Say farewell to summer by throwing a casual party that requires very little effort. In keeping with the relaxed spirit of the season, we'll show you how to pull off a stylish gathering with minimal prep, focusing on easy decorations and simple foods (i.e., no cooking required) with properly paired wines. For a party like this, it's less about the host's culinary skills as it is shopping prowess. To that end, we asked La Crema winery in Windsor, California, to advise us on the best wines and cheeses to please a crowd.
A wine and cheese party can be as grand or intimate as you'd like. You can throw it together in one day with a single trip to the grocery store, or plan it in advance with thoughtful research by ordering wine directly from the vineyard and making day–of trips to the farmers market, cheese shop, and bakery. Either way, La Crema Winery helps streamline your shopping list, with tips on the wine and cheese pairings. No matter what your approach, give yourself the morning of the party to shop and set up at leisurely pace, and gather guests in the late afternoon when snacking tastes best.
On your shopping list will be at least 5–6 types of cheese in textures ranging from soft to hard; a bottle of wine for each variety of cheese; bread and crackers; olives; nuts; late summer fruits; and flowers for the table. For a larger party, consider adding charcuterie like salami, pates or cold cuts, pickled vegetables or simple salads. Two hours before the party, chill the whites, and open the reds to allow them to breathe. To chill wines, place bottles in a bucket with ice, water, and a large handful of salt. The salt reduces the freezing point of water, cooling the bottle of wine in six minutes flat. Meanwhile, pull out your casual serving dishes, plates, platters, glasses, and a vase. Our stylists used a simple runner on a large wooden dining room table to form a tailored backdrop for the food. Maple boards and wood platters followed, along with terra cotta plates and platters, quality cheese knives, and white ceramic vessels for chilling wines. We created a striking centerpiece starring sunflowers in different varieties and colors. As a special touch, used a typewriter to label brown paper gift tags with cheese names, attached them to wood picks, and inserted them into each cheese.