How to Throw A Traveling Vineyard Wine Tasting Party in your Home
Wine tastings are increasingly popular. They’re ideal settings for relaxing with friends and acquiring a little culture.
Tastings held in private homes have special appeal. The atmosphere is informal, the host can go at his or her own pace and guests can freely converse as the tasting progresses.
You don’t have to be a sophisticated sommelier to host a wine tasting party, and it’s one of the simplest parties to throw. It’s nothing like hosting a sit-down dinner or even a cocktail party. It requires very little shopping, preparation or cleanup. Depending on the wines that you choose, it can be surprisingly affordable.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to throwing a fun, memorable event.
CHOOSE A COMMON THEME
There are several approaches, but tastings should be very narrow in scope. Too large an assortment of grapes overwhelms the palate.
You could feature one variety of wine, such as Malbec, from diverse regions like Argentina, France, Australia, Chile and South Africa. You could compare a single vintage of the same wine from several different wineries in your state. Blind comparisons of pricey and budget-friendly wines are always fun and often produce surprising results. Your local wine merchant may be a good source for ideas.
Whatever theme you choose, limit the tasting to four or five selections. Depending on how many guests you invite, two to three bottles of each sample are usually adequate. If you’re serving dinner afterward, buy extra to drink with the meal.
You should also pick up an aperitif wine or the ingredients for light wine cocktails to serve before the tasting. Just a splash will break the ice and prepare the palate.
ASSEMBLE YOUR SUPPLIES
Here’s what you’ll need:
- White cloth or plastic-coated butcher paper
- Neutral-tasting palate cleanser
- Personal spittoons
- Large bucket
- Wine bags or tinfoil for blind tasting
- Paper and writing utensils for making notes
Unless you’re already well-stocked on wine glasses, renting will save you money and storage space. Glasses usually rent for $1 to $3 apiece. Each guest needs a separate glass for each sample, and the glasses should be identical.
A small Bordeaux glass is preferable for tasting. It has a full bowl that narrows to a smaller rim. This design not only enhances the flavor and bouquet of the wine, but it prevents spillage during swirling.
Dress the table in white for better assessment of wine color. If you use a tablecloth, it should be smooth rather than embossed with a design. It’s difficult and potentially messy to swirl a glass on textured cloth.
Unflavored breadsticks or water crackers are best for cleansing the palate between samples. If you plan to serve appetizers, stick to mild flavors that won’t compete with the wines.
Each guest needs something to spit into. It may be a rented coffee mug or an opaque plastic cup. Don’t forget a large bucket. Your guests will need a receptacle for the contents of their spittoons.
If you’re doing a blind taste test, wrap or bag the bottles and clearly number them.
You can have fun with this, but avoid sensory overload.
First and foremost, there shouldn’t be strong cooking aromas or other smells that interfere with the tasting. Did you know that your nose does most of the work when you taste something? Your taste buds can detect just four flavors: salty, bitter, sour and sweet. Your sense of smell, with a little help from your brain, fills in the rest.
In short, if you’re burning cinnamon-scented candles, your wines will taste like cinnamon.
You might print maps or photographs of the wine regions that you’re featuring. If you’re a creative type, you could make personalized coasters for guests to take home. You could play songs about wine or Champagne. If you’re sampling Italian wines, play Italian music on low volume.
You may also print a short reference guide to the wines for guests to take home.
PREPARE THE WINE
You’ll have to do your research on recommended chilling temperatures and durations. Proper cooling and decanting can make or break a wine’s flavor, so get instructions well ahead of time.
SET THE TABLE
There are special placemats for wine tasting, but you don’t necessarily have to use them. Just arrange the required number of glasses at each place setting. If you’re serving a plate of crackers for each guest, place the glasses along the top of the plate. Give everyone supplies for making notes. Provide water and a spittoon. Set the large bucket at the center of the table.
GUIDE YOUR GUESTS
Serve the wines one at a time in order of lightest to darkest. Start with the glass on the left and pour approximately 1.5 to 2.5 ounces.
Start by discussing color.
Next, demonstrate how to gently swirl the glass on a smooth, flat surface. This releases the aroma. Stick your nose deep into the glass and take a good whiff. Invite your guests to do the same, and have them describe their perceptions. A wine might smell fruity, flowery, oaky or earthy. It could even evoke tobacco or chocolate, so encourage free association.
Take a good sip and hold it in your mouth. Allow it to coat the palate. Does it feel heavy and creamy or light and crisp? The overall feel in your mouth indicates the body or fullness of the wine.
Talk about balance. The best wines have a pleasing harmony of flavors rather than one overpowering taste.
Don’t rush to the next selection after you spit or swallow. Aftertaste, the lingering of flavors on your palate, is a strong indicator of quality. The finest wines have an aftertaste that lasts up to 30 seconds or longer.
Compare notes and take a vote. If you’re having snacks or dinner, drink the leftovers and discuss how each wine pairs with food. Guests are often surprised when their preferences change during a meal.
EARN WHILE YOU HOST
The Traveling Vineyard, founded in 2001, uses hosts and wine guides to sell award-winning wines and accessories directly to the public.
New hosts get started with wine tasting kits that include glassware, a storage case and enough wine for two events. The training program is online, and hosts are assigned local mentors to shadow until they get the hang of it. Hosts may hold events whenever they like, so it’s a highly flexible arrangement.
The Traveling Vineyard provides a golden opportunity to mix business with pleasure.