Wine Reviews Tasting Notes and Education for the Non-Snob, by Vino Joe, a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

How to Throw a Wine Party

People are always asking Vino Joe, “I’d like to have a wine tasting at my home. What wines do I serve? What kind of food? How much wine do I need? What kind of glasses should I use?” etc., etc. So this page will give you some pointers on throwing a kick-ass wine tasting in the comfort of your own home.

Choose a Theme
Simply having a wine tasting is not enough of a theme; there are too many wines to choose from. You wouldn’t simply have a “food party”, would you? Of course not, you’d throw a “Brazilian Barbecue”, or a “Pasta Night”, or a “Spam Sandwich Ideas” party. Same thing with wine. Choose a particular country or region, for example, like “Tuscan Wines” or “California Cabernets”. Or if your guests aren’t quite that advanced, at the very least you should have a “White Wine” or “Red Wine” party. This way, not only will your party have some semblance of organization, but you’ll have some clue as to what kinds of foods to serve.

Who Brings the Wine?
There are two ways you can do a wine tasting; either YOU can buy all the wine, or all of your guests bring a bottle or two each. Being something of a skinflint, and not the heir to an oil tycoon’s trust fund, Vino Joe holds tasting parties where the guests bring the wines. Again, adhering to a theme, establish a price range (say, $10-15, for example), and have each person bring a bottle.

What Food to Serve?
Depends on the theme, of course, but for simplicity’s sake, it’s a good idea for the host to provide UNSALTED crackers (i.e., Carr’s Water Crackers, as opposed to Saltines), an array of cheeses, and maybe a simple veggie plate. You don’t need to go crazy with the food, unless it makes sense with your theme (i.e., a party of wines and foods from the Alsace). Keep the finger foods simple, not too spicy or salty, so that the main focus is on comparing the wines. At the same time, you’ll want to pick certain foods and try them with several different wines, to see what goes with what. After all, that’s the whole point of a wine tasting!

How Much Wine?
Depends on the party. If you’re having a tasting party, figure on about one bottle per 10 people—this assuming you’re going to only pour about an ounce or so per wine. When I state “tasting party”, I’m thinking that everyone will have a small taste of each wine, contemplate it, and discuss with each other.

On the other hand, if you’re having a party where people will be DRINKING wine (i.e., a wedding shower, a birthday party, or any bash at the Vino Joe’s place), figure that you will get 4 to 5 healthy glasses out of one bottle of wine. If your crowd is made up of light drinkers, you should get by thinking 2 to 3 glasses per person. If your friends are more like mine, go heavier—figure one bottle per person (and make sure EVERYONE has a SAFE ride home or is staying over). Hopefully, that will be too much — but you’d rather have too much than too little, right? Regardless of which guessing game you do, add an extra bottle or two to the equation, just in case.

What To Talk About?
Follow the theme first. For example, if you’re going to do a Chianti party, learn a little bit about Chianti, and talk about what you’ve learned. You can always check this site or email Vino Joe for some pointers on what subjects to discuss. As you taste through the wines, get everyone to talk about what they’re smelling, tasting, and feeling. If you’re the host, you may have to take charge and ask people specific questions; it’ll be easy if you start people off with suggestive questions, like, “hey, Ray, this wine smells kind of like some citrus fruit mixed in with your old gym socks — what are you getting from it?”. Continue with questions like, “what food would you pair this with?” Before you know it (and definitely after a few wines), everyone will be discussing all kinds of things they smell and taste in the wine. Or, everyone will get hammered and start complaining about their spouses/significant other. Either way, it should be a fun time.

Rating the Wines.
Half the fun of wine is that it is completely subjective. What better way to spice up a wine party than to have everyone judge the wines? This is the ultimate conversation starter, and everyone’s chance to be a wine dictator. All you need is an opinion, a pencil, and the Wine Tasting Score Sheet.

What About Glassware?
The true snobs will have expensive hand-blown, lead crystal glasses, one separate glass for each wine, each shaped specifically for that specific wine. Well, that’s nice if you can afford to do it (and you have an industrial-size dishwasher), but for the most part, just use one or at most two glasses per person (perhaps one for whites and one for reds). The only specific I recommend is that you use clear, glass, large-mouthed wine glasses (leave those horrid blue goblets in the china closet). You can buy fairly decent, all-purpose wine glasses just about anywhere (department stores, supermarkets, or discount stores like Target, Wal-Mart, etc.) for about a buck or two each. If you have the dough, go ahead and spring for the lead-crystal types, but be careful putting them in the dishwasher, especially if they have long stems. You want to get glasses with bowls as large as possible so that you can get a real good swirl and get your honker inside for a whiff.

Water should be available for rinsing—both the glasses and the palate. Put out water glasses as well, and urge people to drink some between wine tastes. (A good rule of thumb for keeping hydrated—and avoiding hangovers—is one glass of water for each glass of wine.) Your guests will thank you in the morning.

Spitting … Why Would Anyone Spit?
If you’re going to be tasting a dozen wines or more, you may want to have a few dump buckets (beach pails or Champagne buckets will do) around the room and provide everyone with paper cups to spit their wine into. Professional tasters swish the wine in their mouth for a while, then spit it out. You get the same perception of the wine as if you swallow it, except you don’t fall down after the 15th “taste”. Your crowd may not be spitting, but if there are going to be a bunch of wines, it may be a safe idea to consider—especially for those who are driving.

So that’s it, a simple guide for hosting a wine party. Have fun, and be sure to email with the details of your bash!