This post comes courtesy of Williams-Sonoma associate Steven Lauer.
Let’s be candid — not too many folks out there are comfortable talking about wine. Throw in the prospect of organizing a wine tasting party and the comfort level might be similar to that of traveling far distances without GPS, like, say, to the moon.
Let’s move beyond that, shall we?!
Wine tasting parties are informative, but are also really fun and very social occasions that don’t have to be just about wine, but also about food! So, could you go about planning such a party? Here are a few ideas to consider.
The guest list
Don’t invite to impress, invite for fun. Choose guests who will enjoy themselves and will be open to the experience of learning new things. For your first party, try a smaller, evenly numbered group of six to eight — that way, everyone will be able to get an adequate taste and you’ll keep your costs reasonable.
The best tasting parties I’ve been to are blind. No, leave the blindfolds at home – I’m referring to the use of paper bags to hide the identity of the wine from your guests.
You’ll probably want to have at least four wines to taste. Number them 1 through 4. You’ll also want to provide your guests with pens and a notepad for taking notes.
Lastly, ensure you have enough wine glasses (you’ll need one glass for each wine). Basic glass stemware is fine.
When it comes to selecting the wines, choose four of the same varietal or four from the same region. For example, I attended a tasting recently where the group sampled four Cabernet Sauvignons. Each was from a different region but all had Cabernet as their primary grape. Put each of those wines in a bag, and tie the neck so the bag doesn’t slip off and reveal its identity!
Swirl, sniff, sip and share
Line up the glasses in order for each guest and pour two to three ounces of wine into every glass. Your primary responsibility is to get the pours in the correct order for each person and to remember which wine matches up to which bottle number.
All wines can be poured at the same time, but each wine should be tasted and then discussed in a round-robin style so all guests have the chance to talk about what they thought about the taste — bad, good or otherwise. Encourage guests to rate the wines from high to low, and compare notes at the end to see which wines came out on top.
Food is good, food is your friend — especially at wine tasting events. Think about offering your guests artisan breads plus complementary cheeses and meats. Seasonal fruit is also a good companion to wines.
This is a party, so enjoy yourself and embrace the company of your guests! Savor the experience and be open to what your guests have to say about the wines you’ve chosen.
About the author: Steven works in Williams-Sonoma’s corporate training department. He is a self-described refugee of the American Midwest who came to the Bay Area for work and has since fallen in love with the hearty red wines of Sonoma Valley. Steven balances his wine vices with mountain biking and running in California’s Marin County.