Best Wine Menu For Formal Dinner Party

Hosting a formal dinner party can be a super fun way to get together with your friends and family or even your colleagues and business associates.

There are a range of different dinner parties that you can host. However, one of the most prestigious is a formal dinner party. Being the most prestigious, it also requires the most amount of planning to go without a hitch. 

Best Wine Menu For Formal Dinner Party

While the quality of the food needs to be high and dishes and ingredients need to complement each other, there is something even more important for your dinner party to truly be considered formal.

The wine that you serve needs to complement the food for each course. In this guide, we will look at the best wine menu options for your next formal dinner party. 

Aperitif Wines

In order for your formal dinner party to get off on the right foot, you need to nail your aperitif. This is the wine that should be served before you begin serving any food apart from hors d’oeuvres.

These wines are sweeter than most wines and work to stimulate the taste buds and prepare your guests for the meal ahead. Below are some of 


One of the most popular aperitif wines is Dubonnet. This wine is often considered to be a combination of a herbal liqueur and a fortified wine such as sherry or port.

The texture of this wine is thick, almost like a syrup. This full-bodied drink offers the perfect balance of sweet and bitter flavors. 

Dubonnet wine has an alcohol content of 15% which makes it quite strong. Thankfully, because it is an aperitif, your guests should ideally only have one or two glasses of it before you sit down for appetizers and entrees. 


Lillet is one of the most varied aperitif wines that you can get. Lillet comes in Blanc, Rose, and Rouge which makes it perfect to help you cater to all of your guests’ preferences.

As with most aperitif wines, Lillet is fortified which means that it is higher in alcohol than other sweet wines. 

Almost all Lillet wine begins with a base of Bordeaux wine. The flavors of this base wine are then boosted with herbs, spices, and roots to increase the depth and complexity of the aromas.

The wine is then topped up with macerated liqueurs. This helps to fortify the wine which is then carefully aged in French oak for the perfect taste. 


Another incredibly popular aperitif wine is Vermouth. This is a wine that is often used in cocktails as well as an aperitif which makes it one of the most versatile aperitif wines.

Vermouth comes in red and white variations to suit different preferences. 

The most common way to serve this aperitif is chilled with a twist of citrus peel.

Serving this aperitif wine in this way will help to add some class and sophistication to your formal dinner party and can help to set the mood for the rest of the evening. 


Hailing from Southern Spain, Sherry is an incredibly popular aperitif, fortified wine. This wine is so palatable that many people enjoy it as a small, sweet drink on its own outside of dinner parties and restaurants. 

Sherry is one of the only aperitif wines on this list that is made in dry and sweet styles. You can also get intense and light variations of this wine.

Because of the amount of variety available when it comes to sherry, you should think carefully about the type of Sherry you purchase for your dinner party.

The majority of Sherry wines have flavors and aromas of dried fruit, nuts, and saline. 

Entree Wines For Red Meat Dishes

Once your guests have enjoyed an aperitif to whet their appetite, it is time to move on to the main course of your formal dinner party.

This is where things get a little more complicated when it comes to the wine that you serve. Wine is generally paired with types of food that it complements.

Therefore, the meal you are serving will dictate the wine you serve. Below are some wines to pair with a red meat entree (see also “Pork Wine Pairing: 10 Best Wines To Pair With Pork“). 

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Cabernet Sauvignon

Boasting robust tannins and beautifully rich flavors of fruit, Cabernet Sauvignon is the perfect wine to pair with most red meat dishes.

It works particularly well with steaks, venison, and lamb. The richness of this wine is the perfect accompaniment for the rich flavors of red meat dishes. 

Pinot Noir

Another wonderful wine to pair with your red meat entree is Pinot Noir. The earthy, savory flavors of this rich red wine help to bring out the earthy flavors of your meat, especially if it is cooked rare or medium-rare.

The earthy aromas of this wine also pair well with red meat dishes with mushrooms to complete the earthy flavors. A more fruity Pinot Noir can also work well with lighter fish dishes. 


