I don’t know about you, but I love wine. Our new house is in Virginia Wine Country and one of my favorite weekend activities is to visit wineries and discover new wines. But you don’t have to visit wineries or take fancy wine classes to explore new wines. You can host your own tasting party, right at home, no matter where you live.
The first thing to decide is what kind of tasting party you want to have. Think about your guests – are they all oenophiles? Or do they only know that some wine is red, some is white, and some have bubbles? Or are they somewhere in between? Do you want to discover new wines? Or do you want to test your wine knowledge?
When you consider your guest list, I’d suggest inviting guests who all share the same level of wine interest. If you invite all wine experts, and then one guest who knows next to nothing, that guest may feel out of place. On the flip side, if you have one friend who is particularly knowledgeable but the rest of your guests are less so, consider asking your oenophile wine to lead the discussion.
Be realistic about the conversation your guests want to engage in. Even if the guests might not be wine experts (I’m certainly not one!) they might be really interested in learning more about wine. Others might want to just sip, make a quick note, and then gossip about House of Cards.
Once you think about your guests, figure out what kind of wine tasting to do. You can simple provide a selection of wines to try, or you can be a bit more intentional. You can focus on wines of a particular region, such as France or Napa; I really like to do this with more obscure and up and coming regions. One of the first wine classes I took was on old world versus new world wines (Europe versus North America), which was a lot of fun. You can focus just on reds or just one whites, or just on sparkling wines. You can do a vertical tasting, which is when you drink the same wine in different vintages to show how it changes from year to year (this could be a bit challenging to find all the wine), or a horizontal tasting, which is when you drink the same type of wine from a certain year, but from different producers. You can do a price point tasting, where all the wines are at a certain price point. You can also do a price point blind tasting, where your guests can try and guess which wines are more expensive. You can even have all of your guests bring their own bottle of wine that they have recently discovered and talk about it. The point is you can do whatever you want!
I think wine tasting parties are perfect for about 5 or 6 people, because you can each get a taste from 1 bottle, but you can do it with more or fewer guests if you like.
You don’t need much, besides the wine. You’ll need a glass for each guest (you only need one glass – don’t even worry about the type), bottled water or a water pitcher, a container for dumping, and some “extra” wine for cleaning the glasses. You don’t want to use water to rinse the glasses in between pours because it can dilute the next wine. I always have inexpensive wine around that I use for cooking, that wine would be perfect for this purpose.
You should have pen and paper for your guests to make notes. If your guests would be into it, you could provide printed tasting notes. I like this one from the Stylish Spoon because it is pretty simple and has prompts at the bottom to help people figure out what to write, but there are plenty out there.
If you are having lots of guests, I’d recommend some sort of glass marker so guests can keep track of their glasses. I personally own these wine “seals” which press on the glass with a suction cup, via Vacu Vin:
Other people prefer wine charms. Lots of different places sell them, with options ranging from the serious to the girly to the eclectic. Not Martha has an easy DIY version, or I like these chalkboard versions from Etsy Seller Val Vista Creations:
You definitely want to provide food. You’ll notice that tastings at wineries often have oyster crackers or something else bland so it doesn’t get in the way of the wine’s flavors. I like to do a crudite and hummus and pita, or some really great bread. You can get really fancy and try and pair the wine with specific foods, such as meats, cheeses, or chocolate. I am as obsessed with chocolate as many women are, but sometimes there is nothing better than a good piece of dark chocolate and a great glass of red wine. In fact, for a few months I would insist on having a piece of chocolate any time I had a glass of red wine, driving my husband a bit crazy. I’m not sure that the Hershey Kisses and Two Buck Chuck were really meant for each other as much as I tried to make them.
Other than that, try to pour the wines in order from dry to sweet white wines, then light to full-bodied red wines. Pour 1-2 ounces per person, less if you are tasting more than 5 or 6 wines, the point is a “taste” after all. Have a bucket for guests to dump if they don’t like a wine – don’t make your guests drink everything! You don’t need to rinse between every pour – if you do rinse, don’t forget to use wine, not water. But have water on hand for guests to keep hydrated.
Other than that, have fun! Cheers!
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