This post brought to you by Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards. The content and opinions expressed below are that of http://thevspotblog.com/.
It seems like every year the busyness that is associated with the holidays comes earlier and earlier. I knew I wanted to have a little holiday get together with my girlfriends, but also knew that the further into the season we got, the more difficult it would be to accommodate everyone’s schedules… so I had a Girls’ Night In and threw a Wine and Cheese Ornament Exchange party! On a weeknight, no less.
I sent out a simple Evite with the date and time and asked guests to bring a wrapped ornament for the exchange. Easy enough.
All of my friends are wine drinkers, and I was very happy to serve Sonoma-Cutrer Wines at our gathering.
I am very much a fan of Sonoma Cutrer’s Chardonnay. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize myself as a wine snob, but I am definitely particular. This Chardonnay checks all the boxes for me. It’s fruit forward but well balanced, a little bit buttery (which I LOVE) and has some vanilla and spiced oak notes at the finish.
I have to say that I have been so enamored of Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnay that I really don’t think it was even on my radar that they produce red wines too. I tend to really like Pinot Noirs from the Central Coast of California… I think they are perfect blends of red fruit flavors, chocolate, tobacco and peppery spices. Sonoma-Cutrer’s winery is up in the Napa Valley area and this was totally on par with what I have come to expect from a good Pinot. So good! The only bummer is that my local grocery stores don’t seem to stock the Pinot Noir. Fortunately, you can shop online for Sonoma-Cutrer Wines. (Perfect for holiday gift giving, too.)
Now if you’re going to be having wine, of course you need cheeses and other nibbles to go along with it. If you know what cheeses you like to pair with wine, great. If not, the deli manager at your local grocery store can probably help you pick out some good cheeses.
This doesn’t need to be difficult or fussy. I actually served the cheese on a wooden cutting board and used cute chalkboard stickers and a chalk pen to label the different cheeses. (Yes, my penmanship leaves much to be desired, but people knew what they were eating, so that’s what matters the most!)
Do you know why wines (especially red wines) are often served with cheeses? Science lesson in 3 – 2 – 1… Tannins are organic compounds that exist in the skins and stems of grapes. If you’ve ever had a sip of red wine and your mouth immediately dried out and felt like it was stuffed full of cotton, that is the tannin in the wine. Tannins bind to proteins. In the absence of high fat, high protein nibbles like cheese, they will bind to the proteins contained in your saliva, thus creating that mouth-puckering feeling of a dry wine. Next time you take a sip of a wine you think is too dry for you, have a bite of cheese and then take another sip. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
Anyhow, back to this little soiree. In addition to setting out cheeses, I had cured meats, salted almonds, and hummus… all of which were purchased, ready to go and easy to set out. I also made this amazing (but easy/prepare in advance) Butternut Squash – Smoked Gouda Dip, some simple Parmesan and garlic roasted potatoes and chicken-feta meatballs, which were from the frozen food section at CostCo and people loved them. (Which just goes to show that simple can be super yummy.)
After lots of food and wine and great conversation, it was time for the Ornament Exchange. Each guest brought a wrapped ornament and we placed numbered slips of paper in a bowl (one for each person) mixed them up and then each guest drew a number out of the bowl. That was the order in which they got to choose an ornament to open.
There are lots of ways to do a gift exchange, but we think it’s fun if you can “steal” a gift. The rule is that a gift can be opened for the first time, but only stolen twice… the second steal taking that gift out of circulation.
Being the second steal is how I got to keep this awesome guy!
Yes… that is Santa, stomping grapes for wine. How perfect is that?! There were a couple of wine themed ornaments in the mix. I told you – we like wine.
While we never, ever need an excuse to get together for a glass of wine or two, it’s fun to have a reason. I was very happy to hear how much my girlfriends enjoyed the get together and the idea of having something for the holidays without rushing the holidays. A pre-holiday party let us ease out of Halloween without rushing past Thanksgiving and straight into the Christmas season. (And since stores are selling Christmas decor by July each year, it was easy for everyone to bring a cute ornament!)
Holiday get-togethers do not need to be stressful. If you plan ahead it’s actually pretty easy. These 3 simple tips can help you out.
#1 – Think like a guest… and do it in advance.
Anticipate what your guests will want or need. What makes you comfortable when you visit someone’s home? It’s the little things like knowing where your can put your coat when you arrive, or being able to help yourself to a beverage. Make sure your bathroom is ready for guests with fresh towels and a seasonal candle. Everything is more festive with candles and little white lights. Have your lighting set about half an hour before your guests arrive.
#2 – Choose a menu you can prepare in advance and make sure you have a beverage station set up for guests.
When you are able to cook and bake ahead of time, it frees you up to enjoy your guests and reduces some of the stress that can be associated with entertaining. (One of my favorite holiday appetizers is this Cheese Ball. I can make several in advance and keep them in the freezer until about an hour before my guests arrive.)
#3 – Don’t try to “do it all.”
If someone asks what they can do to help you, or if they can bring a side dish or dessert – take them up on their offer! If I get an offer of help, I will usually ask them to play bartender for me and help guests get drinks.
Oh! And one more tip: start with a great wine and maybe even pour yourself a glass while prepping for your party. Sonoma-Cutrer Wines are always a good choice.
What are your tips for holiday entertaining?