I love to go wine tasting along California’s beautiful central coast, and the next best thing is to host a wine tasting party at home! You don't have to go to a winery to sample a variety of wines. Just invite a few friends over, open some bottles, and make sure you have finger foods to nibble on. Here are a few ideas for planning a wine tasting party of your own!
Gather Your Favorite Wine Lovers
Plan your guest list. Do you want an intimate gathering or something a bit more lively? Is this a couples or singles event or a girl's night out? If you're asking your wine tasting party guests to bring wine, make sure to give them a recommended price range to help avoid side-by-side tastings of Three-Buck Chuck and two-thousand buck Château Lafite-Rothschild (side note: if you have a friend who would bring the latter, please send them over to my house!). Choose a group of about 8-10 wine-loving friends and let the fun begin!
Wine Tasting Party Theme
Decide on the types of wines you’ll be serving. Limit it to five or six – more will overwhelm the palate. Compare different bottles of the same varietal (e.g., chardonnays, zinfandels, etc.), New World vs. Old World (e.g., California vs. France, etc.), explore a specific region (e.g., Napa Valley, Côtes du Rhone, etc.), or just compare one style (e.g., sparkling wines – prosecco from Italy, cava from Spain, Champagne from France, etc.). If you’re sampling both whites and reds, taste from light to dark, as the darker wines will overpower the subtle flavors in lighter ones.
Plan your menu. Wine tasting is hard work, and a gourmet cheese platter makes the perfect accompaniment! (Here are 6 Ingredients for a Cheese Plate that Wows!) The secret to a delicious cheese platter is simple: pick one hard cheese like aged gouda, one creamy soft cheese like brie, and one strongly flavored cheese like gorgonzola. Even better, choose cheeses from the same region as your wines. For example, if you’re tasting Spanish wines, use manchego as your hard cheese. Pair the cheese with a good French baguette, breadsticks, or crackers. Add a mix of kalamata and green olives, dried or fresh fruit, nuts, a charcuterie platter, and you’re ready to go! You could also include one of my recipes for Caprese salad or crostini with prosciutto and arugula. Remember: presentation matters! A pretty server like a marble or slate cheese board adds a touch of sophistication.
How to Taste Wine
Make sure the wines are served at the proper temperature (~50° for white and 65° for red). Open bottles early into your wine tasting party to give them time to breathe. This allows the flavors to open up and reduces tannins (i.e., bitterness/harshness). You can hurry the process along by using a decanter or aerator. Pour about an ounce to taste. Hold the glass by the stem so the heat of your hand doesn't warm up the wine (one of the reasons why I’m not a fan of trendy stemless glasses.) Tilt the glass and note the color, using a white napkin or paper as background to get a truer view. Is it a deep, rich violet color? Or is it more of a light burgundy tone that you can almost see through? Swirl the glass to incorporate more oxygen and release more of the aromas. Now stick your nose into the glass and take a whiff. What does it smell like? Berries? Grass? Leather? Try a sip and slurp it in your (closed) mouth to unlock even more of the flavors. Slurping doesn’t sound classy, but it totally is. I swear. Just try not to dribble – that’s a wine tasting party foul.
Wine Tasting Party Props
Don’t forget to provide a way for guests to write down their tasting notes! A wine tasting notebook can help guide the process by helping your guests evaluate each wine, pinpoint the flavors and aromas, and remember their favorites. It'll also make a great souvenir to take home! And of course, a piece of Sparkling Vine wine jewelry makes the perfect wine tasting party accessory!
Keep your guests safe by arranging for designated drivers, Uber/Lyft rides, taxi service, or just an old-fashioned sleepover after the festivities. Now you are officially ready to host a wine tasting party in the comfort of your own home! Cheers!