Host a Fun Wine Tasting in 5 Easy Steps
Interested in hosting a wine tasting? We’ve asked our sommelier friend Julie Ricard of Fortified Grape Consulting to give us some ideas on how to host the perfect wine tasting party at home this summer. Here are her best tips and tricks to ensure you have a fantastic event!
You’ve just been asked to plan a party, something special and unique. One of your friends has a great idea: “Let’s do a wine tasting at my place!” Everyone loves the idea, but where do you start?
Although it may sound difficult to pull off, it’s a really easy and fun activity to do with family and friends. It doesn’t have to be big, my most memorable tastings have been with groups averaging 3 to 8 people. These numbers will comfortably fit in any back yard, living room or bunkie!
First: Choose the type of wine tasting you want
This is a very important first step. Do you prefer a ‘sip and enjoy your wine’ with your BBQ, or is this a serious ‘we want to know more about wine and here’s what the chef made to go with it’ type of event? Personally, I believe that keeping your first party simple and fun is the way to go! You can always make your next events more elaborate, but start small and grow from there.
Second: Select the wine and the theme
There are many options, but here some ideas to get you started.
- Pick a country or region of wine such as Canada, Australia, or Tuscany.
- Pick a grape or wine style such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Marquette.
- Pick a price range for each bottle
- Challenge yourself and your guests to go local
You can mix and match these themes, and you will be surprised just how much fun it is to plan and prepare for the day.
Did you know? With the success of the cold climate grapes, vineyards are opening up all across Canada; consider going to one and enjoying their hospitality. You’ll be amazed at the hidden treasures in your area. They will be able to explain your region, their wines and you can purchase a few bottles for your party. If you are not sure where to start, check with your local sommelier, or drop me a line and I’ll help source something that fits your taste.
Be mindful of the quantity of wine being served and sampled
As a sommelier, I am always concerned about the amount of wine being served. The larger the group, the more wine there is. When we host an event, we still have that responsibility of ensuring the safety of our guests. If you are hosting a wine and food pairing event, stick with 2 oz. samples, so that you and your guests can taste the food and wine together. Otherwise, I recommend keeping the sample to 1 oz. to start.
No matter what, there is always wine left over for everyone to grab their favourite and enjoy at leisure once the “tasting” part of the evening is completed.
Third: Prepare for the tasting
First and foremost, don’t forget the corkscrew! The party won’t start without one.
Ideally, I like to give each person a water glass and two wine glasses. This lets us do a “side by side” comparison and discover what we like and why we like it. Keep all the glasses the same size and type. You want everyone comparing the same amount of wine in glasses that are the same shape. If you have lots of people at your party, consider renting the glasses, it’s fairly inexpensive and saves on dishes, as you typically return them unwashed and in a crate.
To avoid confusion and losing track of our progress, I recommend using a tasting mat. You can simply trace the bottom of the glass twice on a piece of paper and number the circles as “glass 1” and “glass 2”. It does bring some humour when your friends can’t remember which glass is which. For the more serious connoisseurs, provide a white napkin as a backdrop for checking out how each wine looks. Your friends will also appreciate a pencil and paper for making notes.
Make sure the space you chose for your tasting has good light. Lighting is important if you want to see what’s happening with the wine. Is it clear or hazy? Is anything floating in the glass, what are “wine gems”? If the weather permits, consider having the party in your back yard, as sunlight is best for seeing through the glass.
For a fun twist, you can do the tasting blind by hiding the bottle’s label with a brown paper bag or by wrapping the bottle in tin foil, but make sure each bottle is numbered! The result is some great conversation in the room, especially if you have a ‘professional wine drinker’ in the group as they will surely try to guess what wine is hiding beneath the tin foil.
To help keep the cost of the party manageable, consider hosting a ‘hidden gem’ tasting. In this type of party, everyone brings a bottle of their favourite wine that they already have at home. This works best with friends who have wine cellars, as they will typically bring something that they either need to enjoy soon or that they can’t remember how they got in the first place. Still, do the tasting blind, but now, play a fun game with your guests by trying to figure out who brought which bottle.
Fourth: don’t forget the food!
Snacks and other tasty treats are always a crowd-pleaser, and we all have that friend that cooks the most amazing dishes. For your first tasting, I suggest keeping the snacks simple; bread and plain, unsalted crackers are great to clean the taste buds between sips. That said, I do enjoy when everyone brings a favourite appetizer or “munchie” that pairs well with their wine. The flavours are amazing.
Fifth: Have fun!
Most important of all……be creative and have fun with it. Do something different, inexpensive and enjoyable that will, “bring GRAPE friends together.”
If you want to find out more about the Ottawa Wine region, drop me (Julie Ricard) a line by email or connect with me on Facebook, and I’ll be happy to help you choose some wine for your next wine tasting. And if you host your wine tasting party, I would love to see your creative ideas, so tag us using #fortifiedgrape @fortifiedgrape.