5 Tips for Hosting the Perfect Wine-Tasting Party
By Shelly Ruddle
Life is too short to drink bad wine — or serve it. A wine-tasting party is the new dinner party — a trendy way to gather your friends for a night of conversation and good times, over some good wines. But a wine-tasting party is a little more complicated than just inviting the squad over and popping a few corks. Here are five tips for hosting a wine tasting party.
1. Choose Your Wines With a Theme in Mind
You can serve any wine you like, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. It helps to choose a theme. Your themes could be organized by:
Categories of wine — Your main, broad choices are reds, whites, rosés, sparkling and dessert wines. More fun, though is to drill down to create a theme by a subgenre — and wines have so many. For example, you could have an entire party around herbal forest red wines with truffle notes (yes, that’s really a thing).
Varietals — These are wines from a single type of grape, such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, viognier or merlot. The fun is how a chard from Central California, for example, compares to one from New Zealand or Argentina.
Regions — You could focus on comparing wines from one region, such as a sampler of the Lodi region’s world-class Zinfandels.
Vintage — Pick a year and find its finest examples.
Price — Amazing wines on a budget is not an oxymoron.
Serve your sparkling wines very cold, your whites chilled and your reds on the cool side of room temperature. If you’re serving from many varieties, serve in order of weight, starting with those frosty sparkling wines and ending with heavy reds. If they’re from the same grape, or even all whites or all reds, serve from lightest to darkest.
Finally, make sure you have enough wine. A tasting is about 2 ounces a piece, and there are typically about 25 ounces of wine per bottle. Multiply 2 ounces times the number of guests to figure out how many ounces you'll need; divide by 25 ounces to get the number of bottles.
2. Choose Your Setting
Rule No. 1 is to ban heavy scents from the room. Forget the scented candles or the room sprays, or anything else that your nose or tongue can detect in the air. Those heavy scents will interfere with the wine-tasting experience. If you choose to host your wine-tasting inside your home, get rid of any distinct odors, whether it's your favorite vanilla-scented candle or your dog.
You’ll also want a good amount of room for your guests, and all the wines, glasses, and food. Make sure you leave plenty of room so there's no red-wine-on-the-carpet disasters, nor broken wine glasses. You also want to make sure all your guests have room to try and taste the wines.
If you really want to avoid the red wine stains, move the party to your patio. A backyard is an ideal place for a wine-tasting party, especially if you're in California or another area with a mild climate. Even in states with harsh climates, autumn is the perfect season for a backyard wine tasting. Make sure your yard is in tiptop shape — the grass mowed and the leaves raked. The outdoors provides the perfect backdrop for a celebration of the season.
3. The Right Glasses
There are almost as many types of wine glasses out there as there are wines — at least one for almost every kind of wine. You don’t have to knock yourself out trying to find a Montrachet, Madeira, and rose glass for your wine tasting. But you’ll definitely want a flute for sparkling wines, a white wine glass, and a standard red. If you're serving just reds or only whites, it's okay to have one standard wine glass per guest. Put out a bucket for guests to empty their glasses, and wine charms so people can keep track of their wine glasses.
4. Serve Food
Put out a pitcher of water and some crackers or bread for guests to cleanse their palate between wines. Be careful about choosing your food. The right hors d'oeuvres will allow your guests to metabolize the wine slowly. You should also use this opportunity to serve foods that pair well with wine. Think chardonnay with smoked salmon and crackers, and cabernet sauvignon with a charcuterie board.
5. Show Your Guests How to Taste
Your guests will likely have a range of wine-tasting experience, from experts to novices. For the latter, it’s important to explain how to taste wine versus drinking or guzzling it. Consider putting out cards with wine-tasting instructions, including what to look for, how to sniff, and how to taste. Remind them to sip, not gulp, so they can taste the flavors of the fruit, flowers, herbs or barrel. Provide small notepads and pencils so your guests can write down the flavors they taste and their perceptions of the wines.
Remember the focus of the evening is the wines — perhaps four to six varieties. The aromas and flavors will prompt conversations and comparisons — and you may end the night with some new favorites to add to your list of must-have wines. But your wine tasting party should also leave you with good memories of a night with friends.
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Shelly Ruddle is a fresh-air enthusiast whose passion is decorating outdoor living spaces. Her patio includes an outdoor kitchen, pergola and enough seating to entertain the neighborhood. She lights up her garden at night to show off her native plants and flowerbeds.