One of the pivotal moments for me, as I was growing up, was when I started to have dinner parties. Not those insane, three different types of cutlery and five different courses types of dinner parties that my parents were so keen on, but just “look at me, I’m trying to be a grown-up” types of dinner parties that I started to give when I began living away from home. I only really started to “home entertain” (as my mother put it) mainly in an effort to save money, as eating baked potatoes at home with friends was far cheaper than a night out.
Whatever the reason, those parties sparked something in me. They lit the flame of home entertaining – a flame that I continue to fan today. Lockdown may have been boring for some but I loved nothing more than having my closest bubble over for some good food, good chat and above all, good wine.
Because of the informality of the post-Covid dinner party, a new type of big night in has emerged. Wine tasting parties. As we grow up and eschew the cheap, red plonk that I favoured all those years ago at college, we begin to really understand the beauty of wine, not to mention the huge array of tastes, flavours and producers that are on the market. We can’t open five bottles of wine for ourselves in one sitting anymore (just think of the hangover) but if you invest in some top-notch wines from our wine investment app, read up on the producers and vintages from our wine guides and invite a few of your most learned friends over, you are guaranteed a successful sipping soiree, full of wine experience that you’ll want to repeat ad infinitum.
Before the Wine Tasting Party
So, you’ve sent the invites (let’s be realistic here. When I say invitations I mean WhatsApp notification), and you’ve set the date. You’ve prepared your wine list, read up on our fantastic wine tasting terms and tidied up a bit. You’ve even reminded your guests not to wear any perfume as this affects the taste of the wine you’ll be tasting. But have you thought of everything?
Here’s a brief checklist of what you’ll need:
- The right amount of wine: Well, this basically comes down to mathematics and personal choice. If you decide to feature five wines and are hosting 12 people, you’ll want at least two bottles of each wine. Of course, you can have less bottles and smaller pours but a ratio of around six people per bottle should be plenty.
- A decanter: This is great for two reasons. One: to open up the wine and let the flavours fully appear before serving and two: blind tasting! While some of you might not know your Chablis from your Chardonnay, some others might appreciate the challenge of a blind taste.
- A fair amount of water: This one is obvious. Not only will your party only be successful if you keep everyone hydrated, but you’ll need to keep the palate cleansed too. For this latter reason you can always have some dry cracker biscuits or just bits of plain bread on hand for guests to eat in between bottles.
- Wine accessories: We suggest print outs of the producers, a wine diary to write notes in, books on general wine making and pourquoi pas even a little phrasebook of terms. Mais oui!
- Spitting bucket: It might sound rude and completely insane to beginner wine drinkers to spit wine out after drinking it, but surprisingly, spitting is actually recommended at a wine tasting event. I know it might be hard to believe, but the purpose of a wine tasting is not to get drunk. This is not the point of a wine tasting party, there is a time and a place for everything so let’s keep things classy and spit each sip. And yes, you will look stupid, but then so will everyone.
- Just enough food: One of the biggest hosting mistakes is offering tons of wine with not enough food to soak it all up. Remember, even if you’re throwing the best wine tasting party ever, food needs to be fully integrated into your event—not an afterthought. Pair your food correctly (this will take some planning but it will be worth it), and try serving tating components (dark chocolate, red fruit etc) alongside each wine to enhance the taste of the wine. We would suggest opting for small, passed plates, rather than a seated meal but that’s just us.
- Proper wine glasses: By now we all know the importance of serving wine in the right glass, so yes, of course you can just go for a bistrot glasses that you get from the local supermarket but to really get the best from the wines, you’re going to need to get the right glass.
Pick a Theme and Choose the Wines
With a gazillion different wines out there, can we suggest that you pick a theme? Otherwise, you’re going to be both very drunk and very poor before too long. Choosing a unique theme (which can be fairly large if you don’t want to limit yourself) will help you keep focused and give sense to your wine party.
Here are some wine tasting theme ideas:
A horizontal wine tasting: In a horizontal wine tasting, you are tasting wines of the same vintage, but from different wineries. From here you can decide if you want the wines to all be the same varietal or a mix. Horizontal wine tastings allow you to highlight the differences in winemaking styles from different producers and choose your favourite wines in the lineup.
A vertical wine tasting: The vertical tasting is one where all the wines come from a selected winery but are different vintages. Here you can see how the terroir (the growing environment) affects the vineyard and the grapes it produces year to year. These and other factors change and will usually bring out different characteristics year to year.
Country themes: To get a literal taste of how a region plays such an integral role in the taste of wine, try different wines from the same country. Compare a selection of Barbaresco wines from Italy’s Piedmont to some Chiantis and Super Tuscans. Or why not balance a few Burgundies with Bordeauxs, or a selection of Chardonnays from South Africa. You could go deeper into this theme and do only wines from a region – left and right bank in Bordeaux for example.
