Host a Holiday Wine Party!

You have a good idea – hosting a blind wine tasting party at your home – but how do you make it more fun and less academic? Is tasting too serious to be fun?

No worries! Follow these tips to create the kind of party you want, with fine wines, great conversation and plenty of shared wine knowledge.

First, focus on the wine itself. You might choose to showcase a specific grape, such as Pinot Noir, or a region such as Sonoma or Rioja. Your guests will supply the wine; you might ask them to bring bottles from wineries they’ve visited – you’ll hear stories about winemaking and vineyards and picnic tables. A theme holds the evening together.

Who, of all the people you know, would enjoy the experience of drinking and reflecting on wines? Choose up to twelve guests who have a sense of adventure. Any more than twelve can be distracting; eight is the perfect number for interaction.

In the invitations, advise guests not to wear perfume, drink coffee, or smoke prior to the party. You’ll want to specify the types of wine you’d like them to bring. If guests are also bringing food, suggest they bring an appetizer or dessert that pairs well with their chosen wines.

When it’s party time, people will want to gather in the kitchen to mingle. Be ready to pour as soon as everyone has arrived. If all the wines are red, provide each person with a red-wine glass, but if you’re serving both reds and whites, a narrower glass (but still with plenty of room for swirling) will be a better choice. Make sure water and crackers are available for palate cleansing.

Open the bottles in a separate room. Remove the foil and corks, and wrap the bottles in plain brown bags so the labels are hidden. Ask one of your guests to rearrange them in any order then label them A, B, C and so on.

Here’s where the fun starts because your guests didn’t know it would be a blind tasting. A wine expert may contribute a $100 bottle while a beer drinker brings a low-cost vino, but at this party they’re on an equal playing field.

If some of your guests are wine novices, you might want to give a quick tasting lesson. Demonstrate how to raise glasses to assess clarity and color, swirl to show the wine’s “legs” inside the glasses, smell, sip and move the wine to the back of the tongue, linger before swallowing, and savor the finish. Mention how acid causes the mouth to water, like sucking a lemon, and how tannins coat and dry the mouth. Invite guests to describe what they observe about the taste and surprise the inexperienced when they detect woodiness, floral, and savory tastes.

Pour about two sips, just enough to cover the bottoms of the glasses, per person. Save the rest to drink with the food later. The tasting is merely an introduction to the wines.

Prepare simple “tasting sheets” with each bottle’s letter and a grid for appearance, aroma, and taste. Provide options for color, clarity, intensity, complexity, balance (which you may need to define) and finish. Inexperienced tasters will learn to appreciate the nuances. At the bottom of each tasting sheet, ask guests to rate each wine on a scale of 1-10.

When everyone has finished tasting, take the bottles out of their bags and reveal the wines’ identities. Ask each guest to introduces the wine he or she brought, including pricing, and tell the others why they selected that bottle. If they have good stories to share about their experience with that wine, encourage them to share it; they may have discovered it at a café in Rome, or drank it on their first date with their spouse.

While your guests are sharing that information, tally up the wine scores, because the top scorer gets a prize! Reward the guest who brought the “winning” wine with a bottle that wasn’t included in the sampling – a nice Cava or other dry bubbly would be a good choice this season.

Lastly, here’s a reminder about serving wines in order: during dinner, offer the lighter, fruitier wines before bolder reds. Since you won’t know in advance which wines guests will bring, don’t worry too much about pairing their wines with your food – just have a bottle or two on hand that pair well with the meal.

By the time guests begin to eat, they’re hungry and relaxed, have more stories to tell, and know a little more about food and wine. Follow these tips and the evening is sure to be a success.

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Our goal is to educate, in a reader-friendly fashion, and take the intimidation out of wine, beer and spirits in order to enhance its enjoyment.

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