Wine is becoming more popular these days thanks to research showing that the poly-phenolic flavonoids, referred to as antioxidants, in wine may help prevent everything from heart attacks and strokes to kidney stones and some kinds of cancer. So as more people are enjoying wines, it’s good to find more ways to learn about and to share them. A fabulous way to consider doing this is by hosting a wine tasting party.
The key to hosting a successful wine tasting is to remember that you are simply the host. The wines are the guests of honor, so the gathering should be focused on them, not on preparing gourmet food, showing off your latest home decor or spending time dishing out the latest gossip with your guests.
That is not to say that your wine tasting shouldn’t be fun. But if the goal is to make this an educational, as well as a social experience, you should put some serious thought into it. The following are suggestions you can use to put together a successful evening of sharing good wine with some good friends.
Decide on the format and the guest list:
My husband and I belong to a wine tasting group of eight – four couples who get together on a regular basis for wine tastings. Each couple takes turns picking a theme and hosting, and we each contribute two bottles of wine and an appetizer at each gathering. I’ve found that to be an ideal number for us, allowing for a good variety of wine and a varied number of opinions.
Not enough people and there isn’t enough to taste and discuss. Too many people and it is too easy to get sidetracked and have the night turn into a wine drinking free-for-all. So I suggest keeping the group manageable – anywhere from eight to ten is ideal – and certainly no more than twelve. Whether this is a one-time event or something you decide to do more regularly, you should include people who have a true enjoyment of, or interest in, wine and who have at least a slight knowledge of the different kinds of wines available. Beer guzzling friends and people whose favorite wine comes out of a box probably don’t qualify.
Decide on a theme:
Or not. That’s up to you or the group. We like picking a theme each time we get together. It makes it fun and can sometimes make it easier, or more challenging, to choose appropriate wines. On one occasion, each couple had to bring one red and one white. We’ve been assigned a country from which we had to choose two bottles, and just recently each of us had to bring a bottle of wine from the country of our family’s origin.
We’ve also done a blind tasting, where we had to guess what kind of wine it was that we were sampling. For our next gathering, each couple has to bring one bottle that is under $8 and one that is around $30 so we can compare the qualities of less expensive and more expensive wines. Regardless of our theme, we try to keep the total cost around $40 to keep the evening affordable and to allow us to find wines in a reasonable price range.
Decide on food:
Ideally, the only food you should be eating during the wine tasting are foods that pair well with the wines and allow you to cleanse your palate in between tastings. Plain crackers, bread, some cheeses and maybe some fruit are best. But our group isn’t quite that rigid. Each couple brings an appetizer to share so that the host doesn’t have to bear the burden of doing all the prep work. We try to keep it simple and light and don’t let the food overshadow the wine. You can plan to serve food after the tasting if you’d like, but since we spend pretty much the entire evening tasting, we enjoy the food throughout the event.
Have the right supplies:
Make sure you have enough glasses for all your attendees. You should have both red and white wine glasses available. Wine charms for the glasses will help guests keep straight which glasses are theirs. Some glasses for water and a pitcher nearby will allow guests to have a few sips in between wines. A decanter will be useful in allowing wines to breathe, allowing all the flavors to reveal themselves. If you’re doing a blind tasting, make sure you have enough bags to cover each bottle. Another “must have” at a tasting are scoring sheets. These sheets will allow you and your guests to take notes about the variety and its aromas, flavors and appearance. They can take the sheets home for future reference. There are plenty of websites available that will allow you to download these tasting sheets for free.
Presentation and discussion:
Each couple takes a turn introducing the wines they brought. We usually mention price, year, varietal, any previous experience drinking it and why we chose it. Once it’s been tasted, we discuss what we observe, smell and taste and take notes on our score sheets. We often end up talking about what food we’d pair with it or if we’d even try it again.
Don’t let your cups runneth over:
Keep pours to about 2 ounces, enough to allow you and your guests to savor the bouquet and to take a few sips. You don’t want everyone drinking a half a glass or more so that by they end of the evening they can barely remember their names, let alone the different wines they tried. We learned that lesson the hard way. If you want to finish a bottle, wait until the end of the tasting, after all the wines have been tried. A few sips of water, a cracker or piece of bread and a rinse of your glass, and you’ll be ready to pour the next round.
When it’s over:
When the guests have gone, the glasses have been washed and the bar or kitchen is clean, it’s tempting to just throw all the bottles into the recycling bin. But if you’re serious about using this night as an educational experience, you may want to consider saving the labels and putting them into a wine log. My husband has done this for years, using nothing more than a composition notebook, and now has a large collection of labels, notes and recommendations from which to choose when we’re having friends over or just stocking our wine rack. He fills the bottle with warm water to help loosen the glue on the back of the label so that he can peel it off. Taking a digital picture of it will work too. Then he puts it in his notebook and transfers his notes from the evening onto the page. It makes for a great reference source and serves as a reminder of a fun evening.
Just as there are a variety of wines to choose from, so are there many ways to throw a successful wine tasting party. These are just suggestions that have worked for our group. How you organize yours will depend on the level of interest and the tastes of your guests. There is no one right way. Regardless of what you choose to do, when you get together for an evening with good friends, good food and a few bottles of wine, it will be hard to get it wrong.