BEN GILIBERTI I'm planning a birthday party in February and am working with the Hidden Creek Country Club in Reston to host the event. They've given me the option of "premium" wines for $20 and "prestige" wines for $28 per bottle.
Would I be better off purchasing the wine independently? We are planning on having approximately 100 people and serving beef tenderloin and salmon with pastas and vegetables on the side, fruit and cheeses for nibbles at beginning and birthday cake at the end.
Generally, a wine that costs $10 to $16 in a store turns out to be $20 to $30 at a restaurant or club. The markup is a big part of the profit for banquet facilities, so many establishments won't let you buy your own wine and bring it in (called BYOB), while others might charge a corkage fee of $15 to $25.
You are in luck, however. I spoke with Hidden Creek's food and beverage manager, Jon Patrick, and he said that the club -- while it doesn't encourage the practice -- allows people to BYOB and charges a $10 corkage fee per bottle, which is commendably modest.
Bring your own bottles looks like the way to go. If you buy from the club, it offers Camelot Chardonnay and Camelot Cabernet Sauvignon for $20. For $28, you get your choice of Beaulieu Coastal Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, Riverside Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Lagaria Pinot Grigio and Bogle Merlot. If these wines are "premium" and "prestige," I wonder what counts as "regular."
With a couple of exceptions, these are thoroughly ordinary wines. Unfortunately, they are also typical of what most banquet halls and caterers offer for similar prices. You could go out and buy them for $8 to $12 in a store, add Hidden Creek's modest corkage fee, and still come out ahead on the cost. But you can do better on quality and still keep the cost down.
I think it's overkill to spend more than $10 to $15 a bottle (plus corkage) for a gathering like this. Whether a wedding, bar mitzvah or birthday party, few guests pay attention to the wine as long as it's reasonably tasty and doesn't clash with the food. Although ideally you would go with lighter wines for the appetizers and fuller-bodied wines for the main courses, with BYOB it's logistically simpler to go with a medium-bodied white and red for all the courses. If you choose well-made, versatile wines, this works splendidly.
For the white, I recommend a young sauvignon blanc. This varietal's vivid citrus and fresh herb flavors will work especially well with the fruit and veggie appetizers, and with goat cheeses. Good choices include Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc "Colchagua" ($9 to $10); Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($9); Domaine de Coussergues Sauvignon Blanc ($10); Domaine Sauvion Touraine ($10).
For the red wine, I suggest a pinot noir. It's a good match with beef and is divine with salmon. After the Oscar-winning movie "Sideways," everybody loves pinot noir, so you can probably tilt the mix 60/40 or more in favor of red. Good choices include Blackstone Pinot Noir "Monterey County" ($11); Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir Vintner's Collection ($11); Hayman & Hill Pinot Noir "Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve Selection" ($15); Sebastiani Vineyards Pinot Noir "Sonoma Coast" ($15). For 100 people, if you are also serving beer and mixed drinks, figure on three cases (36 bottles) to play it safe.
For a final birthday toast with the cake, add six to eight bottles of Cristalino Cava Brut ($7 to $8).
Ben Giliberti, The Post's wine critic since 1987, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.