I love wine! But I love it even more when it’s paired excellently with a specific meal, during holiday celebrations, and most especially when it’s enjoyed with the people you know and like.
Through years of experiencing wine tasting at its best on Michigan’s own Wine Tasting Trails, I quickly realized that I wanted to enjoy wine without having to travel so far from home. That’s when mom and I started making our own wine.
(You might also enjoy reading, Why You Should Make Your Own Wine.)
Now, after a solid 12 years of wine experience, having made all types of wines ranging from the sweetest to the driest, we decided that the fun of hosting a wine tasting could and should be held conveniently in your own home. After inviting friends and family to our very first, homemade wine tasting party, it has become an event our friends and family look forward to every year.
Hosting a wine tasting event has been a learning experience, so I wanted to share some lessons learned so you may host your own, successful party with friends and family.
The very first wine party I had ever been to was in my home, and hosted by a company that sold wine to the party guests. This was waaaaaay before I knew that I liked wine, or even considered making it.
The event itself was very successful, and everyone had a wonderful time! But I learned then that buying wine after sampling a bunch may cause you and your guests some buyer’s remorse the next day.
For this reason, it’s important to let your guests know ahead of time WHY you are having the event. Whether the wine tasting event is one where they have the option of buying wine afterward, or if it’s just for fun, let them know in advance.
Selecting the Wine
In order to select the wine, you must first ask yourself what type of wine tasting event you would like to host and who will be on your guest list.
Maybe you would like to showcase specific wine regions at your party. Think of wines made in Italy, Spain, France, Australia, California, or even a winery near your own, hometown. Pairing authentic foods, and decorating to match the theme offers your lucky guests a wine tasting party they will never forget!
Don’t forget to let your guests know what’s special about the region you chose, and how its climate affects the grapes for wine making. You might also wish to entertain guests with fun facts about a region’s wine tasting history. For example: How long has this region been making wine? Is there something they do that sets them apart from the others? And my favorite guest question… Do they really stomp the grapes with their feet?
Do you love a particular kind of wine, like Merlot? Select different brands of the same kind of wine for a taste comparison party. Boost up the fun by offering a blind tasting that has one or two of your guest’s favorite wines hidden within the mix to see if they can pick it out. Perhaps someone will discover a new fave.
Will you be hosting a wine tasting at a particular time of year? For a summer event, think about wines that are light and fun like sweet fruit wines, Sangria’s, and light dinner wines. For fall, consider spiced wines, full bodied whites, and bold reds. Or perhaps you would like the whole party to center around dessert wines, or fun, bubbling brews?
Anyway… you get the idea.
Consider Your Guest List
I recently hosted 2 parties… the first, for a knowledgeable group of wine connoisseurs, and the most recent for a group of newbies. The first party line-up leaned heavy toward the dryer wines, but the latter favored those on the sweeter side to suit my guests.
Choosing wine by your guest’s current level of wine experience will help bring about a successful event.
How Much Wine to Buy
How much wine to buy depends on how many guests are invited. Having discovered that large wine tastings groups tend to lose focus on the event itself, think about keeping your party around 10 people or less. This will not only help with the cost of the event, but also keep the party focused and under control.
Plan to offer about 2-ounces of wine to each guest for the initial tasting, and have enough wine left for each of your guests to retaste or enjoy a full glass afterward.
Purchase about 5 or 6 different wines for tasting. For the best tasting experience, line up the wine selection by starting with the bubbly, then move on to the sweet. Next work in the semi-sweet, then the semi-dry. Follow up with a dry red, and finish with a dessert wine – preferably with a piece of decadent chocolate.
Use clear, quality wine glasses that offer ample space for swirling, smelling, and observing the wine. Don’t forget that swirling and smelling is part of the experience, so explain why you are swirling the wine, and what they should be looking for and smelling before tasting it.
If you are doing a comparison party, offer two wine glasses for each guest if possible.
Have a couple of spit buckets handy for those who wish to expel the wine or dump any remaining samples out. A tall carafe or pitcher works fine, but think creatively and try to match the ‘bucket’ to your theme.
Many of your guests may prefer to use their smart phones to take notes, but offer pens and notepads just the same. Better yet, make or purchase decorative cards for your guests that cover the complete wine list.
