"Party, party, partythere was always an album to promote," says Jill Levy of her 13 years in the music business. Recently she and her husband, Jack, opened a shop called Wine Savor in Valencia, California, where no bottle costs more than $10, and a wine bar lets customers taste before they buy. She still finds time to give parties, though. Here are her favorite tips.
Every year we throw a Mexican party with a mariachi band and food from Rosarita Grill, a local, family-run hole-in-the-wall (27674 Newhall Ranch Rd. #30; 661-295-1989). I make margaritas using a handheld plastic citrus juicer that I first saw in a Mexican restaurant (from $14 at Sur La Table; 800-243-0852 or surlatable.com).
What's your favorite wine country vacation?
I love visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada and staying at the Pillar & Post Inn, which has a great spa (48 John St.; 888-669-5566). The area is known for its ice winesInniskillin is the best. I also love the 1999 Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc. Peller Estates has an amazing winery restaurant (290 John St. E.; 888-673-5537). The new Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery has a state-of-the-art tasting room (2145 Regional Rd. 55; 866-589-4637).
Who are your favorite clothing designers?
We live on a ranch, so we're pretty casual. I absolutely live in shirts from Thomas Pink (from $140; 888-336-1192). They're so comfortable and go with both pants and skirts. I'm also a big Dolce & Gabbana fan, and Ralph Lauren is a staple. I'll only wear jeans that aren't really low-waisted. When you're entertaining, you don't want to bend over and reveal too much!
What's an unexpected wine you like to serve?
I think Champagne is underused in this country, even though it pairs so well with food. We sell a French sparkling wine from Varichon et Clerc, made by the Champagne method, that's under $10 and is probably the best seller in the store. We also have a crisp 2002 Chardonnay from Alamos, an Argentinean producer ($10).
What CDs do you play at parties?
After 13 years in the music industry, I'm sick of a lot of stuff! We listen to satellite radio most of the time, but for parties I'm all about the standardslike The Best of Chaka Khan, or other compilation albums. Familiar music brings people together, no matter what their musical taste. The point is to make guests comfortable.
What are your favorite plates?
A friend once gave me a "Beach" charger from home, james! that I loved so much I went out and bought a bunch more ($135 for a set of four; 631-329-8878 or homejameseasthampton.com). Jack is famous for his crab boils, so we use the "Beach" plates for those parties, along with fish-shaped "Pisces" flatware from Reed & Barton ($28 for a five-piece place setting; 800-343-1383 or reedandbarton.com). I cover the table with Asian newspapers, which look cool and make it easy to clean up. Recently I found a great set of Dungeness crab plates, bowls and crab crackers from Waterline, which I plan to give as gifts ($68 for a four-person set; 206-763-1403 or waterlineseattle.com).
What are some of your favorite wine books?
Wine for Dummies by Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy is great for beginners. Red and White: Wine Made Simple by Max Allen is also a good book, but you do need to have some basic knowledge to fully appreciate it.
What's your favorite wine accessory?
I love the ribbed-neck "Cascade" decanter from the Wine Enthusiast ($50; 800-356-8466 or wineenthusiast.com). It's especially important to have a wide-bottomed decanter for older or tannic reds, to expose more wine to the air.
How do you calculate how much wine to buy for a party?
For a big cocktail party, I assume that people will drink a glass an hour and figure that I'll get four glasses of wine per bottle. For dinner parties, I usually buy about one bottle per person. I used to order the same number of reds as whites, but now the ratio is three bottles of red for every one of white.
How do you keep guests at a party from drinking too much?
I may sound like a control freak, but I like to pour the wine. I know who has to drive, and that way I can tell how much people are drinking. I also enjoy telling guests about the wine they're drinking.
What wines do you pour at Christmas?
I like to start the meal with Kirs RoyaleChampagne with crème de cassis. Then we always serve a red wine with the traditional roast goose. Even though goose is poultry, its texture and color are closer to prime rib's, so we serve it with red wine. Last year, we chose a $10 bottle of Laderas El Seque from Spain. On the side, Jack makes mashed potatoes mixed with corn bread, sour cream and Parmesanit's an adaptation of a stuffing recipe out of The L.L. Bean Game & Fish Cookbook.
Wine Savor; 24268 Valencia Blvd.; 866-WINE-789 or wine-savor.com.