Hosting an impressive home wine tasting is harder these days. Twenty years ago your guests probably didn’t know much about wine. You could blow them away with only the most introductory sniffing and swirling.
With so many wine courses and regular tasting events these days, there are too many wine-smart people to fool with that sort of bluff. Sometimes it seems that you can’t throw a corkscrew without hitting a sommelier. (Please don’t throw corkscrews.)
How do you entertain a mix of guests with fairly sophisticated palates and others who only dabble in good drink? The goal of a wine tasting party is to have fun, while learning. To get you started, here are some tips from an experienced sommelier, wine writer, and avid home taster:
Try blind wine tasting: This is a fun game to play and can be a great icebreaker. Ask everyone to bring a wine in a certain price range (think $15-25). Keep all of the bottles bagged, or buy the wines yourself and act as referee. Give everyone a small portion and then work around the circle to guess the wine.
Each person can ask the wine provider one yes or no question. For example, “Is it from Europe?” “Is it a blend?” “Is it Merlot?” You can decide how close they have to be to the exact answer in order to win. If they can get the country and the main grapes, that’s pretty good.
To avoid uncomfortable situations, ensure the wines are fairly easy to identify. Don’t buy a Pinot Noir that you know tastes nothing like Pinot Noir. That said, it can be fun to have one really obscure, unguessable wine.
Include something special: Attending a wine tasting party comes with an expectation you will try something out of the ordinary. Whether it’s part of your blind guessing game, or just a special bottle that you bring out later for all to share, ensure you have at least one premium wine on hand.
It could be something that costs $50 or more from your local wine store, or a great wine you have aged in your cellar for just such an occasion. Sharing special wines is rewarding, and you probably have a great story to tell and a memory to relive if it is from your own collection.
Support local: These days there are good wines from across the Atlantic Provinces. Highlight a local producer in your wine picks and talk about it. The odds are very good that others at the party will be familiar with it and want to talk about local wine.
You could even blind taste a local wine up against a similar global wine. Be sure to pick a comparison that shows our wines fairly. Don’t blow it away with a much fancier wine, or something that isn’t remotely similar.
Keep the food simple: Unless you are planning a sit-down, formal wine-pairing party, choose foods that aren’t too challenging, so that even those people who don’t have exotic palates will be able to enjoy it with the wine. Good charcuterie and a selection of cheeses, with crackers and bread is fine, with perhaps some olives and dips.
Overall, your goal should be to make your home wine tasting party fun and use the opportunity to learn along with your guests. It’s the best way to get to know wine intimately, it need not be a formal education session. Simply taste, talk, and enjoy.