Hosting a Wine Party 101

bottles1New Years Eve is fast approaching and the party mood has started. For those of you who don’t have plans a 100% set or have friends getting together but not quite sure what to do, how about planning a wine party? Of course, I am a proponent of fruit wines but really, best to have an open mind and invite the grape wines to the party too! So this article will focus on all wines…

Hosting a wine party, whether at home, in a bar or a restaurant is a great way to socialise, but can be daunting for those who are not confident about their wine knowledge. Just because you’re not a credentialed sommelier, however, doesn’t mean you can’t use this unique, fun and educational party format to give your guests an evening to enjoy and remember, especially during this festive party season. Let’s look at the planning step-by-step and you’ll see that the key ingredient is a desire to create a unique experience, not wine erudition.

The first step is to choose a tasting theme. A vertical tasting uses the same varietals from the same winery, but of different vintages. Following one particular varietal and winery will demonstrate the dramatic variations in wine that weather and other influences can make year to year. Horizontal tasting, on the other hand, focuses on a single varietal from the same year, but instead of following one winery the host offers several wineries for comparison. Something to consider is whether the wines should come from one region, say, Napa Valley, or from several, such as California, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, and so on. The focus of the entertaining Old World versus New World theme lets you compare varietals from these two much-discussed groups. Here are some suggestions: compare a Californian cabernet sauvignon with a French bordeaux. Perhaps pair a classic northern Rhone valley syrah with a zesty Australian shiraz. Another duo would be an Oregon pinot noir partnered with+ a red burgundy or perhaps a chardonnay from California with a white burgundy from France. One of my favorite themes would be of course a fruit wine theme. A tasting of various fruit wines from either your local area of fruit wines from out of state, country or even fruit wines from more exotic locals such as tropical fruit wines. The list goes on.

Wine and cheese are natural partners. For this format you sample a wine and then a cheese and have your guests reassess the wine’s qualities in light of the subtle flavour changes. You will be amazed with the results. A good idea to keep in mind when pairing wines and cheeses is to match products from the same region. For example, beaujolais with brie, camembert and goat cheese; chardonnay with brie, camembert and gouda; chianti with fontina, mozarella, parmesan or provolone; cabernet sauvignon with camembert, cheddar, Danish blue, gorgonzola, blue cheese and roquefort; merlot with brie, camembert, cheddar, jarlsberg and parmesan; champagne with beaufort, brie, camembert, cheddar, chevre, colby, edam and gouda; dessert wine or fruit wine with crème fraiche and mascarpone.

If wine and cheese are partners, then wine and chocolate could be described as lovers. There are several things to keep in mind when partnering chocolate and wine for the party. The wine should be at least as sweet, if not a touch sweeter, than the chocolate you are pairing it with. Otherwise, the taste may seem rather sour. When pairing wines with chocolate, match lighter, more elegant-flavoured chocolates with lighter-bodied wines; likewise, the stronger the chocolate, the more full-bodied the wine should be. Just as with wine, if you are experimenting with several varieties of chocolates, work from light to dark. Start with a more subtle white chocolate and end on a dark or bittersweet chocolate. A natural wine pair for chocolate is always the raspberry liqueur or a blackberry fortified wine. These wine pairings will make any party very memorable.

These are just a few suggestions, by no means the only worthy themes. If none of them strike your fancy, let your imagination run wild. How about a tasting based on a particular country with its music and cuisine, for example, Spanish wines with flamenco music and tapas?

Not only a lot of fun, a wine-tasting party isan informal way to educate your guests about wine. Providing a wine tasting card is a good way to enable them to reinforce what they’re learning. Keep in mind that the card can be as detailed or brief as you want. Start with listing the type of wine, vineyard, vintage and a description of the wine from the producer’s information on the back label. Make sure there’s blank space for guests to write notes. Finally, have them rate the wines according to their preferences. Blind tastings are a fun challenge for more advanced connoisseurs. Supply your guests with tasting cards, but do not list any information about the wines being poured. Make sure to cover the bottles or put them in a bag before pouring, remembering to number the bottles for your reference. You can reveal all the hidden information after they have made their comments.

When serving the wines, remember to pour dry to sweet with white wines and light-bodied to full-bodied for reds. Consider the age of the wine also. Start with the younger wines and progress to the mature wines. It’s a good idea to offer bread and water between tastings so your guests can cleanse their palates for the next wine. The general rule for the taste serving size is around two ounces per glass, per tasting. Also, make sure the wines are served at their appropriate temperatures. With a good selection of wines to fit your chosen theme, and more importantly, some good friends, you have all the necessary ingredients for a fabulously entertaining and informative festive holiday party.