Some of the best parties to attend have a theme and one of my favorite themes is a wine tasting party. A wine tasting party is fun for novices and wine experts alike. If it sounds intimidating, don’t worry, you don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to host a this kind of party. We’ll walk through the basics, from planning through implementation.
Step1: Decide the number of guests to invite.
Usually no more than 6 to 8 people are recommended, although some sources say as little as 4 guests are optimal for this kind of party. Anyone who enjoys a good glass of wine will want to attend.
Step 2: Choose a Theme.
To add an interesting twist to the party make the theme blind tasting. Hide the identity of the wines by covering the existing wine label with a custom designed label. Keep a record of everyone’s best guesses and watch the competitive nature of some of the guests come out! Other themes to consider are tasting by varietals or region. Varietal is the name of the dominant grape used in the wine, for example Pinot Noir or Merlot. California wines vs. Italian wines is an example of a regional theme. A theme helps narrow the field of wines to choose from when you shop for the party.
Step 3: Pick Your Party Supplies.
Wine Glasses. It’s recommended to have one red wine glass and one white glass for each guest. The proper wine glass is supposed to enhance the taste of the wine and make the tasting experience more enjoyable. Crate and Barrel has a great visual guide to the correct wine glass on their website both for red and white wines. It’s reference to access quickly.
Here’s a fun, random find discovered while out shopping for a party…wine glasses with chalkboard paint stems. These wine glasses allow for a name to be written on the base of the wine glass with chalk. (The current chalkboard craze on Pinterest and Instagram inspired BYB’s line of chalkboard labels.) You can make chalk paint wine glasses or buy them. If you don’t have the time or inclination to make them, and budget is not an issue, there are plenty of places to buy them. They’re available through Bed Bath & Beyond and Pier One. Mikasa also carries a chalkboard wine glass in their product line. I found wine glasses for $1.99 each at World Market and with Chalkboard spray paint added the paint to the bottom and base of the stem on each wine glass. The result was fantastic and the cost? A fraction of buying them ready-made.
Coordinating Chalkboard Party Supplies.
Chalkboard wine labels & tags. Use this unique wine label to hide the bottle’s existing label during the blind test. Add a neck tag with a number on it and keep a master list of the wines for the blind taste line-up.
Chalkboard water bottle labels. Bottled water is handy to use for cleansing the pallet between tastings. BYB has many water bottle label templates available online including a chalkboard design which are customizable for any party.
Small chalkboard for each guest to make tasting notes and to vote on each wine they taste. I found 8 inch x 6.5 inch chalkboards for $1.99 at the local craft store. A package of chalk comes 12 sticks for around $1.29.
Chalkboard serving tray. These are all over the internet from eBay to Amazon. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and allow you to write the name of the cheeses, crackers or breads you’re serving. Prices vary.
Step 4: Choose your wines.
Six kinds of wine should be adequate. The wines don’t have to be expensive to taste good, that’s one of the great things about access to the new big box wine stores. A lot of wines you normally wouldn’t see are on the shelf in stores like Total Wine and BevMo! Many excellent wines are on the market for under $20. Ask the wine expert at your local grocer’s or wine store for recommendations. You might consider getting red and white wine to meet all taste preferences, as some people prefer red wines over whites and vice versa. Sparkling wines are a fun way to finish the night. If you purchase two bottles of each wine, you’ll have one for tasting and one for drinking later when the tasting is over.
Step 5: Food. It’s always a good idea to provide food when serving alcohol. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, it can be as simple as appetizers, a veggie tray with cheese and crackers, or artisan bread with spreads and a selection of fruits. If you do serve dinner make sure you pair your wines with the appropriate foods. Seafood and poultry mesh with whites and spicy or substantial meats go with reds. Dessert wines are perfect with berries, fruit or dark chocolates.
Step 6: Tasting.
Optimal Wine Temperatures
Your wine should be served at the correct temperature, which for white wine is 45° to 50° Fdegrees, red wines 50° to 65°F, Rosé wines 45° to 55° F and sparkling wines at 42° to 42° F.
Tasting – Teach your guests the correct method for tasting wine.
The Five S’s
1. See- Look at the wine and notice the color and clarity. You can do this by holding the glass up to the light or looking down into the wine directly.
2. Swirl – Swirling the wine releases the aroma of the wine. Do this gently to expose a larger surface area and increase the contact of the wine with the air.
3. Smell – As strange as it sounds put your nose into the glass and breathe deep. What smells are coming to mind? Lemon, oak, herbal, flowery, earthy?
4. Sip – Roll the wine across your tongue slowly and hold in your mouth. What flavor(s) come to mind?
5. Swallow – Once you’ve swallowed you may sense an aftertaste. This is what is known as the finish. Better wines are supposed to have a more distinct finish that will last in your mouth for a short time.
Have your guests take notes and make their best guess on their mini-chalkboard. These notes will help decide the best guesser at the end of the tasting.
Step 7: Progression
It’s recommended to serve your wine in order from lightest to darkest, or from crisp to full bodied. Crisp, light wines are white wines like Pinot Grigio or Chenin Blanc and dark, full-bodied wines are red such as Cabernet and Merlot.
A tasting should be no more than one to two ounces. Keep a bucket or bowl on hand to pour out the samples that aren’t consumed. It’s just my opinion, but a spit bucket like the professional tasters use doesn’t have much appeal at an intimate party.
Step 8: Dessert and/or Awards
Dessert is a perfect way to end the party and nothing is easier than purchasing chocolates for your guests. Handmade chocolate is rich and it only takes one or two per guest to satisfy. Other light dessert choices are chocolate mousse or Tiramisu.
Tally up the remarks and guesses of your guest and award the winner with what else…a bottle of wine with a personalized wine label.