How to Throw a Great Wine Tasting Party
It's that restless time of year when we start pining for longer days and warmer temps. A little vino with friends might be just the thing to lift your spirits.
Hosting a wine tasting party can be a lot of fun, but unless you want all your guests showing up with the same $8.99 bottle of grocery store Riesling, you should have a plan in place before you shoot out the evites.
SecondAct asked five wine experts for their top suggestions for throwing a great wine tasting party. Here's what they said:
1. Create a theme.
"You want to guide the tastings, suggesting what people bring or creating a theme by asking people to bring a wine they know they enjoy. Everyone wants to share something they love, but make sure you don't get personally invested in whether someone else loves it or not. It's just best to share the wine and let others make their own decisions," Bell says. "And without seeming snobby, you're going to want to communicate to your guests that they should avoid wearing overbearing perfume. If someone's wearing Chanel, it might keep everyone else from smelling the wine. Also, if you're decorating your home, don't use aromatic flowers like lavender, rose or freesia -- they'll steal the show. I've gone to tastings and I can't smell anything because all the wines smell like lilies."
2. Pick a varietal to keep it focused.
From Richard Haake, chef and owner of Winery Chefs, a catering company dedicated to hosting culinary events for wineries in Napa Valley
"You're going to want to focus on a varietal, a producer or a style of wine. If it's a group of people who get together often, I encourage people to focus on a single varietal. The idea is to bring people together for good company, good food and good wine so you don't want to over-think it, but you do want to be organized," Haake says. "The most successful wine and food parties I've attended were simple. Our group would focus on a wine region, the host would make a dish from that region, someone would get notes about wines, and everyone else would bring a bottle. One time we did Burgundy, the host made coq au vin, and everyone brought Burgundies. It was having a plan -- not creating too much structure, but being organized enough to have a fun experience. At the end of the night, everyone had a blast."
3. Know your guests.
From Jessica Bell (no relation to Andrew Bell), founder of My Wine School, a free, interactive online wine school
"Know your guests and adapt the wines and delivery to your guests' interests. If you know your guests are passionate wine enthusiasts, seek out more esoteric wines. If your friends enjoy the more social aspects, find crowd pleasers. If it's more of a social party, a great theme would be asking them to bring a wine with a cool or ugly label. Also, it's important to give a price range or cap so that no one feels they under-delivered. Another fun tasting is to assign everyone a different grape varietal, brown bag them and put a sheet out with descriptions of each wine. Then, have everyone try to match the descriptions to the hidden wines," Bell says. "Glassware is important. It doesn't have to be fancy, but everyone should have at least one glass, two if you're doing comparative tastings. Wine glass charms can be helpful if it is a social setting with lots of movement. And a dump bucket for people to toss wines they don't want to finish, and water, preferably distilled, to rinse glasses is also important."
4. Don't forget snacks.
"As a hostess, I like to have everyone bring a bottle of wine; then I'll make a few food items I think will go nicely with those wines. I prefer having little snacks, rather than a full meal, to keep the focus on the wine. I like hosting such parties on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon so that it's more casual than a dinner party," Silverman Hough says. "Generally speaking, cheese always goes with wine. You can accessorize the cheese, make some spiced nuts, a little fruit compote. Dips are also easy to make, and you can serve them with crostini. Olives also go with practically every wine out there, so it's no coincidence that most wine bars serve them. While you might want to have foods that pair with the wines, it's not necessary. In fact, if the foods aren't paired perfectly, you can experience for yourself why things go with wine or not. You're not going to kill anybody with a bad food and wine pairing. Remember, it's supposed to be fun."
5. Be sure your guests don't overindulge.
From Ray Fister, founder of "Life Between the Vines" podcasts and NPR wine commentator
"You want to have a plan because mixing too many varietals can be confusing. Ask for specific wines and be frank. People generally will ask you red or white, so you want to steer them, if possible, and tell them what you'd like to see. Even then, your guests might not comply. If someone brings a bottle that looks scary, simply do your best to keep it under cork or cap. And I know it sounds rude, but you can also hide the scary wine in the fridge. That really works," Fister says. "If you're opening several bottles, it's good to have an aerator for wines that will be consumed immediately. Foil pours also keep wine from dripping and making a mess. Be aware of folks overdoing it, and keep them in check. No one wants to ruin a party."
SecondAct Asks: Have you hosted a wine tasting party? What's your advice for others? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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