You know what they say, a glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away — so why not drink the best one out there? Host a wine tasting party for your friends and discover your favorite sip.
Let your fellow wine fanatics know about your tasting party by sending an Evite invitation, like the free “Swirl & Sip” invitation below or a premium “Time for Wine” invitation. Check out more designs in our Cocktail Party invitation gallery.
A candle holder and bowl of grapes in the middle of the table is a classy move. But forgo the fragrant flowers (no stargazer lilies) and scented candles so you don’t throw off your taste buds.
Switch off overhead lights and turn on table lamps to keep the light level moderate but not glaring so guests can judge the color of the wine. For the same reason, cover your table with a white tablecloth. No tablecloth? Use an old white sheet or look for inexpensive white material at the fabric store. Just remember, whatever you use, it’s likely red wine will get on it, so it’s best not to use your great-grandmother’s heirloom tablecloth.
What if some Syrah does spontaneously splash out of someone’s glass? You don’t need to stress out during the party while you’re entertaining guests. Once the last guest has left, stretch the stained portion of the cloth over an empty pan in the sink, pour boiling water over it and watch the stain magically disappear. If that doesn’t do the trick, apply a mixture of half hydrogen peroxide and half dish-washing detergent to the stain, then wash.
Skip the perfume or cologne so the scent doesn’t interfere with your own or your nearby guests’ sense of taste, and save the baseball caps for the backyard barbecue and beer bash. Wine-tasting is a grown-up, refined activity, so make like a refined grown-up and wear slacks or a skirt, a sweater or dressy shirt and a pair of shoes that are neither sneakers nor flip-flops.
To prevent any preconceived notions produced by fancy labels, put your bottles in small brown paper bags, then secure with a rubber band at the neck and number them in big black marker on the front. You can also roll bottles in foil and then number them, though the truly astute taster could make an educated guess about a wine’s varietal or region from the bottle’s shape (for example, Bordeaux and zinfandel are usually found in high-shouldered bottles, while chardonnay and pinot noir are traditionally sold in sloping-shouldered bottles).
To start the tasting, tell guests to fill their glasses about a quarter full (a couple of ounces) with the first wine. Meanwhile, hand out copies of information on what to look for while tasting (you can find guides online) as well as pen and paper so people can rate the wine and write down comments as they go. You could even ask guests to guess the type and origin of each wine and its price. At the end of the tasting, unveil each wine’s secret identity and price and ask everyone for their overall ratings on each one so you can announce the winning wine.
Extra credit: Put wine into terms that are easier for your guests to grasp. Help them learn to identify specific aromas — it’ll make them a better taster and the wine more enjoyable. Or set out a jellybean bar featuring the flavors of the wines you’re tasting so everyone has a better understanding of what “buttery” or “fruity” or “spicy” really means.
For a real-deal wine tasting, keep the food simple and bland — offer baguette slices, oyster crackers or table water crackers for guests to munch on and cleanse their palates between wines so you really taste each one. After the tasting portion of the evening, serve more substantial appetizers or dinner, enjoying the wine of your choice from the tasting with the meal.
If you’re not too serious about the whole tasting thing, you can make it more of a wine-and-cheese affair by setting out a selection of fromages and heartier hors d’oeuvres like bruschetta, prosciutto, olives and nuts.
Rather than picking wines willy-nilly, go with a theme. Novice tasters might choose a theme as loose as “red wines,” since differences in flavors will be more noticeable in different varietals from different regions. More advanced tasters may want to get more specific, like wines made from the same grape but from different countries. If you let them know the theme, you can even ask guests to each bring a bottle and award the guest who brings the tasting’s most popular wine a prize (a nice bottle of bubbly, perhaps). Check out our wine guide for an introduction to different types of wine.
Ideally, guests should have one glass for each wine they’ll be tasting, but you can get away with reusing the same glass per person if you have guests rinse their glasses between wines. You should also provide a separate glass for each guest for water. Don’t have enough glasses? Rent them from a party supply company (usually less than $1 a glass) or ask guests to bring their own and mark them with wine glass tags or charms.
Stick to six to eight wines — any more and you’ll lose your ability to differentiate between them. Put out an empty ice bucket so if guests don’t like a particular wine, they can dump the rest of their glass. Put your bucket on a tray to minimize stray splash stains.
Finally, download a ride-sharing service like Uber on your phone or have the number for a local cab company on hand for those who aren’t sure they tasted the cabernet right the first five times.