep to-do list.
- If serving a red wine, especially a full bodied one, consider decanting it for a bit before it hits the glasses.
- If wine is thoughtfully paired with meal courses (see the next section), do a think-through of the service before the party. If serving a particular wine with a particular food, make transitions as fluid as possible. The table should be set with the appropriate stemware.
- Though you’ve probably had your eye on the wine all week, remember to politely pour the wine in your guests’ glasses before taking some for yourself. And, of course, les dames d’abord (ladies first).
- Aim for 3 ounce servings. There are several reasons for this: Guests won’t get over-served, allowing them to enjoy the unfolding of the party at an even pace. Diners won’t have very-full glasses to glug down as the meal shifts to the next course. The wine will be served, and consumed, at the proper temperature, not at room temperature by the time your guests can put it down.
Opening Champagne, à la Française
It’s a common cultural expectation to pop that bubbly with a bang, but there is a graceful way to open the bottle that won’t cause eye injury, slippery messes or embarrassment. The popping sound might be fun, but a loss of bubbles and flavor is not desirable. Easy steps:
- Have the bubbly ice-cold, the bottle towel-dried and the foil properly removed.
- Tilt the bottle away from you, at about 45 degrees. Don’t aim it at anyone or anything, just get the angle right.
- Hold the cork down with one hand and remove the wire cage with your other hand.
- After the cage is off, continue to hold the cork and use your free hand to gently twist the bottle. You’ll do this until you hear the delicate sound of air escaping as the cork frees from the bottle. There might be a little wisp of vapor.
As a reminder, a bottle should only be referred to as Champagne if it is the real deal. Other bubbly wines are called sparkling wines.
Pair Wine with the festive Meal
In France, the most celebratory of winter holiday meals is the Christmas Eve réveillon. Traditionally enjoyed after midnight mass, the meal symbolizes an awakening. Though customized regionally, the menu is hardy, indulgent and fragrant. Roasted or raw oysters, lamb, foie gras, turkey stuffed with chestnuts or a big Christmas goose are often found as the dazzling center of the feast. There’s also a customary dessert, often la bûche de Noël (Yule log).
To celebrate the holidays with feast-like extravagance for your French style party, choose wines that can stand up to the big flavors of the menu. If the meal is served in courses, chose a set of wines that mirror what’s on the table. Pairing wine with food is an absolute pleasure and should reflect your tastes and budget. However, if you feel a little flummoxed in this area, consult your local wine seller for advice. You’ll want to serve the best quality you can afford and consider a bottle of Champagne as festive and welcome company. A partnership between wine and food can be truly glorious, a compliment to all that work in the kitchen.
Make a Toast
At your French style party it’s a special day and there’s reason to celebrate with your first glass of wine. This is the perfect time to breathe in the good fortune of having loved ones gathered and drink to their health and happiness. The French say a votre santé (to your health) or the shorter Santé! or Tchin (cheers) as standard toasts. It’s also customary to raise glasses and gently clink them together before the first drink is taken.
Jill Barth is a wine writer in Chicago.
Read more about the history of Champagne
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