I love hosting wine tasting parties. They’re a great way to entertain friends at home whilst learning about wine in a relaxed non intimidating manner. Last year, I was lucky enough to work on the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, New Zealand’s top wine competition. Watching wine professionals at work was an amazing experience and it inspired me to throw a special Wine Tasting Party at my house last week.
Contrary to popular belief, wine tastings are actually some of the easiest parties to organize because once the prep work is over you can basically sit back and relax with your guests.
Here’s how to throw your own wine tasting party in a few simple steps:
Step 1 – Choosing your wines
First you will need to choose what type of wine tasting you would like to host. Some popular options are:
♥ Horizontal tastings; where you pick wines that were made on the same year but made by different producers (i.e. compare a series of 2012 Sauvignon Blanc)
♥ Vertical tastings; where you compare various vintages of the same wine (i.e. to see how a specific Bordeaux changed between 2008, 2009 and 2010)
♥ New World vs. Old world (i.e. comparing French wines VS Australian wines)
My theme was centered around sampling gold medal and trophy winners from the Air NZ wine awards but frankly it could be anything you like – the possibilities are endless.
As I knew my friends included both red and white wine drinkers I decided to have both. To keep things a bit more challenging I chose wines with varying prices and also I picked a couple of tricky wines that I knew (hoped) would be hard to guess.
You also need to decide between having an open and blind tasting. In an open tasting anyone can see what is being tasted. I personally prefer blind tastings because I like the surprise effect it has on guests and it always yields unexpected results.
You can ask each guest to bring a bottle that fits within your theme or as I did, purchase the wine and then share the cost amongst the group. I recommend tasting between 6-8 wines which should make the tasting about 1 hour ½ long.
Step 2 – The Guest list
When it comes to guests lists I normally believe that the ‘more the merrier’ but the fact of the matter is that a bottle of wine can only go so far and there are only so many people that can fit around a table. So with that in mind, I recommend keeping your guest lists to between 6 and 10 people.
Don’t be afraid to mix in people who don’t know each other as wine tastings naturally encourage people to participate and exchange ideas.
Step 3 – Designing & Sending your invitations
I love receiving hand written invitations but sometimes an email or Facebook invitation is all that I’ve got time for.
Here is a simple template which you can download for free (in a square 13.3cm x 13.3cm size).
Remember to tell your guests about the date, location and time as well as any extra info they may need.
Step 4- Setting the scene
Creating the right atmosphere is key to any party so make sure that everything is ready to go before you guests arrive.
You will need at least 1 wine glass per guest (or you could rent some and change glasses in between each wine but to be honest I don’t think it’s necessary). I like to distribute tasting cards and pens to each guest as well so that they can jolt down their thoughts as they go.
You could have an empty bowl on the table as well in case people want to empty their wine glasses.
For a blind wine tasting I usually just cover my wines up with aluminum foil or brown paper bags but as this was a ‘gold’ tasting I decided to go for a more stylish method this time and wrapped them in black and gold.
To achieve the look I:
♥ Numbered 8 pieces of Black cardboard from 1 to 8 with a gold pen (one for each wine).
♥ Lined the side of each bottle with a strip of double sided tape. I then wrapped the black cards around each corresponding bottle and secured it with another strip of double sided tape.
♥ For the gold trimming I just stuck gold ribbon with, yes you guessed it, double sided tape!
As a responsible host it’s important to provide food for your guests. To avoid it clashing with the wines keep it simple and just offer platters with a selection of: mild cheeses, pate, light salamis, crackers, breads and dips.
Make sure to offer plenty of water as well.
Keep the music quite low during the tasting as people will be talking a lot. You can always crank it up later when people are ready to party!
Step 5 – Running the tasting
Even if you tell them to be there at 7pm people will always arrive at different times so it’s a good idea to offer them a glass of bubbles when they first arrive and wait for the others. Once everyone is there just quickly explain how the tasting is going to run and get started. Pour about 10ml into everybody’s wine and let the tasting begin!
Look around the table and ask everyone for their opinion. What do they think it is? A Sauvignon or Chardonnay? A Cabernet or a Syrah? Do they think it’s an expensive wine? Do they actually like the wine? Let them write down their guesses and then unveil the wine. The results will surprise you. For example my friends thought the Pinot Gris I served was worth $50 when it was in fact only $18. On the other hand the Syrah, which was worth $55, was everyone’s overall favorite wine so I guess quality does win out…
Don’t worry if people get off track and start talking amongst themselves after a few wines, it’s just part of the fun and it means that people are enjoying themselves. Just keep pouring to keep the tasting going.
And most importantly make sure you enjoy yourself!!!! Nobody like a stressed host and this is supposed to be a party remember?! Instead of worrying if they are enough napkins just take a moment to appreciate the sight of all your friends having a good time – you made this special moment happen!
Please party responsibly x