Sharing Wine with Friends

When Bill and Kathy Newlands moved to Winnetka from Northern California two years ago, they thought it would be a great ice breaker to share their love of wine with all of their newfound friends and co-workers. So they threw a wine party.

Between them, the Newlands have almost 40 years in wine sales and marketing experience, but they aren’t wine snobs. On the contrary, they value inclusiveness over intimidation.

“We don’t want to intimidate people with wine. In the wine business, we spend so much time using esoteric words to describe what we’re drinking. The average person wouldn’t have a clue what you’re talking about.  Actually, we feel that wine is to enjoy and share with others,” Bill says. And with a wine cellar (designed by Kathy) that holds over 2,000 bottles, there’s a lot to enjoy!

For their party—Open That Bottle Night—they ask guests to bring a bottle that they’ve been saving or that has special meaning to them, and share both the wine and the story with the group. Guests also bring a second bottle ($25 or less) that is set on the table; when they leave, everyone takes a different bottle home.

Kathy and Bill provide the house, the food and some champagne from their cellar to get the night started. From then on, the party has a life of its own.

“It’s a great way to engage a bunch of people in wine; it’s non-threatening and fun,” Kathy shares.

Loreen Mershimer and Roberto Mustacchi of Wilmette agree. They love to entertain with wine at their annual fete: the “Inventory Reduction Party.”

“I had no space to put wine away … we decided this would be a fun way to entertain,” Roberto says. “I go through the cellar and pull bottles. I balance ones I question—odd vintages, varietals, etc.—with bottles we know are good.” And they aren’t afraid to dump a bottle if it isn’t.

“People tend to get stuck on certain varietals, like Chardonnay, and don’t venture to Sauvignon Blanc, or Viognier, or Pinot Blanc. This party gives them a chance to sample a lot of different wines,” Loreen adds. One year, they recycled 50 wine bottles. That’s a lot of sampling!

They provide the wines, and the guests bring a dish to share, either an appetizer or dessert. Everyone starts with a glass of Prosecco at the door, and proceeds on to white varietals in the living room and reds on the deck.  If the October night doesn’t cooperate, the heat lamps are turned on.

So whether you’re an aficionado or just a fan, wine can be the basis for a great party.  Make your guest list and try new varietals, wines from unexpected countries, or open that bottle you’ve been saving. Now is the time to celebrate friendship, and what better way to toast than a glass of the grape?