Host A Wine Tasting Party
by: Jennifer de Jong
A Wine Tasting Party is an ideal way to get friends and family together to learn about wine and experiment with new or unusual varietals. It can help to break the ice and give your partygoers some great conversation down the line. I myself had a wine tasting bridal shower. Rather than the usual shower games we tried different wine and paired yummy food with it. It was a great icebreaker and gave guest that didn’t know each other something to chat about.
There are different styles of wine tasting parties that you can throw. Two general tasting terms you may want to know are, Vertical Tasting and Horizontal tasting. These are tasting terms used regularly in the wine world. A Vertical Tasting consists of tasting wines from several different vintages or years, that were produced by one winery. A nice example of this would be tasting Cabernet Sauvignon from Clos Du Bois spanning the “90”, “91”, “92”, and “93” vintages. This would let the tasters see how each vintage compared to the next and also judge the aging process.
A Horizontal Tasting consists of tasting wines from the same vintage or year, represented by several different wineries. A nice example of this would be tasting Cabernet Sauvignon from Joseph Phelps, St. Francis, Chateau Souverain, and Robert Mondavi all from the “1990” vintage.
To make your event a bit more challenging, you can also offer a “blind tasting” experience. In this case, you pour each wine without identifying the label, allowing guest to incorporate all of their senses to identify different aspects of the wine. For example you can give the labels’ descriptions and see who can match the descriptions with the wine. Or score who is able to recognize the most about each wine giving a point value to characteristics such as varietal, country of origin, vintage, price range or whatever you think would be fun. The guest that is able to identify the most wines or characteristics correctly wins a prized bottle of wine or perhaps a book on the art of wine tasting.
Yet another option is to do a food focused wine tasting party. For this style of party I would suggest choosing 3 reds and 3 whites. You can pair wine with food and/or cheese and the guests can decide which goes best with which type of food. Or you can make cards up to point out why each wine goes with each food, leaving out any competition and just highlighting the wine and food.
I would suggest keeping decorations simple. It is best to use white table clothes or place mats when doing a wine tasting so that when you hold your glass against it you see the true color of the wine. If you are using candles it’s best to use unscented so that it doesn’t interfere with the aroma of the wine.
Design a tasting card that specifies the type of wine, the producing vineyard, the year and a brief description of the wine (usually found on the wine’s label). Make sure that each guest has their own tasting card to record the wine’s distinct appearance, aroma, flavor, and cheese pairing nuances.
It is also nice to have a place mat designating where each wine will go. This helps to keep everyone on track and from getting the glasses mixed up.
Have enough wine for approximately 1 ½ ounces per tasting sample (1 bottle usually serves 10 tasting samples) and a few extra bottles for drinking after the tasting is finished. People usually like to further enjoy the wines they just tasted.
Provide simple hors d’oeuvres for the guests between wines, allows for guests to cleanse their pallets and sets them up to fully experience the next wine. You also want to limit the chances of your guests over-indulging and driving home intoxicated. Some good choices are mild cheese and crackers, bread, oyster crackers, popcorn (very nice with champagne), and nuts. If you are feeling a little fancier you can also try some smoked meats, mild chocolate, or fondue.
Typically, when tasting wines, you will want to work from dry to sweet with white wines and progress from light to full-bodied with red wines. Have your guests sample each wine by itself, assessing the wine’s unique color, smells, flavors and then introduce the appropriate cheese pairing and have them reassess the wine’s qualities in light of the subtle flavor changes.
I like to pour all of the wine ahead of time and then let my guest sample the wine at leisure adding their own notes to the “scorecards” and sampling the different munchies. You can also have a designated leader to talk about each wine as you go through the wines to have a more structured tasting.
After the tasting is over collect all the scorecards, core the wines, tally each taster’s score and then rank all the wines. Have a quick announcement to go over the favorite wines and/or the winners. Give out any prizes you may have and then encourage everyone to enjoy some more food.
Some tips and things to have on-hand at your wine tasting party are:
Bottled Water or Pitchers of Water -Room temperature bottled water is best. If it is too cold it can numb you tongue a bit and that may effect you wine tasting. Guests may also use it to rinse their glasses between wines if a new wineglass is not provided for each wine.
Wine Opener and possible a spare so that you can have a friend help you open all these bottles of wine.
Spit Buckets-Some guests will spit a bit since they are tasting so much wine. These buckets may also be used to pour water into, if folks are rinsing their glasses. I’ve seen small fish bowls used, metal Champagne buckets, cardboard cups, and Tupperware bowls. I like to let everyone know ahead of time that it is very okay to spit! Some people may not know that it is proper and ok to spit.
Pens and Tasting Note Sheets or Scorecards – Lots of people will want to take these home with them so that they can remember the great wines they tried.
A Wine Place Mat for each taster (contains a pattern for placement of wineglasses).
Wine Glasses-A 12oz. (or bigger) glass for everyone. Try to have the same style for each taster. Some hosts rent glassware and actually provide a new glass for every person, for every wine. It is a nice touch but can be a bit of a hassle to rent a bunch of glasses. If you are going to insist that each guest reuses the same wine glass through out the evening then provide enough bottled water.
Food – Prepared in advance.
Prize – (optional) for a blind tasting winner
Humor – encourage your guests to share their thoughts and humor on each wine
Music – It’s always nice to have a good selection.
Jennifer de Jong is a long time wine drinker, enjoyer of wine, and non-wine-snob. She is the founder of Vino Vixenz. A snob-free zone to learn wine tasting.