Hosting a Wine Tasting Party
Thu, 07 May 2015
A wine tasting party is a fabulous way to heighten your enjoyment of your favourite varieties of wine – and your weekend! From casual get-togethers on the back verandah to formal occasions complete with white linens and tasting notes, a wine tasting party is a great setting for both learning about and appreciating a range of vintages.
As with any event, defining what you want to get out of it ahead of time will help immensely with your planning.
Wine tasting for varietal breadth
If your intent is to expand your palate by sampling varieties you’ve never tried before, opt for a less formal approach that encourages exploration and conversation.
This approach is ideal for newer converts to wine tasting, or for casual drinkers who’d like to move beyond their usual Pinot Noir or Chardonnay dinner pairing.
Chat with your guests ahead of time to see if they have any recommendations across the spectrum of reds or whites, or whether there’s a lesser known or underappreciated variety they’d like to try, such as a Tempranillo or a Gewurztraminer.
Wine tasting for varietal depth
If your aim is to deepen your appreciation for a particular variety of wine, your wine tasting event may take on a more formal, structured approach (which is also a great excuse to get dressed up!)
Identify a variety, region or a particular bouquet or note that you’d like to explore more fully, and seek recommendations for wines that exhibit the qualities that you’re after.
These may range from bold through to challengingly subtle depending on your wine tasting experience, as well as that of your guests.
Whichever of the above options you select as the overall ‘goal’ for your wine tasting party, there are plenty of ways to ensure that your party is a hit.
A blind tasting might sound like something that judges at a wine show would be keen on, but it can be a bit of light-hearted fun for casual drinker, or a real challenge for lovers of wine.
For the former, consider simply blindfolding your guests and having them guess what variety of wine they’re tasting.
Keep things light-hearted by beginning with simple questions such as whether they’re tasting a red or a white, and by then having them match the wine being tasted with a short list of possible varieties. Varieties with substantial contrasts in their flavour profiles can be a good choice for this type of tasting.
For higher-stakes tasting, guests can be challenged to identify specific notes and flavours in each wine variety. These guests can use their knowledge of the flavour profiles of different wine varieties to try to identify each wine and justify their choice.
Opting to compare and contrast different vintages, regional varieties of a single grape, or wines sold at different price points will suitably challenge more experienced wine connoisseurs.
Cater to your guests’ competitive sides by challenging them to a tasting game.
One option is to provide guests with slips of paper describing each variety of wine, and to ask them to match each wine to each slip of paper.
You might also choose to divide guests into small groups or tables and have them taste and identify a particular variety, with one member presenting a justification for the group’s identification of the particular variety. The identity of the variety can be confirmed by the host.
More experienced wine drinkers can be given a checklist of flavour profiles for each wine variety to be marked off according to what notes they identify with each taste. A leaderboard can be used to keep score of the most accurate palates.
Wine tasting logistics
Although the wines themselves will be central to the experience of your wine tasting party, it’s essential to have the appropriate trappings for a comfortable, enjoyable wine tasting.
First, have the right stemware at hand: that is, large, airy glasses for reds, narrower glasses for whites, and even narrower flutes for sparkling.
Stemware can be hired if needed. For best results, wine should be served at the appropriate temperature.
Second, white tablecloths or serviettes don’t just look the part, but can also play a helping hand in wine tasting, as they allow guests to assess the depth of colour of a wine. This can provide cues as to the wine’s tasting profile.
Spitoons are highly recommended at a wine tasting, but even if these are employed, it’s worthwhile to nominate a designated driver or alternative transport options – or to have a comfy couch or two at hand!
Avoid having guests taste wine on an empty stomach and provide canapés or cheese and fruit platters to accompany the wine tasting.
Wine tasting party tips
Don’t overwhelm your guests’ palates with too many wine selections: often four to six is ample, although bear in mind that very strong flavour profiles such as those of dessert wines can linger on the palate. These should be served last.
Give guests the opportunity to make the most of the experience by instructing them on what elements to look for when tasting wine. Our tasting guide provides a helpful summary.
Finally, provide details of where to purchase the wines being tasted, or have guests provide a small contribution that will allow them to take home the preferred vintage of their choice – they’ll definitely want to!