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Hosting a wine tasting party...


Sackville
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Hi there,

First off, if this has been covered in another thread please feel free to just point me in the right direction. I did do a search but came up with 57 pages of results!

I recently passed my WSET advanced certificate and to celebrate (and also just to have a good excuse to buy lots of wine and drink it!) I thought I'd hold a wine tasting party for a few friends. Most of them are not into wine beyond ordering a glass of house red at the local pub, so how best to do this to cover a few of the basics but still have it be fun for them and not too stuffy?

I have a feeling if I try and get them all to take notes, examine the colour, scents etc in great detail, the party will go downhill pretty quickly.

My first thought was to choose 4-6 varietals / types of wine and compare them in twos to see if they can spot the general differences, trying to get a range of prices / regions. So, for example, a Cava or NZ sparkling wine vs a Champagne to start. Then maybe a Pinot Grigio from Germany and one from Italy. A Cabernet Sauv from Bordeaux and one from Chile.

Any other ideas / tips?

I am also undecided on food. Should I attempt a matching appy with each wine? Any classic parings you'd recommend? Or just stick with cheese and crackers and not worry too much about the food side of things.

Thanks in advance :smile:

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I hold wine tastings at my tennis club a couple of times a year. My first theme was Old World vs New World and I used this theme again this weekend for some friends. It is similar to what you suggest because I have one wine style or varietal from (you guessed it) the Old World and an equivalent from the New. It is a good theme because you can look at the differences in style, but also any similarities in the wines.

I had rieslings from Germany (a Kabinett) and Australia, a Sancerre and a NZ Sauv Blanc, a Macon chardonnay and one from California, a Champagne against a Sparkling Chard/ Pinot Noir from Australia. Then for reds we had a red burgundy and NZ pinot, a Crozes Hermitage and South African Shiraz, a declassified CdP from Domaine Pegau against Rosemount GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) and finally a cab-dominant Bordeaux against Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet.

I keep the food simple and have cheeses with some of the whites e.g goats cheese with the sauv blancs and nutty gruyere with the chards, then various hams and sausages/salamis with the reds. People couldn't believe how much better the whites tasted with their cheeses and obviously many thought red wine with cheese was the norm.

The theme is good because you can discuss the origins of the grapes/styles (obviously mainly French) and the New World take on them and why for instance choose to blend Cabernet with Shiraz. Be warned that this theme can lead to lots of wines (16 in my case) so people may get a bit tipsy - not always a bad thing - and it takes a while. Both times I have done this it took nearly 4 hours, especially as people get more chatty aa the night progresses.

Edited by primowino (log)
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Here's one thread about hosting a tasting that may have some ideas for you.

Specific answers to your questions, though, will depend on how many people you plan on having. I've found that trying to have any type of "structured" format or program with too many guests will not work. Even if they know they are coming over to learn something, the tasting will devolve into just another party if there are too many guests to try and corral.

I'd serve plenty of food, but don't worry about pairing it to the wines. Don't try to take on too much -- especially if your guests are, as you indicate, "not into wine."

Some easy things to do, education-wise, are to ask them to rank the wines. You can also provide de-identified descriptions of the wines (critics' tasting notes) and have them try to match the note to the wine.

Don't forget a dump bucket and plenty of water.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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Here's one thread about hosting a tasting that may have some ideas for you.

Specific answers to your questions, though, will depend on how many people you plan on having. 

Counting husband and myself, about 15.

Thanks both of you for the tips. I think I will go with a rough new / old world theme and try and encourage them to find at least a few of the basic characteristics of the wine in each one, until the tasting turns into a party anyway. I think the 'party' part of it is a bit unevitable and not necessarily undesirable!

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Congratulations, Sackville! I concur with Brad and Primo's suggestions. This should be a night for you to celebrate. Your plans for wine comparisons and pairings are perfect--a friendly challenge to learn more is there, but it's also relaxed and hospitable. Your guests will appreciate that, and the glow and pride you feel from your achievement may encourage them to nurture a growing interest in wine.

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congrats!!!

my most successful wine tasting parties happen by getting people involved in a competition.

I send guests what they are to bring- a varietal usually- and they can purchase anything they want that has that grape in it, at any price.

then we taste them against each other, I usually do 3 varietals and 3 wines in each for 8 to 10 people. I print cards to take notes on and we all talk about the wines and then vote. the wines are brown bagged so no one knows. Winners get prizes and bragging rights. and they share info on the price and the wine after it's revealed.

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Thanks again for your input.

Does anyone know how many tasting samples you can get out of a bottle? I was hoping 1 bottle of each would do me, working on the basis that a proper tasting sample is about 50ml as measured by me this morning! Although maybe it is naive to think people will stick to tasting samples? (I was planning on starting them off on a 'drinking wine' before we have the proper tasting and as we wait for people to arrive).

Came across a neat idea in the latest email I got from the WSET, still working on the 'new world' vs 'old world' idea. They are hosting an evening where 10-12 wines are served blind... two each of merlot, cab sauv, malbec etc. Both the students and prof are tasting blind and they have to try and match the varietals (all red in this case). I thought maybe I'd do that, with one section of white and one of red, but make it a bit easier by revealing 1 of each varietal and seeing if people could find the other among the blind bottles.

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Does anyone know how many tasting samples you can get out of a bottle? I was hoping 1 bottle of each would do me, working on the basis that a proper tasting sample is about 50ml as measured by me this morning! Although maybe it is naive to think people will stick to tasting samples? (I was planning on starting them off on a 'drinking wine' before we have the proper tasting and as we wait for people to arrive).

