Hosting a wine-centric get-together doesn't have to be overly complicated. With a little bit of thought and a handful of good wines, you can have your friends over for a wine tasting party that they won't soon forget.
Getting Ready for Your Wine Tasting Party
Obviously the most important part of a fun wine tasting at home is bringing some real gems to the party. You can either run the show entirely, selecting all the wines, or invite everyone to bring a bottle.
Choose Your Wine
To narrow the focus, you can choose a theme to work around. Comparing pinot noirs across various regions, tasting through a specific appellation and comparing producers, or tasting across vintages are all great ways to craft focused tastings. Once you have an idea of the type of tasting you want to host, head to your local bottle shop. If you are intending to do a specific feature, say all Loire Valley whites, you may need to hit up multiple shops to find a good assortment.
Make Sure You Have Enough Wine
Planning wine for a dinner or cocktail party is slightly different from planning the amount for a wine tasting party. Wine tasting pours are about 2 to 3 ounces each, so each 750 mL bottle will have around 8 to 12 tasting servings. Depending on how many people you are planning for, you may also need more than one bottle of each wine, or you may wish to serve from larger format wine bottles if you're hosting a large crowd. Plan to have a little extra so people can return to one if they choose. For example, if you're planning on having 8 guests, have two bottles of each wine ready just in case your guests want extra. You can also supplement your local finds with online shops to ensure you get the diversity you are looking for. Just be sure to order enough in advance of the wine party.
Find Background Information
Now that you have your chosen wines, you want to do some additional reading and note-taking prep about the producer and technical information on each. This part is really as in depth as you want to take it. If you and your friends are more interested in the basics, then you maybe don't need to recall information like, 6th generation winemaker, Luigi, passed the winery onto his granddaughter in yada yada year... Or, your friends may really want to nerd out and know the SO2 addition at bottling for each wine. Either way, background information about wine is a big part of the overall story and brings context to what you are drinking, so be sure to note take some details to share with your guests.
Prep Your Wines
Prep your wines pre-party! Chill your bubbles, whites, rosés, oranges, and reds to temp. Serving a wine at the appropriate temperature is key to experiencing all the aromas and flavors to their fullest. When it comes to pouring those tastes, stick to 3 ounces. This is plenty to swirl, smell, taste, and taste again, but it doesn't overwhelm anyone when there are numerous wines to try. You can always circle back to specific wines if people would like to re-visit after tasting through everything.
In general, tasting order is sparkling, whites, rosés, oranges, reds, and finally dessert wines. Within each of these, taste the lightest and most delicate wines first and end with the richer, fuller-bodied wines. If there is really juicy light chillable red, it may actually be best to taste it before a super grippy 180 day skin-contact wine. Use your judgement and think about body, texture, and tannins, serving lightest to heaviest.
Don't Forget the Food
While it may be a wine tasting party, food is still a necessity. Not only do people need some food in their system while drinking, but food also acts as a palate cleanser in between tasting multiple wines. If you want to take the tasting one notch further, you can think about pairings for each wine. Pairings don't need to be full-blown courses, rather they can be a small bite or a select item from a charcuterie board that you think enhances a wine. Bland items, like crackers, baguette, or taralli should be abundant. They are perfect palate cleansers in between wine, not to mention they are great at soaking up alcohol and keeping things classy. Along with the crackers, a well-rounded charcuterie board with a selection of cheeses, dried fruit, nuts, cured meats, jams, chutneys, and pickles is a great snacky dinner that will keep people satisfied.
Glassware, Spit Buckets, and More
There are a few tools you'll want to have at that ready to make everything run smoothly. You'll definitely need a reliable wine opener; it's best to choose one you are comfortable using as you'll be opening numerous bottles. Depending on the wines you select, you may need a decanter. When it comes to glassware, don't fuss too much, but do make sure whatever you are using is recently washed and dried to avoid any off flavors transferring to the wine. If you are already looking to invest in a nice set of Riedel wine glasses, great! This is the perfect time to do so. You'll want to also set everyone up with a water glass, personal spit cup, napkin, and paper and pen. Make sure there are multiple carafes of water on the table alongside a dump bucket, for people to pour out their spit cups and rinse their glasses in between each wine.
Setting the Mood
When it comes to creating the rest of the vibe, you can be as extra as you like with tasting wheel printouts, wine trivia, music, and other decor. If you adorn the room with candles, be sure it's still bright enough to see the wine properly. Ideally, assessing the wine's appearance in natural light against a white background is best. Avoid scented candles, incense, and perfume for the evening, as they can all over power an atmosphere and take away from any delicate aromas in the wines.
Host a Wine Tasting Party to Remember
Hosting your first wine tasting party can be a little intimidating, but just remember it's all about having fun exploring wines with friends. You can make it as informal or formal as you like. So round up some great wines, put together your guest list, prep your space, and have a great evening.