If you have never hosted a wine tasting party, consider doing so, you will have lots of fun, and you will usually find at least a couple of good new wines to add to your list of favorites.
The ideal size is 8 to 10 people, or 4 to 5 couples. Each person brings a bottle of wine from a preselected list put together by the host or hostess. Any more or less people means there is either too much or too little wine per person per bottle. Everyone wants a good taste from each bottle, usually 2.5 – 3 ounces per person, which is exactly what 8-10 people get from a 750 ml (26 ounce) bottle.
As the host of the evening you will need a good corkscrew, wine glasses, baguettes or crackers with mild cheese or other finger food, pens and writing paper for everyone, a jug of water to rinse glasses between wines, and an empty jug for the rinse water. You will need to decide on an average price per bottle of wine (I suggest $20, but this could just as easily be $15 or $25). So everyone is expected to pay for one bottle of wine. As host you can now visit the local liquor store and select 8-10 wines for your guests to purchase, averaging $20 per bottle. I suggest a theme evening such as Bordeaux red, or Australian dry whites, California reds, etc. You can choose to either assign one wine to each person and have them all go to the liquor store individually, or you can buy all the wines yourself and charge everyone $20 at the door. Don’t worry about feeling tacky by collecting $20 from everyone upon arrival, they will have a good time, and you have saved them the effort of a special trip to the local liquor store.
Do not select your wines from the specialty section of your local wine shop, select wines that will be available at all local wine stores, even if you are buying all the wine for everyone. You want the wines to be widely available so that your guests can find more of that great wine they tasted at your party at their own local liquor store. When selecting your list of wines, try whenever possible to include one “ringer” or wine from another region, just to spark conversation and controversy.
Serve up one wine at a time, serve it blind (I suggest the label be concealed to remove any bias a guest may have towards a label they know and either like or dislike). Ask everyone to taste then write notes as to whether or not they liked the wine and why, and have them give it a rating on a 1-10 scale. Ask everyone in turn to give their comments and rating on the wine just tasted before proceeding with the next wine. This may sound much too formal and stuffy for a party, but just watch what happens next. On the first wine everyone makes notes and honestly rates the wine, in discussion you quickly realize some people have completely different likes and dislikes. After the discussion is over on that wine, the host reveals the label and price, those who liked the wine will note the name for future purchase. Keep the notes and discussion short, you want to manage your time carefully, you do not want to spend 30 minutes on each wine, otherwise a 10 wine evening will take 5 hours, 15 minutes per wine is your target.
Someone always wants to be the clown, so he decides by the 3rd wine to get extreme in his evaluations, and this gets everyone else going. By the time you get half way through the lineup, the notes become more abrupt, and the discussion becomes more animated, a lot more animated. By the time you get to the last 2 wines almost no one is writing notes, but they make up for it by having lots more to say. Make sure people go home with their notes and before they leave ask them to recap which wines were their favorites and which ones they would buy again for themselves. That will tell you how successful the evening has been, always satisfying for the host to know.
By the end of the evening everyone has tasted up to 10 wines, and everyone has at least 2 or 3 new wines they liked enough to buy again. Also, and just as important, you have 7 or 8 others that you have tasted and would not buy again. If 5 couples each took turns hosting one wine tasting party and the wines are not duplicated, you will have tasted 50 different wines. If a different wine region is featured at each of the 5 parties, you can very quickly acquire a solid tasting background on several different regions. This can be very useful to you in gaining tasting experience in wine regions you do not know very well.
Some regional theme suggestions as follows:
Bordeaux red / Bordeaux white (dry) / Bordeaux white (sweet)
Burgundy red / Burgundy white
Italian red / Italian white / Barolo and Barbaresco
Cote du Rhone red / Cote du Rhone white
California red / California white
Australia and New Zealand red / Australia and New Zealand white
Spain and Portugal red / Spain and Portugal white
Alsace and German whites
You can also consider doing an all red tasting of reds from many different countries, or all all white tasting the same way. You can do a tasting focusing on one grape type, such as a Syrah/Shiraz tasting, or an all dessert wine tasting. The options are numerous.
When planning your wine lineup you should always ask your wine store for help with your selection, their wine expert will have tasted most of the wines already and he will know which ones will be in stock in future and which ones are end of line. This is a great way to taste many wines from different regions, to fine tune which ones you like, and which ones you do not. This can also give you a lot of information on many wines that you will often encounter on your local restaurant wine lists. And you will enjoy the learning experience with your tasting guests.
Go for it! And if you have any questions just ask me. I will also be posting blogs of some of our own wine tasting parties starting soon, so keep an eye on this site, Reg.