Planning a party like this is a lot easier than you think. Here are a few things to consider:
CONSIDER THE GUEST LIST.
How many people can you accommodate and how many wines do you wish to taste? If you serve two ounce servings, one 750 ml bottle of wine will serve 12 guests.
CHOOSE A THEME.
Limited only by your imagination, the theme can be anything from one varietal, like Chardonnay, to a vertical tasting of several vintages of the same wine. Check out our Party Planning Guide: Wine Group for ideas on themes.
GLASSWARE IS CRUCIAL!
Make sure you have appropriate glassware. It makes all the difference in the world.
PROVIDE A PROGRAM.
Your tasting program should provide some basics about each wine and a place for each taster to make their own notes.
Provide water and tasting wafers or bread to cleanse between each wine. It’s also a great idea to add food to the event and pair up the wine with appropriate foods.
CLARK'S FOOD PAIRING TIPS
You’ve probably heard the rule, "red wine with red meat and white with white meat.” Beyond that, here are some things to consider when it’s your job to order the wine at a restaurant, or to plan a meal at home.
Choose the food first, then the wine. It’s easier to pair wines to foods than foods to wine. Do this in a restaurant even if the wait staff shows you the wine list immediately. Ask yourself: Bold and spicy or mild? Well-marbled or lean? Buttery or acidic? These basics about the food can lead you to a nice, correct pairing.
The wines you select should complement, not overpower your food – the two should work in harmony. Here are a few examples (keeping in mind the red/white rule from above): Bold dishes = bold wine. If the bold dish happens to be beef, then a bold red wine should be the choice. A rich butter sauce on a fish filet is nicely paired with a rich, buttery Chardonnay. Peppercorn encrusted steak (spicy) with Zinfandel (red and spicy).
FLAVORS: LIKE & OPPOSITE
You can also consider selecting wines to serve with foods of like or opposite components.
DISH: Seafood with lemon (citrus)
LIKE: Sauvignon Blanc (citrus)
OPPOSITE: Zindandel (sweet)
DISH: Fruit salad (sweet)
LIKE: Moscato (sweet)
OPPOSITE: Merlot (tannic acidic)
DISH: Mississippi Mud Pie (heavy/bold)
LIKE: Napa Cabernet (heavy/bold)
OPPOSITE: Bracheto d’ Acqui (bold/sweet)
CONSIDER REGION AND CULTURE.
Is your meal French, Spanish, German, Italian, Mexican or Indian? Consider what the locals would do. Most likely, they would serve the local wine or beverage with their foods. I suggest doing the same. Stick with the region when pairing foods and beverages. That means sometimes your best pairing might not be a wine. Mexican food is not an easy cuisine to match with wine; a cold beer or Margarita will pair better. The bottom line is don’t be afraid to try new things, and never be intimidated by the process.
Spicy foods like Asian are tricky, but not impossible to pair with wine. Gewurztraminer, with its spicy and oily notes makes it a perfect match. Some semi sweet Riesling will work just as well.
Put reds in the fridge for just 20 minutes prior to serving, and take whites out of the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving.
Red wine fans try something new. If you normally favor Cabernet Sauvignon with your grilled steak, opt for a Spanish Tempranillo. You may be surprised at how delicious it tastes, and they are certainly priced in the consumers' favor. If you find yourself stuck always drinking Chardonnay, consider trying a Viognier, Albarino, or Chenin Blanc.
Rosé wines are not all sweet. There are lots of wonderful off-dry to dry Rosé that are great to enjoy on their own but are a natural pairing with a wide range of food style.
WINE TASTING PLACEMATS & SCORE CARDS
Supply tasting sheets
There's no better way to make your tasting group feel like the real deal than with tasting sheets. This is a great way to stay organized, keep track of which wine is which, and make notes.
Offer pens for note taking
This will encourage everyone to keep track of what they're learning and record tasting notes.
Grab information from a winery's website
Most every winery has a website chock-full of information featuring everything from tasting notes to the weather conditions for a particular vintage. Print some tech sheets before your guests arrive and have them ready to read at the table.