I went to a wine dinner at Arroyo Chop House, a favorite dinner spot run by friends Gregg and Bob Smith. The Smith brothers are Pasadena icons in the restaurant world, and nationally renowned cuz of all the awards they’ve won over the years. The dinner featured wines from the also ever-so-famous Francis Ford Coppola Winery. If you’ve never been to a wine dinner before, it’s one gloriously gluttonous event! Four wines, four courses of food, four pounds gained when you hop on the scale in the morning! But I love ‘em because by the second round of wine, the room gets raucously fun and full of shenanigans. As seen here…!
A host from the winery gives you the deets about each wine: what grapes varietals are in the blend, what kind of barrels were used for aging, the story behind how the wine came to be… it all starts out very official. Then, everyone gets trashed! Which is awesome, but also kind of a shame because these dinners cost A BUNDLE! The solution? Host a wine tasting party at home! Here are some ideas to get you started.
Pick A Theme (Here Are 7 For Inspiration!)
First thing you’ll want to do is decide what kinds of wine to taste. So, pick a theme (duh, I just said that!) Why? Because it’s fun! And also because it allows you to add decor elements. Here’s your chance to get creative!
- ‘A Night In France’ where you only taste French wines and serve French cheeses. French music and a few Eiffel Tower centerpieces… Voila! Magic!
- ‘Under $20 Wines’ where you have wines from all over the world, but none cost more than twenty bucks.
- You can do a ‘Red, Red Wine’ party where no white wine is allowed (and UB40’s song plays incessantly all night long!)
- Blind Tasting Party
Blind tasting wines is a lot of fun and this method sort of creates its own built in entertainment because guests have to guess what kind of wines they’re tasting! Have a prize ready for the person who answers the most correctly. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – a corkscrew, bottle stoppers, or coasters are all great gift ideas! Plus there are lots of clever ways to conceal your wine labels. Use brown paper bags, or…
- Wine Flight
If you have true aficionados in the group, you might consider a Wine Flight theme. Pick a varietal or wine appellation to taste from. For instance, taste six different Chardonnays from California. Or taste Chardonnay from around the world, where all six are from different countries. Have your guests taste and rate each one and see if people gravitate toward one bottle or another.
For added fun you can use a wine wheel (flavor descriptors) to help discuss the flavors and aromas in each wine. Let each guest take the wheel home as a party favor afterward.
- Paint N’ Sip Party
Another way to build entertainment (as if getting drunk isn’t entertaining enough!) into your wine tasting party is to riff off the ever-popular “Paint n’ Sip” party at home. Consumer Crafts has recommendations if you plan to buy paints and canvases for all of your guests. (I suggest everyone brings their own canvas!)
Want to cut down on the costs even further? Do a mandala coloring party instead. With a couple of coloring books and a box of 100 colored pencils, you don’t need to worry about easels or having paint spilled on the carpet! (because having the wine spilled on the carpet is enough!)
- Chocolate & Wine
Like the idea of wine pairings? ‘Chocolates & Wine’ is another theme that keeps the cost down but lets you indulge in the good stuff! This idea from Sift & Whisk pairs different cacao levels of dark chocolate with different red wines like Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
To make it even more interesting, have everyone bring their own favorite chocolate (or chocolate dessert). Speaking of dessert, remember that it’s not just red table wine that pairs with chocolate, dessert wines work especially well (but of course!). Ports and sherries come in a variety of styles and are a treat for guests because most people don’t normally buy these wines for themselves!
Unless you’re doing a full on, super fancy, seriously official wine tasting of expensive wines you’ve been aging in the cellar, you needn’t worry about serving in the varietal appropriate crystal wine glasses from Riedel! (phew!) Nor does it matter whether you have enough stemware that matches! The minute you start worrying about that kind of stuff is the moment your party becomes a pooper! You want your wine tasting party to be fun, right?! Then mix and match whatever glass you have in your cupboard. These are just some of my faves above from stores like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Pier 1 Imports, Williams Sonoma, Anthropologie and Bergdorf Goodman, or better yet, go to a thrift store and buy lots of different wine glass designs. I LOVE colored vintage glasses because they can do double-duty as candy dishes for other parties.
Hey Dude, Where’s My Glass?
Once everyone has a drink or two in them, glasses start getting misplaced! Especially if guests are walking around mingling! Pretty soon glasses get abandoned here and there, on this table, on that countertop, and people start asking, “Is that my glass?” Then, they start worrying about taking someone else’s glass by mistake, and germs, and catching colds because they heard somebody sneeze, and ultimately you end up with this: “Hey hostess-with-the-mostess, can I have a new glass?” Here’s how to avoid that problem!
Wine Glass Charms
Every liquor store sells these. You can also DIY them with this how-to from Sugar And Charm.
Another option I like even better is to buy a roll of ribbon. Cut the ribbon into 4-inch strips and then write the name of each guest on a piece of ribbon that can be tied to the stem of the glass!
Bamboo Wine Holder
This ingenious little paddle from OnlineCellarDoor lets you carry your glasses around with you!
Tools For Tasting
Wine tasting can be intimidating for people who aren’t used to doing more than sipping for pleasure. If you want to spark the conversation and have people discuss the wines they’re tasting, wine wheels (see above!) AND flavor descriptor cards like this one from Tiziano can help.
Want A Little Food With Your Wine?
Since we’re trying to do this on a budget, a sit down dinner isn’t on the menu! But you should have some food available.
A selection of cheeses served with crackers and bread is just fine.
Different flavored popcorns is also a fun way to add snacks to your wine tasting party. This guide from Chewsy Lovers has a bunch of fun flavor pairings you’ll love!
If you’d like to have something resembling a meal, we suggest you potluck it and have each guest bring a dish based on the type of wines you’re going to serve.
The Hostess Wants To Drink Too!
Feel like you don’t want to be the one to lead the wine tasting charge? That’s okay! Because there are services that will send a certified wine expert to your house to help everyone learn how to taste wine like a pro! Argaux is located in Southern California and specialize in curated wine experiences for parties and corporate events.
For those of you in other parts of the country, The Sommelier Company has a nationwide network of wine educators who can host a wine tasting at your home or large event. These services provide a more luxurious and sophisticated approach to at-home wine tasting parties, which is great for special occasions.
With all of this talk of wine, there’s one more thing we need to discuss before we wrap up… wine hangovers and how to avoid them! Need other party tips for your next booze-fest? Look no further! Download our Super Secret Party Tips Guide today for FREE!
It’s got WAAAAAYY more than just drink tips!