If you love wine, you probably have friends who love wine too. Or maybe you want to encourage friends to share your passion. Either situation is a perfect excuse to host your own wine tasting party at home. Tasting parties are a great opportunity to expand your knowledge of fine wines while experimenting and discovering new favorites. The best part is that wine tasting can go along with nearly any party theme, whether you’re lounging casually by the pool or gathered in the dining room for a formal dinner.
Whatever your preferences, here are a few tips and suggestions for the actual wine tasting part of your get-together.
Choosing the Wines
The big task for a wine tasting party is choosing the wines you will offer to your guests. You’ll want four to six wines – more will simply overwhelm the palate. How you choose the wines is entirely up to you, but here are some ideas:
A horizontal wine tasting offers samples of similarly classed wine from different sources produced in the same year, say a sampling of 2010 Pinot Noirs. There are different ways to choose your horizontal grouping – you could choose all Napa Valley wines, for example, or select wines from different countries entirely, depending upon the range you want to experience.
A vertical wine tasting offers wines from the same source, but from different years – for example, a particular winery’s Shiraz from the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. This allows tasters to experience the subtle changes in wine from year to year, and better understand how weather affects the taste of the wine produced. For this kind of tasting, you’ll want to have literature from the winemaker available, to better understand what factors might have contributed to the differences.
If you’re just interested in sampling a variety of wines, without necessarily comparing them to one another, you could choose a theme like wines of a particular region (try something different, like wines from Argentina), less popular grape varietals (Moscato, Tempranillo), or great wines under $20. Another great idea is to set up a tasting that pairs wine with cheese or chocolate.
If you want to share the cost with your friends, choose your wine-tasting theme and ask each guest to bring something that fits – a great way to experiment with something you may not have selected yourself!
Serving Wine at Your Wine Tasting Party
You’ll need glasses, of course. In most cases, a single Bordeaux glass per guest will be sufficient, unless you are offering a wide selection of varietals. If a sparkling wine is in your line up, you’ll want to be sure to have a flute on hand for proper appreciation. Always choose clear glass, instead of colored glass or cut crystal, since looking at the wine is as important to process as smelling and tasting.
When you are arranging the tasting order, begin with light, dry white wines and move on to more full-bodied red wines. Sample dessert wines last, since these heavier wines will overpower the more delicate flavors if tasted first. If you want to taste blind, use a paper bag, fancy socks, foil or a fabric “blindfold” tied around the bottle to hide the label. Be creative, but be sure to number each bottle so your guests can keep track of what they liked and didn’t, when you reveal the vintages later.
Different kinds of wines need to be served at different temperatures to maximize the flavor, so be sure to chill white wines for at least 30 minutes before serving, and keep it chilled until right before you serve it. Red wines should be at room temperature (50 to 65 degrees) so might need slight chilling if the room is warm.
When it is time to pour, the rule of thumb is 2 ounces of wine per glass, per wine, or about a quarter of a glass. This provides enough for a proper assessment of the wine’s bouquet and flavors. How much wine will you need on hand? For six to eight guests, have 2 bottles of each vintage on hand – one for the tasting, and one to enjoy afterwards.
Tasting Cards and Ratings
Because the point of a wine tasting is to compare different vintages and (hopefully) discover new favorites, provide a pen and paper for your guests to make notes about the wines they sample. You could even design a card for each wine you are offering that lists the type of wine, producer, year and any other pertinent information from the label. Allow room for guests to jot their notes on each card.
Depending on the expertise of your guests, you may need to provide some guidance in how to properly taste wine, and how to evaluate what it is they taste. Provide cheat sheets of common tasting terms (acidic, tannic, body, dry, fruity, etc.) to help them out. As the host, you should be prepared to introduce each wine, and lead the discussion upon tasting.
For fun, you can ask each guest to give a rating to the wines they sample. Have someone tabulate the results and give a prize to whoever brought the highest rated wine for the night.
What Else You’ll Need
- Appetizers, so no one is drinking on an empty stomach.
- Plain bread or crackers, to help cleanse the palate between tastings
- Water, for rinsing both glasses and palates (there’s no need to rinse glasses between like-colored wines)
- Dump bucket, to empty wine glasses before pouring the next vintage
- Corkscrew, obviously
- Wineglass tags or charms, to help guests keep track of their glasses
Are you ready to host your own tasting party? Whether you gather for fun or for education, wine is great way to bring people together. So stock up your wine cooler and start planning your wine tasting party today!