How do you choose wine for a table of 12?

Cafe Sydney

Recently I was treated to a dinner at lovely little cafe in Sydney. Now normally I do not associate cafes with fine food nor fine wine, but this one was a little different. The place goes by the name of Cafe Sydney and boasts and evening that far surpasses its moniker.

Whilst the food here is renowned as being great, it was really the wine I was interested in and herein lies the challenge, how do you manage wine selection with a party of over a dozen?

There is the obligatory starting order of a red and white for the table, and thank god the dreaded Chardonnay didn’t get a look in. Don’t get me wrong I know there are great chardys out there…somewhere…possibly, but to pick a chardy you really need to know your chardy lest you end up with the obligatory unoaked horse wee that ends up adorning so many tables and footpaths outside so many hens nights.

Mercifully I got an input for the red and we started with Lark Hill Sangiovese out of the ACT. Now I love my Sangiovese so tend to be rather critical but I have to say this plonk was bang on (I suppose given the price it ought to have been) and I started to settle in as the sips got longer…. I’m sure the white was worthwhile, a Sav Blanc from Peregrine located in Otago, but tonight I was not willing to pollute my palate with something I could see through.

My choice of main was a Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, simple, delicate but a real favourite starter for me, something I will almost always order if I see it on the menu. The lightness of the Sangiovese a nice match and not overpowering the marbled beef before me.

The mains rolled out, and I have to say I was impressed, but that may have had something to do with the wine so far consumed. I opted for the Tandoori trout, something not experienced before but I am a big fan of trout, smoked or otherwise. This particular dish was good and worth the gamble. The time was also right for a switch to something with a few more balls, in my mind a Shiraz was called for.  A conservative choice but nonetheless worthwhile, and no sooner do we ask than a few bottles of a Bowen Estate Shiraz hit the table.

I am not a wine snob, but I have a soft place in my heart for a good earthy Shiraz and often feel a fair share of disappointment when sampling a new one. …I will take a short moment to digress here…as I write this I am currently sitting aboard a flight back to Sydney from Brisbane and dinner has just been served in cattle class. The option of a wine with dinner came up and when asked what the choices are I hear a Shiraz is up for grabs. Sure..!

Now I know that anything served in a teeny weeny ompa-loompa sized bottle can’t be stunning, but this is my point about disappointment… This Shiraz was as close to a good Shiraz as Fosters is to good beer. I was almost longing for an unoaked chardy to get the taste of cat wee out of my mouth, incidentally cat wee is worse than horse wee. If you find yourself in such a predicament, go the horse wee every time. So now my opinion of airline booze has again been reinforced, let us get back to our evening and an example of a good Shiraz, actually not just good, this was a cracker. Full of flavour and smooth as silk and whilst I would love to give a full run down on its finer qualities, I was starting to feel the wave of alcohol sweeping me off to that happy place we all know. That point where you stop thinking about the wine and just simply appreciate it, and that is not actually a bad thing. I find I really notice a bad wine when I am in this place but really enjoy a good one, and this one I was enjoying.

The trout, by the way, was better than fine. Tasty but by no means over done with spice and helped down by the shiraz, the magic of each dancing in my mouth, each taking the lead in something resembling an awkward kind of tango, I was never much of a dancer.

The night ends with a chocolate slice dessert and the obligatory dessert wine. I am a fan of a good sticky but I was a little let down, you get that every now and then. We all have our favourites but it’s also good to peek over the wall and see what else is out there, alas tonight was not my night. I still fondly recall the very first dessert wine that I had met, a magic Noble One that unfortunately tainted my opinions from that day forth. I have since had many that equal and some even surpass that benchmark, but having it set high at day one was probably a bad thing, kind of like having Margot Robbie as your very first girlfriend.

So to answer the very first question, how do you choose wines for a table of a dozen? I have no idea but am willing to keep trying and if I ever work it out I will let you know.

Author: Ben



  1. I love it! “I was almost longing for an unoaked chardy to get the taste of cat wee out of my mouth, incidentally cat wee is worse than horse wee. If you find yourself in such a predicament, go the horse wee every time.” Words of wisdom in response to an impossible question!