Switching over from metric to English measurement, there are approximately 25 ounces in a 750ml bottle of wine. Typically, a "tasting" portion is two ounces, which would give you about 12 pours per bottle (a 50ml pour would mean 15 pours per bottle).

This is fine, again, if you have a format that people will follow. If there is any chance people will help themselves, I wouldn't necessarily rely on them to get the pour volume correct. You, with your WSET certification, on the other hand, should be able to do it.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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When we have held wine tastings I try to get everyone at the table, we supply paper and pencil and have people write down their thoughts about each wine (this way people will remember what they liked/disliked when they make their next trip to the wine shop). We usually do a blind tasting, which throws out any preconceived notions about the wine before tasting it (like "oh I hate Merlot" or "I only drink Chardonnay"). Ask people to rate each wine on a scale of 1-10 (just general how they liked it). At the end of the tasting unmask the wines and tally up the scores to see which wine was liked best by the crowd.

Start out with the lightest wine and progess to the more full bodied. Try not to have foods that may leave a lingering or strong taste on the persons palate (like smoked salmon, or garlic spread).

To start out the evening we usually serve a light sparkling wine, a Prosecco would be very nice.

Provide plenty of water and have a discard bin available.

If you can, have a seperate glass for each pour.

If you happen to get a "bad or corked" bottle consider it a learning experience and explain what it means to the guests & what the causes could be.

At the end of the evening you can opt to serve dessert with a sauterne or port.

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Congratulations on the WSET by the way.

If they are non-wine-geeks then I agree a simple, very casual structure is best.

FYI, an old standard published US formula for parties in the form of casual wine tastings and receptions was a quarter bottle per person without a full meal served, half bottle with. I used that formula since the 1970s successfully. Note that it is more moderate than the 18th-century British standard of two bottles per diner at a full dinner -- more if intense -- and those people were smaller by the way, on average. In the 1934 classic movie Death Takes a Holiday, a gentleman at a dinner party (Henry Travers is my memory of the actor -- anyway, same actor who played the angel in It's a Wonderful Life) boasts to the character of Death, traveling incognito on earth (Fredric March), something like "I'm a three-bottle man myself!" and Death answers with a significant look "In my time I've known many three-bottle men."

Serious blind wine tastings by wine geeks that I've seen routinely get 12 good tastes out of a bottle with some left in reserve; one group I know gets 16, but that's about the furthest I hear of bottles being stretched.

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Serious blind wine tastings by wine geeks that I've seen routinely get 12 good tastes out of a bottle with some left in reserve; one group I know gets 16, but that's about the furthest I hear of bottles being stretched.

I think I am going to be doing the pouring :) The number of people stands at 15 at the moment but could be fewer. I hate to sound stingy but I've already bought several bottles of good wine (not the cheapest plonk around) and I don't want to double that! In compensation there will be lots of quaffing wine.

I think I'll do the evening in a format something like this:

* Champagne / sparkling wine for 1/2 hour while everyone arrives

* White wine tasting of 6 wines / 3 varietals (riesling, chardonnay, gewurztraminer)

* Break and some quaffing wine (have a bit of Beaujolais on hand)

* Red wine tasting (merlot, pinot noir, GSM)

* Sweet wines (have a pineau de charentes and a Greek sweet wine which was given to me to try)

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also, in my opinion, don't put out too many wines, you will overwhelm your friends.

1 undisclosed white bottle to let people know out this thing works; how to smell the wine, how to look at it, how to taste it, and how to describe what they are experiencing; there are no bad answers; people shouldn't be shy to say that one wine smell bad, and if you, as an host, as "the master of ceremony" have to direct there comments in the right direction.

I'd say, 2 whites for start; same varietal ( sp? ) but try to find 2 that are quite distinct so that normal people ( and I'm one of them ) can easilly tell them apart.

after that, do to something more constistent, 2 other flights of reds, one with same varieral but from different origins, producer, maybe different vintage.

the last one have a vertical tasting ( if possible ) to show how some wine evolve in time; sometimes it's hard to tell when you drink only one bottle at different times.

that was my 2 cents.

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Well, after all your help I thought I'd better report back.

I changed my mind so many times about how to structure the evening, and that affected my ability to chose the wines because I couldn't settle on a format. In the end, I went with a champagne and prosecco to start (not blind), followed by 5 whites and 6 reds tasted blind.

I gave everyone sheets that told them which grapes we would be tasting and some of the main flavour characteristics they were likely to taste/smell. They also had a space on that sheet to make some general notes and write which wine they thought they were tasting.

I didn't make notes myself but instead helped them with how to taste and suggesting flavours they might find in the wine, tried to get a little discussion going.

We had 10 people show up for the whole evening and 2-3 others who dropped in and back out again. There was more than enough wine to go around from 1 bottle. I think you could do 12 tasting samples quite easily, 14 at a pinch.

It actually went pretty well and they seemed to enjoy it. No one seemed overwhelmed by trying to guess the wines and most people did very well, I was surprised how many people got right! I gave away a bottle of wine to the winner with the most correct answers at the end.

If I were doing it again I would:

1. Be more careful picking my wines. Because of my indecision right up until the last minute, the wines I had weren't always the 'classics' from the region and maybe not the best examples of their type.

2. Limit it to maybe 4 of each colour (red/white) plus the 'opening drinks' like champagne. People were getting a bit weary/drunk towards the end of the evening.

3. Make more food!! Everyone ate a lot more than I thought (wine stimulating hunger??).

Here are some pictures of the bottles if you're interested:

http://travellingtwo.com/gallery2/v/2006/WineTastingParty

Edited by Sackville (log)
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