One of the pivotal moments when wine finally began to make sense to me was the first time I tasted an array of wines alongside each other. This situation provides a perspective that is extremely difficult to achieve if you only ever taste one wine at a time. But when was the last time you opened five bottles of wine for yourself?
What is the solution to this quandary? Grab a few bottles and invite some friends over! Hosting a wine tasting party is an easy and engaging means of experiencing wine, and these tips guarantee a successful sipping soirée.
1. Choose a Theme
- Variety - Sample what a specific wine variety tastes like from different regions. For example, try comparing Pinot Noir from New Zealand's Central Otago, California’s Russian River Valley, Oregon’s Dundee Hills, Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits, or California’s Sonoma Coast.
- Value - Choose a specific dollar amount. It is always great to find a new score at a great price point.
- Style - Taste through a series of similarly styled wines. For example, select an array of “crisp, dry white wines” or “rich, bold reds” or “dessert wines.”
- Region - Choose a specific region and taste through several wines unique to that wine-making area.
- Vintage - Try finding multiple vintages of the same wine. This might end up being a pricier or more difficult-to-find lineup, but it is enlightening to taste how much age and vintage variation impact a wine's flavor profile.
- Blind Tasting - Pour wines into decanters or pitchers, labeling them by number, or simply wrap the bottles in foil or serve from brown bags, disguising their identity. This is a fun and conversationally interactive way to really taste wines objectively. If you have a trusted wine shop with knowledgeable staff, have them select the wines for you, so even you are in on the blind!
- Random - All else aside, having everyone bring a bottle of wine seems to work out, as well!
2. Keep the Party Intimate & Purchase Accordingly
- Limit the guest count to 10 or fewer. A small, intimate group encourages conversation, and it's easy to pour out single bottles into these portions. Once you exceed this guest count, you'll have to consider having duplicates of each wine, in order for everyone to obtain a sip.
- How much wine should there be per person? A bottle of wine is about 24 ounces, so you could conceptually pour 12 2-ounce tastes from each bottle. From experience, however, count on guests wanting to re-taste. If you're personally supplying the wine, count on half a bottle per person for a light tasting, but more realistically one bottle per person.
- Start small and pour short tastes for each guest. Provide spit buckets, for those who don’t want to get too tipsy.
3. Stock the Necessary Supplies
- Glassware - Allotting one glass per person is absolutely fine; however, if possible, I would suggest having two glasses per person, to better taste and compare wines simultaneously.
- Palate Cleansers - Set out plenty of water crackers or a simple bread for palate cleansers.
- Spit Buckets - Allow your guests the opportunity to get rid of unwanted wine.
- Documentation - Provide pens and paper for taking wine notes or print out this handy tasting grid.
- White Background & Clear Glassware - Color is an important aspect when comparing wines, so avoid tinted glassware, provide optimal lighting, and provide a white background (I used rolls of white craft paper).
4. Serve the Right Food
If you’re feeling really adventurous, try doing a little extra research on how the acids, tannins, and sugar in foods interact with wines. Try tasting bitter chocolate, salted nuts, acidic lemon, or creamy cheese alongside the same wine to see how wine reacts to various components. This is an excellent lesson in food and wine pairing. And make sure that guests know what kind of food will be served, so they don't arrive with an empty stomach, when you're only serving light hors d'oeuvres.
Small Bites for a Wine Party - Recipes from the Kitchn
5. Set the Table
- Let guests know to refrain from wearing perfumes or scented lotions that might compete with the wines' aromas.
- Avoid decorating with scented candles or aromatic flowers, for the same reason.
- Check out a few wine books from the library to have on hand, if any questions come up. A few of my favorites are Wine: A Tasting Guide by Marnie Old, The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil, and The Wine Lover's Companion by Herbst & Herbst.
6. Serve the Wine Correctly
Depending upon which sort of party you're hosting, the serving order of the wines may not matter that much at all, but if you have the opportunity, think about lining up the wines in this order: bubbles, light whites, rich whites, rosés, light reds, bold reds, and then dessert wines. Try serving wines at the temperature they show best: bubbles 40-45 degrees, whites 40-50 degrees, and reds 55-65 degrees.