  2. Man, I cannot imagine trying to choose wine for a table of 12. My husband and I have a hard enough time choosing for a table of 2. “unoaked horse wee” cracked me up because ohmyghod I know what you mean.

    If you are so inclined, I would love to read a post about dessert wines. I am familiar with sherries, ports, Sauterne and the occasional fizzy wine, but would love some ideas of other options worth trying.


      • Australian to American translation: Sticky = dessert wine? They aren’t unheard of here, but are uncommonly enough enjoyed by the working classes that we don’t have a nickname for them. I appreciate your willingness to suffer for the cause 🙂

        I encountered a black port about a month ago when I took my parents out for dinner in Asheville. Asheville is the biggest town in the Smokie Mountains and a great place to eat. I had enjoyed ruby, tawny and white ports until then but had never heard of black until I saw it on that dessert menu. Of course I tried it. And it was think and rich and incredibly sweet. I have no clue who made it I think I need to go back to double check.


  3. This cafe sounds lovely and the view gorgeous. To answer your question: I go with one wine per dish. So really it’s an assortment of reads and whites, depending of what I serve (meat or fish). Possibly champagne before eating.
    As for me I stick to the red, regardless of what I eat because I just prefer red. Not too rich but not too light either. Malbec, for example, is my kind of wine. But here in the States most people, especially women, like white wines so I always have some for anyone else.


  4. I am right with you on Chardonnay. I often lower my head and mumble that I would prefer a Riesling or Pignot Grigio as the ladies around me let their jaws drop open and gasp at my drinking something so “sweet”. Whatever. It is what I like. Your evening sounds wonderful and I would so love to enjoy an experience like it someday. Alas, my husband is a no-no-way-I-can-drink-wine kind of guy, so I would be going alone. 😦 And so I must continue living vicariously through your wonderful posts. Thanks.


  5. I loved this post! It was informative and hilarious. My husband and I don’t often want the same wine so I can’t imagine a table of twelve! Good Luck! I will try my very best to stay clear of both cat and horse wee.


  6. Good to have you aboard Ben!

    I agree, some Chardys can be horrid and the grape’s name was ruined during the late 90s and early 00s as mass-produced horse-piss chardonnay was pumped out to try and satisfy demand. There was some shocking un-oaked examples but there was at least as many bad over-oaked bottles.

    Now that this mass-production has killed Chardonnay in many people’s minds the crap has settled and gone leaving behind some great drops. I hope your past Chardy experience hasn’t totally jaded you to this grape and to the joys a good white wine can give…

    Look forward to more posts me man!!


  7. Sounds like a good time, regardless. As for Chardonnay, I used to drink it because it was light, but I’ve come to the conclusion that was a mistake. It’s better to have less of something that is more, if that makes sense. Certainly tastier.

    I gave up wine for a bit, but now enjoy “something nice” on the weekends – but only if I have been good and have written lots. 🙂


  8. I’m a red wine girl, while Mathair prefers white. We’re not connoisseurs or experts with pairing (in the least), but we love wine and I’ve been known to sneak it in with almost every supper, regardless of the meal, time or place. LOL. We try to make sure both of our cravings are satiated, but prefer to ask suggestions from whomever’s serving us.


  9. Dear Wine Wankers –
    thanks for reading my poetry! I appreciate all the visits.
    Alas, I am still sloshing down Gran viña do Val (tinto) at U.S. $ 3.99 per bottle.
    And enjoying it greatly.


  10. aah… and like every good author, you leave the real work to he reader… alright… i’ll bite… or rather swirl and sip 🙂 awesome article. keep it up , enjoy your style


  11. I would pass on the chardy too, although i confess it takes a fair bit to convince me to drink any whites these days


  12. […] The Wine Wankers are lucky enough to have a new wine lover blogging with us… Ben.  Some of you may have already noticed Ben’s recent contributions to our blog “One bottle, half a dozen wines, and an experience of a lifetime” and “How do you choose wine for a table of 12?“. […]


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