I may not be a master sommelier or fromager, but I know for a fact that nothing feels classier than pairing a few bottles of wine and cheese over great conversation with your most fabulous group of friends. Anyone can tackle hump day head on with the right accoutrements, and with a few tips and tricks you can do it without breaking the bank. So whether you’re newly 21 or a seasoned senior like myself, get bougie on a budget and host your very own Wine Wednesday this week.
The essentials: wine and cheese
The only thing you absolutely must have in order to have a successful Wine Wednesday is pretty obvious: wine. While you don’t technically need to invite anyone else (no judgement here), a small group of five or six is certainly recommended. With a small group, two bottles of wine should do the trick. I usually like to offer one bottle of red and a white or rose. Choice of wine will depend on personal preference and budget, but if you’re just getting started, a few of my well-priced favorites include a Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon and any of the wines from La Vielle Ferme, a French winery that offers delicious red and white blends, as well as a crisp rose. All of these bottles are priced around or less than $10, but when at Safeway or Andronico’s be sure to stay on the lookout for higher-priced wines being offered as a special and you’ll be amazed at the deals you can find. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Grocery stores such as Andronico’s and Whole Foods Market have knowledgeable staff members dedicated to making suggestions and wine pairings.
In terms of cheese, I usually like to offer a variety of three different types of cheese — a softer cheese such as brie or camembert, a harder cheese such as English cheddar or gouda and something a little bit more assertive in flavor such as roquefort or stilton (which falls under the blue cheese category). I tend to find the best deals at Trader Joe’s, where you’ll find a great selection at very reasonable prices that range between $5 and $8. But if you’re looking for something a little bit more unique, head over to Whole Foods Market for pricier, but absolutely delicious, options such as a truffle pecorino. The cheese, however, needs a vehicle, and I tend to opt for a simply sliced French baguette or Carr’s Table Crackers, which come in a variety of different flavors. To keep the evening budget-friendly, I usually invite each of my friends to bring either one cheese item or wine; this way everybody gets to contribute and if you plan in advance, you can get a diverse selection.
If you’re feeling extra fancy and have a few extra dollars to spend, consider making a few additions to your cheese board such as jams, olives or cured meats. I never serve a cheese plate that doesn’t at least include a serving of honey or Dalmatia Fig Spread (around $6 at Andronico’s and always a crowd favorite). But whether I’m really indulging or having a few extra guests over, I also like to offer a sampling of prosciutto di Parma or a selection of salumi (the higher the quality, the higher the price). If olives are more your style, peruse your neighborhood grocery store’s olive bar and pick out a container (price depends on the weight) and choose a sampling of whatever strikes your fancy.
With ambience, it’s always best to keep it simple. Light a few candles or small tea lights to elevate the mood, or if you have some old holiday lights lying around string them up to create a warm, inviting atmosphere. If you’re looking for background music, I’d recommend choosing genres that fall under the “elevator music” category (think jazz or French cafe), as they tend to fit in with the theme of the evening and won’t distract from conversation.
Relax and enjoy
Above all else, relax and enjoy the evening with a group of friends. Whether it’s someone you’ve known since freshman year or just met in one of your spring semester classes, Wine Wednesday has a way of bringing people together. And with just a little bit of planning and coordination, you can leave the stress of Berkeley behind and feel like a real-life adult, if only for the night.
Contact Erin Alexander at [email protected]lycal.org.