You may have heard of the phrase, “What grows together, goes together”. This is particularly true when it comes to wine. The majority of the world’s Malbec is produced in Argentina.

This is also where some of the best cuts of meat are raised. The flavor of Malbec is very fruity, therefore, it pairs really well with red meat dishes with a BBQ-based sauce. 


Sticking with the theme of red wines pairing well with red meat, we have a classic Merlot. The plush texture of this wine, mixed with the stunning red fruit flavors and the silky tannins makes it the perfect wine to pair with a roast entree.

No matter what kind of roast you are making, Merlot pairs perfectly with duck, chicken, beef, lamb, and even pork. It is also perfect for comforting foods such as a classic mac and cheese side dish. 

Entree Wines For Tomato Dishes

If you are making an entree that is built around tomatoes, there are certain wines that work really well with the natural acidity of this fruit.

If you are thinking of creating a pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce, there are wines that work really well with this kind of dish. Below are the best wines to pair with a tomato-based entree. 


The perfect wine to pair with tomato-based dishes that are seasoned with fresh herbs is Chianti. This wine has a high level of acidity which perfectly complements the high acidity of the tomatoes.

Make sure that you use fresh tomatoes in your sauce to get the best effect from the combination of Chianti and tomatoes.

It also works really well with mushroom dishes because of the earthy undertones of certain types of Chianti. 

Entree Wines For Seafood Dishes

Seafood dishes are often bursting with very delicate flavors and aromas that can easily be overpowered by strong tasting wines.

Therefore, it is important that you select a wine that is going to complement the flavors and aromas of the meal without covering the taste entirely.

For this reason, there are no red wines that pair well with seafood dishes. Below are some of the best wines to pair with a delicate and aromatic seafood entree. 

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Riesling is an incredibly versatile wine that comes in many different styles to suit your preferred palate. Riesling wine is made from a grape that is high in acidity which makes it an especially food-friendly wine.

When pairing this wine with seafood dishes, it is best to look for a dryer version of the wine. Sweet Riesling wine can also work, although sweeter Riesling often works better with spicy dishes to cut through the heat. 

Pinot Grigio

One of the easiest white wines to drink is Pinot Grigio. This wine has an incredibly citrusy profile which pairs perfectly with lighter dishes with extremely delicate flavors.

Because of the easy-drinking nature of this wine, it can pair with a wide variety of seafood dishes from fish tacos to fried calamari and even prawn cocktails.

It also works really well with seafood pasta dishes to complement the aromas in a subtle and gentle way. 

Sauvignon Blanc

A similar white wine to Pinot Grigio is Sauvignon Blanc. This is another citrusy wine that also features grassy notes and mineral aromas.

Because of the light earthy notes of this wine, it helps to bring out the natural flavors of seafood that cut through the sauces and seasonings that have been used in the dish.

Sauvignon Blanc pairs really well with lighter seafood dishes such as prawns or light fish. 

Dry Rose

The only wine that pairs well with seafood that isn’t white is a quality dry rose. In fact, dry rose wine can go with almost any kind of food.

A light-bodied, pale rose wine is perfect for pairing with an entree such as grilled fish tacos.

The flavor and aromas of the wine don’t overpower the flavors of the fish and help to accentuate the flavors from the grill, especially if there is a little bit of a char. 


Chardonnay is one of the most popular white wines you can drink. Best of all, it pairs perfectly with seafood dishes.

Chardonnay wine comes in two main types that pair well with different seafood dishes. A light, highly acidic Chardonnay works really well with oysters or crab cakes to keep things fresh.

A full-bodied, oaked Chardonnay is perfect for pairing with richer seafood dishes that involve creamy, hearty sauces. 

Entree Wines For Chicken Dishes

Chicken also has a much less powerful flavor, even when it is marinated in seasonings and sauces with much stronger flavors.

