A great party is all about stirring conversation and connecting with each other, so why not do it over wine? One of the most memorable parties I’ve ever attended was an in-home wine tasting. It was at my aunt’s house. Always the consummate hostess, she wanted to try something different for her loved ones and decided to host a wine tasting party.
She invited each guest to bring a bottle they’d been dying to try, served beautiful food to accompany it, then invited us to weigh in on the merits—or failings—of that particular wine. None of us were wine experts, but somehow we all walked away more knowledgeable.
But—let’s be honest here—this gal started out drinking Franzia! Was I even qualified to host? Earthy, nuanced, a strong finish, complex… The “language of wine” can be a bit intimidating! It’s a beautiful vernacular, but I don’t speak it. News flash… You don’t need to be a sommelier to host a wine tasting party.
This post will walk you through the basics, including what I found worked best. But you don’t need to rely on my paltry knowledge alone! A local expert, wine consultant Kathy Roberts, is also sharing a few pointers with us.
Roberts leads in-home wine tastings regularly and certainly helped make our evening memorable. She brings the wine, you bring the guests! Best of all, she has an answer for all those tough vino questions. As an executive manager of organic wine company Scout and Cellar, she really knows her stuff and is especially knowledgeable about clean-crafted wines (more on that below). Now, let’s dive in to a few “how to host a wine tasting” FAQs!
Do you live in the Lafayette or Fort Wayne, Indiana area? Shoot Roberts a message on Instagram. She would love to help make your gathering a success.
“Well, first of all it’s wine,” Roberts says. “Who doesn’t love wine? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy touring a great winery, but there’s something about an in-home wine tasting that is so cozy. You get to learn about the different wine regions, discover great winemakers, and watch your friends try to swirl wine without spilling it on themselves.”
Roberts recommends a small, intimate group of 6-12. I wound up with nine people total, including my husband and myself. It was an ideal number. Why? You need seating with plenty of elbow room for a comfortable tasting. Also, consider that your table will begin to feel crowded once you have all the wine glasses, snacks, and notepads set up.
Small groups foster dynamic conversation and allow you to give everyone a decent sip using one bottle. Once your guest list tops 10 people, you will need duplicates of each wine. A bottle of wine contains about 10 taste servings.
Wine tastings are designed to be a relaxing experience, so Roberts strongly suggests congregating at a dining table or kitchen area with stools. You need a place where your guests can set their plate down and leisurely enjoy their wine. Sitting around a living room is difficult, she says, because your friends will be juggling their food in their laps.
Make sure you have wine glasses with stems, plates/napkins for hors d’oeuvres, and a “dump bucket” or empty glass for those who taste a wine they aren’t fond of. You will also need a pen for each guest and a piece of paper or notepad. This allows them to take notes about the wines they love and keep track of the names. I made sure to jot down my personal favorite, Scout and Cellar’s The Resident Red. Simply delicious! Also, don’t light a scented candle or put flowers on the table. Wine can pick up the odors of items around it.
Roberts’ rule of thumb when you host a wine tasting party is cheese, meat, and something sweet. For example, she encouraged me to put together a cheese platter with selections such as Brie, Gouda, and sharp white cheddar. Salami, prosciutto and pepperoni are great meat offerings, she says. Finally, you can round things off with chocolate, nuts, and berries.
To keep thing simple, I opted for a dark chocolate snack mix from Target. It had nuts, dark chocolate covered espresso beans, and other exceptionally tasty treats. Additionally, don’t forget about the crackers. You will want a fun assortment. While I served my old standby of Wheat Thins, I also picked up a few artisan options. Another tip: Don’t let your toddler devour all the salami before your visitors arrive. Little dude ate half the package!
Roberts shares a lot of information about clean-crafted wines during her tastings. Basically, clean-crafted means wines that are made with no added chemicals, dyes, sugars, or sulfites. Scout and Cellar, the company Roberts works with, uses multi-layered independent lab testing to offer customers a guarantee that its wines are free of synthetic pesticides and chemical additives. Additionally, it regularly evaluates and reviews farming and production practices, forging close connections with growers and producers. The company sources wine from all over the world, but is incredibly particular. And I just love their tag line: Better in the bottle. Better in your glass. Better for the planet.
Roberts discovered clean-crafted wines after health issues forced her to cut sugars from her diet. She was amazed to discover it was possible to enjoy a glass of wine (or two) without a headache or feeling awful the next day.
Make sure you set aside enough time to prepare for your guests, this includes time to get yourself ready for the party. As a host, your mood sets the tone. You want to feel relaxed. Get your table prepped, get the house clean, then give yourself at least 20 minutes to pull on a nice outfit and ease into a party-ready mindset.
Also, don’t overthink it. This should be fun. You don’t need to be an expert to host a wine tasting party! Roberts says this type of gathering is all about learning. You can bring in a pro (like Roberts) to handle every last detail, or organize your gathering by theme. For instance…