From time to time a wine interest group, a private function or a business will use a wine tasting event as a novel and a fun way to entertain and educate.
Recently, I was asked to present a selection of Burgundy wines to the local Wexford Wine Circle. I did so with my Green Acres colleague Patrick O’Connor and, we had a wonderful few hours of participative fun and learning.
During some of these sessions I am often asked about home wine tasting events. So rather than wait until we meet – I am going to provide you with some tricks and tips about hosting a wine party in your house.
Anyway, as we approach St Patrick’s Day and Easter, many people will be entertaining at home on those days and it’s probably a given that such entertaining will involve wine.
Whether you and your friends are wine novices or aficionados, the ideas below should help you get the show on the road.
Outline of a Home Wine Tasting Party.
Comparing and discussing wines with your friends in your home is an easy way to learn about wine, and it’s not hard to organise. Maybe there’s a special bottle of wine that you want to plan your menu around, or perhaps you just want to provide some easy-drinking wine to serve as a backdrop for conversation.
Either way choosing suitable wines and setting up the environment can be the difference between a success and failure.
A. How to Choose the Wines
1. Plan for 6-8 different wines for the event, let guests taste 2 wines at a time, side by side, so that they can appreciate the flavour contrast.
2. Have 2 wine glasses for each guest (one for red and one for white).
3. For up to 12 guests, 1 bottle per wine is enough, resulting in 8-10 bottles total. For more than 12 guests, you want to have 2 (or more) bottles of each wine.
4. One bottle provides 13 pours of 2oz each. That’s a good tasting portion.
5. Have a variety of wine styles to show diversity
6. Perhaps have a sparkling wine (Cava, Prosecco or Champagne) as the welcome drink, so you will need another glass for that (or you could use the white-wine glass for this.)
7. Have 4 white wines and 4 red wines for the tasting. Most people prefer red, but a few whites make a well-rounded event. You can always have a few reds stashed away for afterwards.
8. Wine Selection – Keep it simple and use wines that people will have heard of before e.g.
> Riesling from Germany
> Viognier from Rhone Valley, France
> Chardonnay from Chablis, France
> Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, France
> Albarino from Spain
> Pinot Noir from Burgundy or New Zealand
> Syrah from Rhone Valley or Australia
> Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or Napa Valley
> Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley, France
> Gamay from Beaujolais, France
> Chianti from Tuscany, Italy
> Tempranillo from Rioja in Spain
> Grenache from Southern Rhone, France
B. Tasting Themes
1. You could set a theme for the tasting and might announce it in an event invitation:
– Old World vs. New World
– Key grapes from around the world
– Wines of a specific region e.g. Burgundy
– Wines of a Country e.g. Italy
– Wine & food pairing (have a suitable appetiser for each wine)
– Aged wines vs Young wines
– A night in Tuscany
– Exploring the Southern Hemisphere
There are many different ways that you could organise the format such as:
– A blind-tasting format, simply put the bottles in numbered bags/wine paper bags or even covered in tin-foil and people write down what each flavour reminds them of.
– Bring in one of us from Green Acres to lead the wine presentation, blind-tasting and make the event part social, part educational and memorable (I even did a hen party event recently).
– People can be given a flavour profile for each bottle and asked to see if they can spot the difference.
– Have a more focussed sit-down “wine dinner” event with wine presentation and choreographed presentation course-by-course.
– If you don’t want to use your home at all – we can host your party in a private tasting room here in Green Acres. Call us to have a chat if this is the route you’d prefer.
– If you would like your guests (or they offer) to bring a bottle it’s best to give them guidelines for price and type to avoid bad surprises. In fact, we could set-up a pre-chosen wine list by us in the shop and guests can drop in to collect or contact us to deliver.
C. Serving the Wines
Before serving, chill the white wines for 30 minutes to an hour, to a temperature of 7 – 10 degrees; if they’re too cold, the taste of the wine will be dulled. Red wine is served at room temperature, but if a house is particularly warm, the wine may need to be chilled slightly. Red wine should be served at a temperature of 10 – 18 degrees (serve lighter wines at the lower end of that range, full-bodied wines at the higher end).
D. Spit or Swallow
At professional wine tastings, spittoons are provided. You don’t need to swallow wine to taste it. At home, you could use large coffee mugs as individual spittoons. If people have never done it before – allow them to practice with a glass of water first.
A larger bucket on the table however allows tasters to empty their glasses and spittoons at the end of each round of tasting. If your friends prefer to sip but not spit, still provide the bucket so everyone can easily empty their glasses if they don’t finish a wine.
E. Food Considerations
1. Wines and the overall theme can be aligned with the specific food you are preparing. Or stay clear from sit-down food and do a plate-in-the-hand.
2. Otherwise, cheese, charcuterie, chocolate and veg nibbles can be nice company to the wine theme. They can be paired with the wines.
3. If you want to match food with your chosen wines here’s a quick list:
– match by intensity of flavour (e.g. Syrah with BBQ)
– match creamy with creamy (e.g. Chardonnay with pasta sauces or cheese)
– match creamy/fried with acid (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc with rich/fried foods)
– match acid/salt with acid (e.g. Sauv Blanc/ Chard with citrus or salty flavours)
– match spicy with sweet (e.g. gewürztraminer/Riesling with spice)
– match sweet with sweet (e.g. dessert wine/port with desserts)
How much you spend on wine is entirely up to you and your budget. In Green Acres, we have a wine selection ranging from < €10 to > €100 and many alternatives in between. There is no fixed cost that we would recommend but will definitely be able to satisfy your needs at the various levels.
G. Other Stuff You’ll Need
– Clear glasses with a stem.
– Glass identifiers (glass markers or wine charm)
– Ice and Ice buckets
– Palate Cleanser (plain crackers (nothing flavoured) or pieces of bread (nothing grainy/salty)
– Plain white tablecloth (preferably)
– Paper and Pens (or Pencils)
– Score cards/Flavour profiles (depending on the theme)
– Backup corkscrew
– Rubbish sacks
Dos and Don’ts of a Home Wine Tasting
– Don’t take the wine tasting element too seriously. The last thing you want is for people to feel intimidated or that they can’t contribute.
– Do encourage people to express what they like or don’t like about each wine, rather than getting bogged down on what’s the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer-because with something as personal as taste, there isn’t one.
– If you have around 6 guests do sit them around a table, which creates a more intimate environment.
– If you really want to focus on the wines don’t serve other alcohol or soft drinks before the tasting.
– Don’t include strong flavours such as chilli or olives as nibbles and, definitely no cheese up front.
– Don’t light scented candles in the room where the tasting is to be held
– Discourage strongly scented perfumes etc, if possible.
– Do have a decanter (or glass jug) to hand so as to decant old wine or aerate young wine.
– Do read my article on tasting wine How to Become a Pro in the Wonderful World of Wine Tasting
– Do check out the many themed party craft ideas online – our Pinterest board is a good source
All in all, the main objective of a home wine tasting is to have fun with friends. Here in Green Acres we can take the pain out of much of the planning and implementation mentioned above.
In addition to tastings we can cover topics on all segments of the wine world:
Introductory and Advanced Tasting Seminars
Any topics of interest in the world of beverages
One last thing – did you know that we launched the Green Acres mobile app recently? Now you can bring us home in your pocket. Book tables, browse wines, learn of special offers, check events, connect with us, earn loyalty rewards and much more. We would really appreciate if you would click on either of the tabs below to download for free.
Talk to you soon – Cheers, Donal.