Hi Muffy, .
..I think there's a great similarity between a gentleman's cellar and his wardrobe. Both display his knowledge and his taste, his sophistication and his worldliness – and at a dinner party, each of these will be on display...
Very best wishes,
Wining and Dining - The Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party
The dinner party is a combination of fashion show, restaurant, and debating chamber, held within the pages of an interior design magazine. There is a significance about it which doesn't attach to entertaining in any other way. When they titled the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, he was not coming to lunch, tea or a barbeque.
And the dinner party has retained its sense of occasion despite becoming increasingly relaxed. It’s still the cue to bring out all of those wedding gifts of crockery and glassware which are “too good for everyday”, so that your guests can break them instead of your children. But silver service is no longer required; and nowadays, when you ask people to “dress for dinner”, it’s to ensure that the younger guests actually wear some clothes, beyond flip-flops and shorts.
Perhaps the character of a contemporary dinner party was best captured in a profile of Michael Gove, the Oxford-educated Government minister. A friend described how dinner at his North Kensington home is “a standard middle-class set-up; completely informal, non-matching furniture, child-centred, you can’t move for books, the kids are usually up. Sarah does most of the cooking – meat and two veg or pasta, no bought in food or waitresses or any of that nonsense – and Michael’s pouring the wine.”
So we’re not going to quibble here about when a dinner party is only a “kitchen supper” (as David Cameron tried to downplay his meals for political donors at No 10). If you’re wining and dining guests in the evening, then as far as this collection is concerned, it’s a dinner party. But note how the verbs “wining” and “dining” sit inseparably together. And see how, as the punchline to the mise en scene above, Michael’s pouring the wine.
There are those who, for religious or medical reasons, do not accompany their dinners with wine. But neither, on the whole, do they accompany them with me. I concur with the view expressed by the American writer Adam Gopnik, that “Dinner with water is dinner for prisoners”. Wine has always been served to dinner guests. Plutarch, the Graeco-Roman essayist, published an intriguing debate back in the First Century, resolving that the openness encouraged by wine led to a better level of debate at the dinner table. “Wine inspirits some men, and raises a confidence and assurance in them,” he wrote, “but not such as is haughty and odious, but pleasing and agreeable.” Plutarch published several Symposiacs about dinner parties, and is useful on questions such as whether to have flute-girls at a dinner party (always a tricky one, I find).
Immanuel Kant, the rigorous German philosopher, known for his less than jaunty Critique of Pure Reason, was another, perhaps unexpected enthusiast for the merits of a well-lubricated dinner table. “Wine induces merriness, boisterousness, wittiness and open-heartedness,” he wrote. “Thus it is good for conversation, sociability, and virtue.” It was said of Kant’s dinner parties that “Before each guest was placed a pint bottle of red wine and a pint bottle of white”, which sounds more than Reasonable.
So given the importance of wine at a dinner party, we should obviously take seriously both its selection and its service. No, you do not simply trolley whatever is on 3 for 2 while you are in the supermarket, and plonk it on the table hoping it will pass muster. It will not.
Hosting a dinner party has in fact become something of a competitive sport. We imagine the conversations that are taking place going home in the taxis (or, in some unfortunate circumstances, ambulances). How well have your guests been treated? What’s your house like? Your friends? Your cooking? And, of course, your wine. Yes, it’s unfair that people may judge you by the wine you serve. But it is a declaration, to any guest who can read a label, of your worldliness, knowledge, style and generosity. Guests may judge you by equally unfair characteristics like your accent; but the wine you serve, and the way in which you serve it, is more easily altered than a tendency to rhyme “like” with “oik”.
So, what do you serve, with what, and when? How do you serve it? How much of it, and in what order? These and other aspects of dinner-party wine will be considered, by two gentlemen who have drunk rather more of it than their wives think they ought.
Excerpted from the introduction of new eBook by Charles Jennings and Paul Keers, available now: Wining and Dining - The Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party
Paul Keers wrote one of my favorite books, the classic guide to men's clothing, A Gentleman's Wardrobe. I bought my copy 25 years ago at Abercrombie & Fitch, and it is more interesting today (if possible) even than it was back then.
Much of Paul Keers' current writing, as witty and British as always, is focused on wine. He co-authors the award winning The Sediment Blog, located at www.sedimentblog.com with Charles Jennings.
As he described to me:
The "PK" persona is really a way of allowing me to be a slightly different "character". As with my fellow author, CJ, I don't think either of us are quite as angry/ignorant/alcohol-dependent in real life as we appear in our Sediment personae!