With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving just over a week away—yikes!—it’s time to start to thinking about holiday entertaining. And when I think about holiday entertaining, I think about wine tasting parties. They’re a great way to host a fun, festive time without spending a lot of money or driving yourself crazy in the process. All of which is especially perfect during this potentially nutty time of year.
Here, then, is how to throw a great wine tasting party.
1. Pick a wine and send out the invites.
For the wine, choose a variety or region you’d like to know better, or that you think would be fun. Then ask each person or couple to bring a bottle of it. Also ask them to note where they bought their wine and how much it cost.
2. Prepare a few supplies.
Make up some tasting sheets with numbers down one side and spaces across the top for the wine’s name, price, a few characteristics, and overall impressions (if you’re doing this a la “100 Perfect Pairings,” the characteristics might be sweetness, acidity, tannins, weight, intensity, and nuances). Gather a pile of pens and/or pencils. Polish up a bunch of glasses. Get some opaque paper bags and use a marker to number the bags.
Also get a bottle of your own for the tasting. It can be fun to include a particularly expensive, or particularly inexpensive, wine—so consider one, or both, of those.
3. Prepare some tasty tidbits.
You’ll need a few nibbles to go with the wines, perhaps using recipes from my books. But don’t go too crazy. One of the many nice things about this kind of party is that you don’t have to serve a whole meal—quick and easy tidbits will do.
4. As the guests arrive…
… open all the bottles, recork them, and slip a bottle into each numbered bag. Hand out tasting sheets and pens or pencils.
Pour everyone a bit of the first wine and then take time for everyone to taste it and make notes on their tasting sheet. If you want to be really studious, resist the urge to talk during the tasting and note-making, lest you influence each other’s impressions. (But don’t be militant about it—it is a party, after all.) Repeat with the remaining wines.
For bigger crowds and more wines, instead of tasting one bottle at a time, just put out all the wines and let people taste and make notes at their leisure, in whatever order they like.
Once you’re done with the tasting, go through each wine and share what you noticed or learned (note that it can be useful to talk about more than whether you liked a wine or not—see this post for tips on wine tasting). Either after each wine or after you’ve shared about all of them, reveal the wines and have the person who brought it share where they got it and for how much.
Definitely be sure to do the sharing part before you do the revealing part, which adds to the drama. Half of the fun of a wine tasting party is when everyone waxes poetic about a wine, only to discover it’s cheap swill!
7. Bring in the edibles.
After all the tasting, bring in the food, enjoy it with the remaining wine, and discuss what kind of wine you’ll be tasting for the next gathering.
Cheers to a happy holiday party season!