By Andy Hayes
I think we all love the idea of having a wine tasting night, but the reality is that it often looks better in the movies. Have you ever felt intimidated by hosting a wine night? Or just at a loss on how to plan and host an event that will make your friends simply swoon?
Having attended many local wine events, taken copious notes, and tried my own tactics, I have advice on how to host the perfect wine tasting – in three easy steps.
1. Prepare your guests.
Everyone is busy these days, so your first step is an easy one: set a date, set a time, and tell everyone. For a wine tasting, it is important to know how many folks you are expecting, so be sure to ask for an RSVP and set a deadline for response – it may feel a bit old school, but your friends will respect you for your party planning prowess.
In an invite, I share specifics, such as:
- Will wine be provided, or is this a “potluck” style tasting? If guests have to bring something, tell them what style of wine, price point, and how many bottles.
- Will food be provided? How should a guest alert you if they have a food allergy?
- Is this a red wine-only night or a sweet-chocolate-wine-only night? It’s nice to give a head’s up on the theme, so someone can bow out gracefully if it’s not their thing.
I don’t intend for you to over-engineer this invitation – an invite with a quick bullet point list of pertinent information will do the job.
2. Prepare your home.
Now that you’ve piqued the interest of your guests, it’s time to think about party prep. Hosting a wine tasting in your home is a bit of a logistical challenge, but there are a couple of priority items: firstly, do you have enough glasses, with a few to spare? If not, time to stock up and get them washed. While you’re in glass mode, don’t forget the water glasses (and if your wine opener sucks, buy a new one).
Secondly, what is the best configuration for your party? Most parties end up with friends dangling from all corners of the kitchen, which is fine, but I’d like to suggest that you arrange things in a way that encourages conversation and dialogue about the wine. The simple way to do this is to set up a wine “station” where you can pour from, and have seating around that single point.
3. Prepare your menu.
Ok, we have guests coming over, and we know where they’re going to sit. Time to order the wine and pick up some complementary foods (I like to have something on hand even if I’ve asked guests to bring something.)
My advice on wine tasting menu planning is keep it super simple. For the wines, pick a theme: a type of grape (“pinot noir night”), a region (“Sonoma Valley night”), or even a single winery that perhaps you know and love. A bottle has about 4-5 glasses of wine, so do a little math to decide on how much to buy.
For food, the simple advice stays. I suggest picking one dish that you have researched (ask your wine shop, or Google) and you know it pairs particularly well with your wine – like a dark salted chocolate cake or some smoked salmon, for example. Then round out your menu with classic wine party favorites: cheeses, crackers, olives, or roasted nuts. These make for easy pairings and keep guests happy.
Now, relax and have fun. Take the lead on wine conversation – does food affect the flavor? Would they buy the wine? And of course, ask who is hosting the next tasting!
All photos are courtesy of the author.