Lastly, offer water bottles for your guests as needed.
Although you can count palate cleansers as part of the supply list, it is important to offer enough hors d’oeuvres either during or after the wine tasting to keep your guest’s feet firmly planted on the ground.
Simple palate cleansers such as plain crackers, and plain cheeses work well between tastes, but if you really want to get creative, think of offering hors d’oeuvres to mimic food pairings that would go well with each of the wines offered. This gives your guests an idea of how wine would enhance foods and vice-versa.
After your palette cleansers and hors d’oeuvres list pulls together, make certain your guests are aware of exactly what will be served along with the wine so they may prepare for the event by eating beforehand if need be.
Start by thanking each of your guests for attending, and letting them know how much fun they are going to be having in the very near future.
Next, hand out pens & notepads or the decorative cards if you have prepared them, along with wine glasses. You can always add wine glass charms or name stickers for the glasses if desired to keep them with the correct guest.
Offer guests a seating area prepared to match the theme with the wine being tasted at its focal point. All wine should be opened and at the ideal temperature.
Next, remind guests where the spit buckets are located and commence with the tasting.
Begin the wine tasting by sharing the name of the wine, where it is made, what kind of grapes are used, and any other pertinent information having to do with its making. Explain the temperature it is best drank at, what types of foods it pairs best with, and whether or not it is a sipping type of wine that can be enjoyed by itself.
Continue on by pouring each of your guests a sample and explaining how swirling the wine helps release the hundreds of different aromas within the wine, and how the wine sticking to the glass tells whether it will be a light or full-bodied.
After smelling the flavors and observing the viscosity, ask your guests to taste the wine by sucking in a bit of air with each sip. This helps the taster enjoy the most flavors the wine has to offer within the first mouthful.
After the first sip, have your guests take a second since it is after the second sip that the wine reveals all of its flavors.
At this point, allow the guests to become a part of the full, wine tasting experience by asking them what flavors they taste most, and what they thought of the wine.
Encourage them to add notes to their notepads at this time.
After reminding your guests of palette cleansers, spit buckets, and water bottles, ask if they are ready for the next taste and move on when everyone is prepared.
It’s really fun for everyone to have a chance to share their thoughts about the wine, and surprising to discover so many differing opinions about the flavors. Make sure the party is as interactive as you can make it by encouraging your guests to share what they are experiencing.
Slow Down, It's Not A Race!
If you have ever visited a winery for an authentic, wine tasting, you may have noticed that the sommelier tends to move fast through the tasting. Probably because he/she has another 10 customers lined up for a turn. In comparison, you may feel the urge to sprint through your own wine tasting event, but remember… this is YOUR party. Try and savor it rather than make it into a 100-yard dash event.
Keeping Your Guests Safe
In the end, a successful wine tasting party is one that everyone enjoys until the last car reaches home safely. Plan for your group to stay longer than expected to be sure wine effects have ample time to wear off before hitting the road.
Planning ahead and having alternative modes of transportation is another way to ensure each guests arrives safely home. Uber, limo service, bus, or designated drivers are all viable options to keep in mind.
Remember, anyone can have a bunch of people over to swill a bunch of wine. By putting in the extra effort to make your event as authentic and sophisticated as any winery would, your guests will not only learn about the wine, but enjoy themselves as if your own home was a winery and you the sommelier.
Thanks so much for reading!
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Angela, July 12, 2017, The 5 Things You Need To Know About Swirling Wine, https://yaofamilywines.com/the-5-things-you-need-to-know-about-swirling-wine/
Flynn, Brian Patrick, 2021, How to Hold a Wine Tasting Like the Pros, https://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/make-and-decorate/decorating/how-to-hold-a-wine-tasting-like-the-pros
Gregutt, Paul, August 25, 2015, How to Taste Wine, https://www.winemag.com/2015/08/25/how-to-taste-wine/
Nigro, Dana, March 25, 2019, 3 Tips to Achieve the Perfect Serving Temperature, https://www.winespectator.com/articles/how-to-serve-wine-temperature
Schneider, Elizabeth, December 22, 2020, Best Wine Glasses of 2020, According to a Sommelier, https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/best-wine-glasses-article
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