August 12, 2020
Hosting your own wine tasting event is a great excuse to gather a couple of friends and a few good bottles of wine. Maybe you’re not a sommelier, but that’s okay.
Whether your friends are regular wine-club members or curious newbies looking for a California-themed adventure, you can host a gathering that’s fun for all. We’ve got some helpful guidelines and tips for planning your first party — in-person or virtual.
1. Keep your gathering small and choose the right place
For in-person gatherings, make sure to pick a location with ample ventilation and room for social distancing. These criteria should be easy to accommodate if you’re holding this event during the summer months. If you’re kicking off your winemaker’s delight during the winter, rental facilities may be a little harder to come by and could require a reduced guest list.
The comfort of your own home is a great option, too.
You’ll find other good reasons for an exclusive guest list. Groups larger than 10 to 12 people tend to split into smaller congregations during the event itself. This rule of thumb works with the math of dividing a 24-ounce bottle of wine into a dozen 2-ounce tasting portions, allowing you to keep your party expenditure in check.
After all, a full glass of wine would be expensive, and your guests may be staying the night if they have more than two glasses.
2. Decide on wine tasting party ideas
Themes are only as limited as your imagination. Thankfully, other people have already come up with good wine tasting party ideas. Here are a few paths to making your red wine showcase a memorable one:
- Taste horizontally. Try horizontal wine tastings by choosing wines from the same year but different producers, and not necessarily from the same region. Compare cabernet sauvignon from other vineyards or pinot noir from different areas to experience how varying climates and winemaking traditions affect the drink’s character.
- Taste vertically. In a battle of old vs. new, you can taste vertically, which is comparing the same type of wine from different years. You can try this out with options like chardonnay or a sauvignon blanc.
- Taste by region. The year (or “vintage”) doesn’t matter here because you’re experimenting with different wines from a country or geographic area of your choice. Try an array of wines from France, Italy, or Napa Valley, to savor their aromas and grasp a broad overview.
- Taste the spectrum. Try red wine to rosés to white wines, dry to semi-dry to sweet.
- Blind tasting. Keep the bottle of wine in a paper bag or cover the label. See if the older, more expensive wines are discernible without seeing the brand and the price tag. Good wine is good wine, regardless of its age.
3. Send invitations
Invitations are important if you plan to have anyone attend your wine tasting, especially if that party requires a commute of some distance. Whether you mail, email, or send Facebook invites, do this two to three weeks in advance. Ask for guests to RSVP, so you know how much food and drink you’ll need. It’ll allow you to budget for the event add ons, like artful paper bags, table decorations, or additional seating arrangements.
4. Decide on wine pairings and food pairings
Wine is often paired with foods to experiment with the nuances of flavor interactions. You can pair wines with a meal of several miniature courses, or serve appetizers and hors d’oeuvres as intermissions between tastings.
That way, your guests aren’t drinking on an empty stomach. Some wine connoisseurs recommend tasting the wine before eating to keep the residual flavors from altering how the wine tastes.
You’ve probably heard of pairing wine and cheese or chocolate or even matching a wine with a full-course meal. But you can pair riesling with different brunch meals or couple wines with pizza, chips, popcorn, or Girl Scout cookies.
If you want your wine tasting to double as a dinner party, it’ll create a different tasting experience — but still a delicious one.
Decide what suits you best by reading up on some great wine and food pairing suggestions.
5. Stock up on supplies to make sure you’ll have what you need
Once you’ve calculated how much wine and food you’ll require, it’s time to grab the goods.
While you may need to hit the store to pick up some items, you can save yourself stress by having it delivered.
Items you can order online include:
- Your wine. It can range from varietals to sauvignon blanc to Italian vintages. Better yet, buy a bottle of each wine, so you’ll have all your bases covered.
- Purchase decent wine glasses if you’re going all-out. Before you buy, know that the shape of the glass is essential.
- Find palette cleansers like crackers, meat, and cheese.
- Napkins and other table decorations will help if you have a spill or make the experience more aesthetic.
- Having pen and paper for taking notes during the tasting will allow you all to compare notes and see the group’s favorite.
How many different wines are in a wine tasting?
A typical wine tasting includes around five different wines. A blind taste test comparing wines at various price points — for example, $15 or $20 wines and higher-end vintages over $50 — probably calls for a sixth bottle to even things out. Either way — make sure you have enough wine.
6. Set the atmosphere
We mentioned it earlier, but it’s worth reiterating: during the COVID-19 pandemic, we recommend an outdoor tasting event to maintain proper social distancing. This option is particularly accessible if you live in an “outdoor friendly” wine-tasting region like Sonoma, California.
Play your favorite music in the background during the party — jazz, top 40 hits, or whatever suits you and your guests. Make insect repellent available during the summer. Provide plenty of unscented hand sanitizer.
7. Know how to serve wine
Unless you’re holding a blind taste test, create description cards for each wine with their essential info.
Serving temperature varies by type of wine: 45 degrees for sparkling wines, 50 degrees for white wines, and 65 degrees for reds. Before the main event, put your reds in the fridge. Take the white wine out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you begin.
- Start your tasting event with sparkling wines.
- Move from whites to reds to dessert wines, dry to sweet, and younger to older.
- Use the best wine glasses according to style and vintage.
To ensure you’re receiving the complete flavor profile of each wine and avoid interference from previous wine samples, have some palate cleansers on hand.
Options for your party cleansers include:
- Tortilla chips
- Water (room temperature, or infused with lemon or cucumber)
8. Have fun
This is a social event, right? Your guests will likely have varying experiences with wine tasting, so some may have knowledge to share.
The idea here isn’t to prioritize one guest over another but to have everyone comfortably sharing their thoughts on the subject that’s brought you together. Providing a guide or glossary of wine tasting terms may put everyone on the same page and start interesting discussions, too.
Not ready for gatherings yet? You can organize a virtual wine tasting over Zoom, or have your own private wine tasting event by yourself or with your roommates while practicing some self-care, enjoying a staycation, or having a fun and romantic at-home date night.