Therefore, they cannot be paired with a rich wine such as a fruity red. Instead, a bottle of dry, light wine is best. Below is the best wine to pair with chicken entree dishes. 

Dry Sparkling Wine

This wine is the perfect accompaniment for chicken dishes. Although we mentioned Merlot as being a great accompaniment for any kind of roast, if you are roasting chicken, dry sparkling wine can also be a great choice.

If you are feeling extra hospitable you can serve both. Some of the most popular dry sparkling wines are Champagne, Cremant, or Cava. All of these work with all kinds of chicken dishes for your dinner party. 

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Entree Wines For Spicy Dishes

If you are serving an entree that is particularly spicy or has a significant kick to it, you will need the right wine to serve with it in order to make both the meal and the drink palatable together.

Spicy dishes, especially curries, are very different from other dishes that you can serve.

Because of the distinctive flavors and textures, you need to have a wine that is not overpowering but is capable of cutting through the heat and fat content. 

Moscato d’Asti

Although this is a wine that is most commonly considered to be a dessert wine because it is incredibly sweet, it is also the perfect wine to serve with spicy dishes.

The natural sweetness of the wine is the perfect flavor to cut through the heat of the dish and make it a much more comfortable experience for your guests.

Also, having the sweetness to cut through the heat of the spices helps make the aromas of the dish much more available to your palate which enhances the dish. 

Entree Wines For Vegetarian Dishes

Not all entrees at formal dinner parties are going to have an entree with animal protein. There are also wines that work really well with vegetarian dishes.

No matter how much you season and spice a vegetarian dish, the flavors are likely to be more gentle and more subtle than other dishes with red meat or strong seafood.

Therefore, you need a wine that is going to be subtle and aromatic. 

Sauvignon Blanc

We have already spoken about Sauvignon Blanc wine in this list, but it is the perfect wine to pair with a vegetarian entree.

The flavors and aroma of this wine are subtle but complex enough to bring out the beautiful flavors of your entree. 

Dessert Wines

Finally, the perfect formal dinner party has to end with a dessert wine. These are similar to aperitif wines and provide the perfect accompaniment to sweet desserts or can be served on their own in place of a dessert. 


Port is one of the most classic dessert wines in the world. It is a fortified wine which means that it is incredibly sweet and yet has a higher alcohol content than other sweet wines.

Port is typically a red wine although it can come in white varieties. Make sure you are purchasing the right Port for a dessert wine as this also comes in dry and semi-dry varieties. 


Muscat wine is another classic dessert wine. This wine is sometimes referred to as Moscato wine. This is a naturally sweet wine that is not fortified so the alcohol content is lower than a port.

Muscat is most often a white wine but can also come in pink varieties. This is a great option if you don’t want to ply your guests with too much alcohol throughout the night. 


This is a French sweet wine that is produced in the Bordeaux region. This is another dessert wine that is naturally sweet rather than fortified with additional alcohol.

This makes it the perfect lower alcohol drink to round off your formal dinner party and prevent your guests from getting too drunk. 

Final Thoughts

A successful formal dinner party can be made or broken on the wine that you choose to serve.

Using this guide, you can make sure that the wine you choose to serve to your guests will pair well with the food and make the experience better for everyone.

Putting thought into the wine also shows your guests that you planned the evening carefully. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is Pairing Wines So Important?

For many people, when they drink wine with food, they simply opt for a wine that they enjoy drinking.

However, people who are into wine and food will know that there are certain wines that have complementary flavors and aromas with certain foods.

Pairing wines with the food you are serving can help to tie the food and drink together while improving the flavors that everyone experiences. 

Should Your Dinner Party Be Based Around Food Or Wine?

For some people, this is a little bit of a chicken and egg question. While it is possible to plan a dinner party around the type of wine you like to drink, this can be a little more difficult.

It is much easier to come up with a food menu before choosing a wine menu to accompany it. This is because the courses you serve should also blend together well in terms of flavors. 

Jon Barbieri
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