Drinks

How to Pick the Perfect Wine for a Big Party

What would Mick Jagger drink?

Sommelier Raj Parr at the first weekend of Desert Trip 2016.

Photographer: Kate Krader/Bloomberg

At this point, it seems like a problem if you don’t eat the most exceptional hot dog at whatever music festival you landed at over the weekend. That’s because you probably did. Since around 2010, when a headline shouted, "Lollapalooza 2010: Food Is the New Sex and Drugs," we’ve seen the culinary scene at shows get better and better and better.

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On the menu at Desert Trip: Daniel Humm's Nomad Food Truck served next-level hot dogs and chicken burgers; Blue Star offered exceptional donuts.

Photographer: Kate Krader/Bloomberg

Along with that transformative hot dog, you can almost certainly procure as much stellar craft beer as you can drink, because the brew scene at festivals has improved dramatically, too. But what if you’re a live-music-loving wine drinker? Then you haven’t been so lucky, because the overriding POV at a festival is essentially the guy whose best joke is: You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Morning. While that can jibe with serious beers, it’s quantity-over-quality message is not normally synonymous with a good pinot noir.

Until now.

Desert Trip has finally broken through on the wine scene. The three-day, two weekend concert (ending on Oct. 16) in California's Coachella Valley features such unknown up-and-comers as the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Neil Young, earning it the nickname "Oldchella," so this makes sense. Credit Nic Adler, the culinary director for events like Coachella, who tapped one of the world’s great sommeliers, Raj Parr, to oversee the wine program for the food-focused areas and experiences of Desert Trip.

Some of the exceptional wines on offer at Desert Trip.

Some of the exceptional wines on offer at Desert Trip.

Photographer: Kate Krader/Bloomberg

For the event, Parr, who is the corporate wine director for the Michael Mina group, curated a selection of approximately 30 wines, all from California and the Pacific Northwest. Historically, Parr was more of a Burgundy grand cru guy who would have been hard-pressed to name a Washington State wine. Now, like a lot of sommeliers, he makes his own wines in California (Sandhi and Domaine de la Cote, both from the Santa Barbara region) and champions lots of others up and down the West Coast. At Culinary Experience, Desert Trip's next-level outdoor food hall, with items such as bacon-wrapped truffle aioli hot dogs from the Nomad Food Truck, Parr’s wine tables had some of the biggest crowds.

Parr's rules for party wines: keep it unexpected, high-energy, and chilled.

Parr's rules for party wines: Keep it unexpected, high-energy, and chilled.

Photographer: Kate Krader/Bloomberg

Over the course of pouring for the 8,000-plus people in the food area, Parr became an expert at picking wine to please a vast array of guests, celebs, and workaday revelers. What would he have served Mick Jagger if he’d been smart enough to wander into the Culinary Experience?  “The 2015 Wind Gap Trousseau Gris,” said Parr. “It’s esoteric, you’ve never heard of it. I’d want to give Mick Jagger something experimental, out there. He’s a rule breaker.” And for Paul McCartney? Parr had that answer even faster: “The 2014 Domaine de la Cote pinot noir. It’s my wine, so it would be a good moment to introduce Sir Paul to it. It represents America. And it’s a more serious wine, relatively speaking.”

But what about your own party guests? Parr had some top tips for that, too.

Pick bright, crisp, high-energy wines. Don’t go for big, heavy reds or challenging whites. You’ll just get drunk before the show/party/dinner. Go for wines with lots of bright acid, and check out the alcohol content; if it’s high-alcohol, put it back. “That’s the secret sauce for almost any party,” said Parr.

Choose unexpected bottles. “We knew there were wine drinkers in this crowd, so we wanted to give them some surprises,” said Parr. At the tables, people buzzed about wines they’d never heard of, such as Lo-Fi Cabernet Franc from Santa Ynez Valley, Scribe Riesling from Sonoma, and POV, a red from Robert Sinskey vineyards. Plus, it’s a conversation starter. “People don’t know what a grenache blanc is and the next thing you know, you’ve had a good talk.”

Serve chilled wine at parties. Even if it’s red. “The most important thing is temperature,” said Parr. “Wine is so much more refreshing if it’s chilled. You don’t need to make the red ice-cold, but you have to know that it might be poured into warm glasses from the dishwasher. And warm red wine is terrible.” Chill the wine ahead, and keep a big ice bucket handy if it’s warm near your bar area. If necessary, can you put an ice cube in your wine? “I don’t,” said Parr, sternly, the verbal equivalent of the eye-roll emoji. “Chill your bottle.”

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