Varietal tastings: This type of tasting compares a single type of grape that is grown in different countries or regions. We have often extolled the virtues of terroir and these types of tastings really focus on that. It’s worth noting that French Pinot is very different from Californian Pinot, which will differ once again from New Zealand or German. Go wild on taste and terroir.
Price wars: OK so this one requires a bit of planning but it’s a whole lot of fun. Serve the wines blind i.e. with the labels covered up or decanted (but make sure you know the identity of each wine). Make sure that half the wines tasted are cheaper versions – pick a price point but say under €20, and the other half are premium wines. Participants taste the wines and rate them from low to high. You’ll soon see that choosing wine by its price point is not always the best.
Next: Prepare Suitable Wine Glasses
As mentioned above, good wine glasses are a must. In order to get the best from your wine, the glass must meet three criteria for proper tasting: look, nose and palate. In other words, the wine glass should let the taster clearly see the wine’s colour, allow the wine’s different aromas to be released and reveal all its flavours when tasted in the mouth. Depending on the type of wine, its colour and its region, the right glass can sometimes be completely wrong.
Getting the right glass can be easier if you’re only serving one type or even colour of wine, but when you start to serve red, white and sparkling at the same party, then appropriate glassware is a must.
Plan the Food Pairings
As we outline very well in our food paring article, certain foods pair better than others when it comes to wine. So, depending on which theme you’ve decided on, our advice is to pair accordingly. Some pairings are easy: Pinot Noir pairs well with earthy flavours, Chardonnay goes great with fatty fish, Champagne is perfect with anything salty, Cabernet Sauvignon is fabulous with juicy red meat and Sauvignon Blanc is ideal with tart dressings and sauces. If you don’t want to do a sit-down meal, have a think about how these can be turned into canapes. Think things like mushroom vol-au-vents for the Pinot Noir and of course oysters for the Champagne.
Create a Good Atmosphere
As a wine tasting party is not your standard party, it’s a good idea to create a little ambience to set the mood. Music always takes the top spot on my list – you can go for a fully themed evening and play music that goes with the wine: Verdi for Italian nights, Debussy for French wines etc or just stay mainstream with a light background of classical music. Keep the volume low. This may seem obvious but this is a party where you want to what everyone else is saying so we prefer to remind you, just in case.
One absolute no-no is any additional smell. No flowers, no scented candles and absolutely no perfume. You need to let your wine do the talking tonight.
Set the Table
Colour is an important aspect when comparing wines, so avoid tinted glassware, provide optimal lighting, and provide a white background. This will allow guests to see the hue of the colour more easily. Tilt the glass forward against the white background as this will allow the light to pass through the wine and reveal its shade with more precision.
Make sure you also have enough information at the ready in case of any questions. Our wine guides are superb reference points for the hundreds of producers we have on vidome.net. If you’re looking for specific wine notes, have a look at the description on our live market, where you’ll find all the ratings and details on a specific vintage. Keep pads of paper and pens handy, so people can jot down notes.
During the Wine Tasting Party
Remember that this is a party that you’re throwing, not some school science project or interview for a new job. So yes, there are a few do’s and don’ts but really – just be yourself, have fun and let the wine work its magic.
If you do want a little bit of structure then here are our easy to follow guidelines on how to throw the perfect wine tasting party at home.
Serve the Wine Correctly
Think about the order which to serve in (bubbles, light whites, rich whites, rosés, light reds, bold reds, and then dessert wines), make sure the whites are chilled and the reds are decanted (or, at the very least, aired)
Share More About Each Wine
Of course, you want to give your guests all the information they need to get a holistic view of the wone, but really, don’t go overboard. No one likes to listen to lectures, so unless you can present an Oscar-winning documentary on the excellence of the terroir of Burgundy then just give a bit of info and let the guests ask any questions if they have any. It may be a good idea to get a sommelier in so they can impart their knowledge and wisdom, and you can enjoy the party with the rest of your friends.
Assess the Wines
The correct wine tasting steps are literally as easy as one, two, three, four, five. Basically, what you need to remember here are the five sesses – see, swirl, sniff, sip and savour. These five little s words are the oenologist’s holy bible and evaluate the wine’s appearance, taste, and smell. At the end of each wine tasting, collect the group’s general feelings on the wine and perhaps start a little discussion on it – again, having a sommelier on hand can help smooth things along.
Plan on More Wine Tasting Events
Hosting a wine tasting party takes a bit of organising at first but in the long run, it will help you to choose the right wine for your portfolio. While it might sound a bit daunting at first, having a wine tasting party is quite doable once you know the basics and get a bit organised, And remember – it’s a party, enjoy yourself!
So, are you ready to be the hostess with the mostess? If yes, impress your guests with our glossary of wine tasting terms.