Choosing a Wine Tasting Party Theme
The first step is determining the guests' level of expertise. If most of them are not that familiar with wine, a simple theme for the event is a good idea. To help your friends out, you can give them wine tasting tips at the start of the party. If your circle of friends includes mostly sommeliers, you may need to get more creative!
Fun themes include:
- Varietal Flights. As an example, compare Chardonnay from various regions or at different price points and note the differences. There are many varietals to choose from. One party could focus on the traditional grapes and another on more adventurous varieties.
- Blindfolded tasting. Have your guest use their sense of smell and taste without the benefit of sight. Have guests make notes on smells and tastes and then guess what type of wine they are drinking.
- Best bottle parties. Have your guests bring that bottle that's been gathering dust as they wait to celebrate a lottery win! It's nice to remember wine is for drinking and not storing. Good wine is best enjoyed with good friends and you can make that happen!
- Madonna, Sting and friends. Seek out bottles from celebrity vintners. You can compare bottles can have a music only tasting with Sting, Madonna, Dave Matthews and Fergie. Or try the movies with Francis Ford Copolla, Drew Barrymore and Antonio Banderas. Listen to a song or watch a clip while sipping and decide what they are better at!
- Green wine tasting. This isn't a St. Patrick's Day only tasting. Find bottles that are produced in eco-friendly wineries and put them to the test. There are organic wines, biodynamic wines and wines from sustainable vineyards and wineries. Maybe taste a single varietal from a biodynamically farmed vineyard versus the same varietal from a traditional vineyard in the same region. Can you taste the difference?
- Taste the bubbles. If you are really in the mood to celebrate, why not organize a sparkling wine vs. champagne party. The French have been protecting their precious champagne for decades, do they have good reason? Put them to the test against a bottle of California Sparkling wine, a bottle of Cava from Spain and a bottle of Prosecco from Italy. The decide who really knows their bubbles?
The Atmosphere of Your Wine Tasting Party
Decide on the seriousness of the tasting. Tastings can run the gamut from fun and informal to highly structured. The fun part is you get to decide.
In an informal tasting, you and your guests simply discuss the wines as they are poured. Opinions and impressions should flow as freely as the wine. As party host, you can encourage debates between your guests. The fun of an informal tasting is the lively discussions that are generated.
For something in between formal and informal, you can offer a slightly more structured atmosphere. The guests can be seated at a table vs. lounging on a couch. You can offer a pad of paper and discourage open discussion until everyone has tasted the current wine. You can pause between each wine to share notes and pick a favorite.
For a formal tasting, guests should be offered a tasting sheet that calls out the traditional dimensions wine are graded on. Each guest should have wine poured at the same time and take a structured approach to judging the wines characteristics. Guests record their scores for each wine and then hold them to the end before sharing.
Choosing the Wine
An easy way to choose the type of wine served is by deciding on one or more of the following:
- A single style of wine (white or red or one of each)
- Wines from a particular area
- Wines with a certain price range
- A single varietal type
- Wines from the same maker but different vintages
Here on some tips on how to prepare and serve the wine:
- Try not to serve more than six wines in any one flight.
- Have a “spit cup” for each taster and a dump bucket or two for the table
- Remember to plan for temperature and decanting variations
- Work out a schedule ahead of time so you won't have to worry about this the night of the tasting.
- Remember to consider the order in which you should taste the wines. Some experts advise starting with the lightest wine and ending with the heaviest.
- A good wine merchant can offer advice on the order in which you should taste your wines.
- Don't "wash" out the glasses with water between tastes. Any water left in the glass can serve to water down the next wine and alter the taste.
- Each guest should have at least two clear wine glasses or as many glasses as wines you are trying at your wine tasting party.
- The glasses should be the same type of glass in order to compare the different aromas and flavors equally.
Accompanying the Wine
Serve food and water with the wine. This helps to clear the palate, clarifying the taste of each wine. The food can be simple, such as a variety cheese and crackers, or if your affair is more casual, step it up a little and match some more adventuress foods to your wines. Remember that formal tastings do not include food until after all the wines are sampled.
Safety first, and last!
Unless you plan to let everyone sleep over, transportation needs to be considered. Even if you are using the dump bucket, there is a good chance you shouldn't be driving at the end of wine tasting party. Consider having other drinks or snacks for a designated driver or offer to arrange for a group Uber ride home.