5 Guidelines for Hosting a Great Wine Tasting Party
I am no wine expert, but if you ask me, the only thing better than a party with good wine is a party where you get to taste different wines. That’s why I love wine tasting parties!
If you are looking for a fun way to spend an evening with your friends, why not throw your own wine tasting party? Even if you aren’t a wine connoisseur, you can throw a fun and successful sipping soiree by following these 5 simple guidelines:
1 – Choose A Theme
There are several ways to approach choosing wines, a few ideas are:
- Variety – Sample a specific wine variety from different regions. For example, compare Cabernet Sauvignon’s from different wine regions.
- Vintage – Compare multiple vintages of the same wine
- Style – Compare similarly styled wines. For example, compare a selection of “rich, bold reds” or “dessert wines”.
- Region – Choose several unique wines from a specific region and compare those.
- Price – Choose a variety of wines in a specific price range. Or, conduct a blind comparison of different priced wines – ie. very expensive vs cheap wines.
Really, the sky is the limit. After seeing the Scout and Cellar blog a couple of weeks ago, I thought it might be fun to compare Clean Wines with Traditional Wines (aka the wines I normally drink).
If possible, try to choose 4-6 wines which follow whatever theme you select. Any more than this will overwhelm the palate and less than 4 doesn’t really give your guests time to settle into the tasting and learn about their preferences and different wines.
If you need help choosing wines, I have had great success asking the experts at the Austin Wine Merchant, Spec’s, Central Market, and even Costco here in Austin. They can point you in the right direction and give you some recommendations for any theme you choose!
2 – Have the Right Supplies
When purchasing wine, remember that a standard tasting pour is about 1/2 the size of a regular serving, around 2-3 ounces, and a bottle of wine contains about 10 tasting servings. It is always good to have a little left over just in case. So, for a party of 8-10 plan on buying 2 bottles of each wine.
- Wine opener
- Wine Glasses – you will need enough glasses so that each guest has a different glass for each wine they are tasting. So, if you have 10 guests who will each be tasting 4 different wines, you need 4 glasses x 10 guests = 40 glasses. Wine glasses can be easily rented and you don’t even have to wash them!
- Palate cleansers (water crackers or similar)
- Spit buckets (Red solo cups are great for this)
- Pens and Paper for writing down preferences and thoughts on each wine
- Placemats – You can have a wine tasting placemat or just simple white paper. It is important to avoid colored backgrounds and glassware so make sure to keep everything clear or white.
- Wine bags for blind tastings
For larger parties, you may need to ensure you have plenty of tables and chairs for your guests. You can rent almost any shape or size of tables and chairs when you rent the glassware.
3 – Serve the Right Food
Before the wine tasting, make sure you notify the guests of which kind of food will be served so they can be prepared.
Consider providing food before the wine tasting so guests aren’t trying wines on an empty stomach. I prefer to have a spread of food for guests to graze on plus some kind of dark chocolate and fruit for later.
Some of the foods I like to see at a wine tasting party are:
- bitter chocolate – find something that contains at least 60% cacao which makes the chocolate richer
- dried fruit or cut fresh fruit such as grapes and apples
- salted nuts
- mixed olives
- a cheese and charcuterie platter
4 – Taste the Wine
If you have the opportunity before the tasting begins, consider lining up the wines in this order: bubbles, light whites, rich whites, roses, light reds, bold reds, and then dessert wines. If possible, serve the wines at the temperature they show best: bubbles 40-45 degrees, whites 40-50 degrees, and reds 55-65 degrees.
Before starting the tasting, give guests some guidance on how to taste wine. The following simple steps can guide them in their tasting:
- Look – Examine the color of the wine against a white background tilting the glass away from you. In red wines, look for bright and saturated color. Young reds that are going brown may be aging too quickly. Here are some other tips for examining the color of wines.
- Swirl – This will help release the aromas. After a good swirl, give the wine a deep sniff. This process can be repeated several times.
- Sip – Always take a good sized sip in their mouths and swish it around to cover the palate. Note what it feels like – is it thin and acidic or rich and velvety?
- Savor – Draw some air between your front teeth and gargle the wine. Is the wine salty? Bitter? Sweet? Acidic?
Through this process have the guests look for aromas, flavors, texture, and weight. Is the wine clean or musty? Is it light, crisp, soft? Is the wine balanced? Does it linger on the palate or disappear the minute it leaves the mouth?
Have guests note their thoughts (and preferences) for discussion and comparison after each tasting.
5 – Compare the Wine
Make sure to allow everyone enough time to taste each wine and take a few notes. Then, discuss the various wines sharing tasting notes and likes and dislikes. I would recommend doing a little research on each wine ahead of time to understand its properties. This will help guide the discussion.
At this point, you may want to retaste the wines to see whether they have changed with aeration or whether the discussion has caused guests to think about the wines differently. Some wines may improve over time and others may lose their freshness.
You also may want to take a vote on favorites. This can be especially fun in a blind tasting prior to revealing the labels.
And there you have it…a guide to hosting a great wine tasting party. If I can do it, anyone can! And, if things aren’t perfect, serve more wine – chances are the guests are not going to notice and everyone will have a great time regardless!