Holiday Hosting Tips with Marissa Ross
The holidays are great for many reasons. Top of our list? Days off, getting snowed in, incredible numbers of cookies, relatives and friends, hitherto unthinkable amounts of food, eggnog… and of course: a couple of parties. We’ve teamed up with Marissa Ross, wine editor at Bon Appetit magazine, to get her tried-and-true holiday hosting tips.
A self-taught wine enthusiast, Marissa’s wine writing focuses on how fun and delicious wine is, rather than falling into old-school trappings of pomp and pretension. That love for making things easy and fun extends into her everyday life: you can see it in her style, the way she decorates her home, and in her approach to having people over. That’s why we got in touch to get holiday hosting tips from the venerable Marissa “A.” Ross.
Holiday Hosting Tip #1: Say it with Flowers
It starts with a few thoughtful touches. Marissa lives in sunny LA, where the flower market is teeming with options even in cold November and December. To get herself in the mood (and to ground her anxious energy), Marissa employs the first in her list of holiday hosting tips: buying flowers. Marissa makes a few flower arrangements to place around the “main event” areas of her space. Flowers tend to signify a gathering space, so Marissa puts a small arrangement in the living room, and another one at the head of the table.
“Having a floral arrangement at the head of the table really draws everyone’s eyes down the table and gets them excited to sit down and have some wine!”
#2: Sparkles to Start
Marissa and her husband, Ben, are practiced at the hosting game. Ben is a hobby chef, and takes great pride in setting a menu that Marissa can expertly pair fun and funky wines alongside. Though Marissa is definitely not rigid in her recommendations. Her policy tends to lean towards “If you like it, it’s a great wine,” which is a holiday hosting tip we can get behind. That said, Marissa does have a preference for starting the evening with some bubbles.
“[Sparkling wine] gets people’s palettes going with all the fuzzy bubbles,” Marissa explained. “Everyone [will be] like… ‘Oh, I want cheese! I want bread! I want it all!” A pretty solid start to a dinner party.
#3: Set the Mood
Before she was into wine, Marissa dreamed of being a music writer. She can talk for hours about studies that suggest that music actually effects the way that listeners experience taste: picking a great playlist or record isn’t just about setting the mood for Marissa, it’s about matching the wines she has chosen.
“…I love music so much,” Marissa says. “In the evening I like to have it more jazzy. High acid wines and happier music goes really well [together].”
She does, however, prefer instrumental music for the earlier part of the evening.
“I like instrumental [music] because it’s really easy to talk over. So it’s great for dinner, and before dinner, and then [after] you can just blast Kendrick Lamar. It’s a good DJ move.”
#4: Puzzle Me This
As a self-described “Jerry” — as in Jerry Seinfeld, as in the center of many groups of friends… we needed clarification too — Marissa likes to make sure that her guests have a low-barrier way of getting to know each other. Her holiday hosting tip for introducing new friends? Give them a puzzle.
“I know it sounds like ‘grandma,’ but puzzles are great… [They let people] work on an activity together without feeling the pressure of being involved in the conversation non-stop.”
#5: Dinner Time Wine
When it’s time to open a new bottle and move on to the next phase of eating, Marissa describes herself as a “bit traditional.”
“[After sparkling wine, I like] a nice white with high acidity — maybe like an unoaked Chardonnay, or something else light and fun, like a Vinho Verde. Lots of acid… I want it to be a transition bottle from the scrubby bubbles of the sparkling.”
When it comes to buying wine for a crowd, Marissa typically assumes there to be a little more than four glasses of wine per bottle. With that in mind, she stocks up on the bottles that will have more play over the evening, while playing it a little more conservatively with the sparkling wines and the “finishers” (a wine she tells herself she’s saving, but then opens because “I love opening something exciting at the end of the night and surprising everyone.”). Of course, this rule is still a guideline to Marissa.
“Leftover wine is way better than leftover food,” says Marissa. “It can stay in your fridge for as long as you want it to without making everything smell like onions.”
#6: The 12% Rule
After dinner, Marissa directs her guests to the sitting room (unless they are really wrapped up in that puzzle) and opens a light red to share.
“Light reds are my jam. If it’s 12% alcohol and a light red I’m probably going to love it… They’re also super versatile and go with everything you’re cooking.”
The other holiday hosting tip for choosing a post-dinner bottle? Keeping the ABV (alcohol by volume) at 12% or lower.
“You guys have already probably been drinking a bunch,” Marissa says, raising her eyebrows. So you know, keep it light.
#7: Keep Your Friends Close
At the end of the night, the focus turns from eating and carousing and focuses on the group dynamic.
“It’s a wonderful way to end the evening where… while we were together at the table, being [in the living room] brings everyone even closer,” says Marissa. “Whether it’s talking over a movie, or playing a game, it’s a really wonderful way to… just be together.”