Wine appreciation was long the province of an elite few, those who could spend thousands of dollars to build a cellar and enjoy it with their country club friends or professional partners.
Now, however, wine is available to the masses, and with new health benefits (particularly for the red varieties) announced almost daily, the masses are indeed responding.
One enjoyable by-product of this explosion in appreciation of this marvelous beverage is the wine party. Friends or associates gather to taste, to enjoy, and sometimes, just to slip into a night of socially-condoned intoxication.
A complication, though, comes from the very growth in appreciation that makes the party possible: the art of giving a “proper” wine party, for most would-be hosts, has not been passed through generations or developed into something comfortable or reliable.
Fortunately, this also means that the guests generally do not come into a gathering with predetermined notions of what to expect. Herein lays opportunity. With a little planning and a fair amount of imagination, you can create an event that all will enjoy, and depending on how much everyone consumes, all may even remember.
Picking the Attendees
In general, a wine party should be small. A gathering with four guests – or even just four people including the host(s) – can be perfect, as it allows everyone to talk, to discuss the varieties selected, and to relax throughout.
You can go a bit larger, but there are two very good reasons to keep it small. First, almost any group will become less comfortable with more people.
Some thrive in a larger setting, but others will invariably be pushed to the margins of the group.
If you do decide to go larger, perhaps intentionally segment the participants into groups. Assign them to groups outside of their normal circle of friends as identified by customized and colored wristbands like those offered through The Wristband Co.
Second, from a practical perspective, you want everyone to be able to sample every beverage. So, assuming a 750-ml bottle will serve four to six people, you want to be sure you have enough of each kind to allow everyone to enjoy it, and examples of high enough quality to make it worth the party.
A big difference between a wine party and a tasting is that you don’t want everyone to swish a thimble-full and spit it out. You want them to enjoy it. So, keep the group within your budget, whatever that may be.
Finally, choose attendees who can find a sober ride home, or whom you trust to stay for the night. You don’t want to be the person who sees a person alive for the last time – especially if you are the one who served the alcohol.
Have a Theme
If you are going to have a wine party, setting a theme allows you to narrow down the focus in a way that makes sense. You might focus on varieties from a particular region, or a particular grape.
You could also do a comparison between regions, price points, blends, or anything else. It matters little what your theme is, so long as you have one.
On the other hand, you do need to keep your guests in mind here. If you know members of your group strongly prefer reds, for example, you are inviting trouble by planning a theme comparing oak-barreled chardonnays to steel-barreled chardonnays.
If you are entertaining novices, you may not want to focus your party on high-tannin wines. You want to share examples that you enjoy and those you want your guests to enjoy as well.
Plan the Food Too
Presumably, you want your guests to keep their faculties about them throughout the party. This requires something solid to prevent the party from taking a sordid turn. (If the whole point is a sordid turn, the rest of the tips here frankly don’t matter anyway).
Further, wines match up with some foods better than others. If the bottle provides suggested pairings, heed those suggestions.
If not, consult your local specialty shop or Foodal’s Wine Section. Generally these will be generic to the varietal, such as suggesting barbecue for zinfandel. The suggestions will thus be relatively safe, if not specific to your type.
If you have a strong sense of the nuances of a particular example, on the other hand, you may try your hand at matching on instinct.
What food will bring out the peppery finish of a spicy malbec, or the more subtle fruit nuances of your particular pinot noir? Is there a specific merlot that you’d like to show off and gather the opinions of others?
If you experiment and learn, you can show off rather nicely for the rest of your party.
Think about Order
This is a particularly tricky aspect of a wine party. You do not want to start out with the most powerful sample, as the rest may come off as too weak in comparison.
On the other hand, you don’t want to finish with the most intricate; unless you have organized a remarkable group, the palates will diminish in sensitivity as the evening goes. (If you do try to finish with a bang and miss the mark for this reason, you can of course take comfort in knowing that even Jesus missed on this one).
The best way to think about it is to plan transitions. What will the next course bring out that contrasts well with the one before it? How can you avoid a rut – or worse yet, a letdown – in moving from one variety to the next?
Move from fruit forward to fruit finishing, from delicate to bold, or with any other transition that will allow each wine its fullest appreciation.
Also consider if you want to showcase the strengths and weaknesses of various styles of wine glasses.
Do you want to demonstrate how a shorter stemmed wider glass is better to partake in a red that is served closer to room temperature vs. a white that is served chilled and thus requires a longer stem to keep body heat away from the liquid?
Choose wines you enjoy, and people whose company you enjoy. Hosting can seem overwhelming if you make it too much like work. You want your guests to have fun, but your mood will find its way into the rest of the party. Enjoy it, learn for it, and learn from it.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!
15 thoughts on “Tips for Planning a Wine Party”
Oh my! I have never, not even once, thought of having a wine party. Seems I’ve found something I just might not mind doing (don’t like entertaining). The thing I’m thinking about though is if those people will be able to drive home or if they’ll have to crash at my place- which sad to say- is not something I want to happen.
Planning dinner parties is a lot of fun and I enjoy hosting them so I don’t know why I’ve never had a wine party. A little wine get together would be a lovely way to spend an afternoon with friends. Do you think tapas style food would be best? Or should I stick to snacks like meats, cheeses, fruits, breads, and the like? How many wines would you recommend sharing? 4 or 5?
I’ve never thought to have a wine party – it’s a really great idea. Most of my friends have only been able to drink (legally) for the past few years. This might be a way for everyone to discover some wines that they might really like.
This sounds like fun. Unfortunately, I’ve developed an allergic reaction to wine. Nowadays I make sure there’s sparkling “wine” for myself and real wine for my guests. Even though it’s just grape juice, I don’t feel as left out. It’s better than gulping down water while everyone else is having a toast for sure.
“(If you do try to finish with a bang and miss the mark for this reason, you can of course take comfort in knowing that even Jesus missed on this one.)”
Hahaha this got a good laugh out of me! Very good advice about the number of people — if it gets crowded, it is pretty hard to keep track of everyone and to ensure that they are having a good time and not being left out. I like to have many friends around me, but I’ve found that some of my best evenings were spent with just a few people, groups no larger than three or four, and really discussing a wide array of subjects in depth.
This was really the perfect article for me to stumble upon since it had never occurred to me to throw a wine party, but now I can’t stop thinking about how much fun it would be! I think the tip about needing to think about the order is especially useful, since this is something I’m not always very good at… even when I get flights in restaurants I usually end up being ‘bad’ and going out of order.
I also think the tip to keep it relatively small is sensible, though I might have more than just 4 people- O tend to think it’s more fun when more people can sit around the table and talk at gatherings like this. Thanks for the suggestions!
Some great tips. It can be a lot of work planning parties and these are definitely important things to keep in mind. It can be hard to keep it small although it is much more manageable!
I don’t really like to entertain but having a small wine party is something I can do with no problem. A group of people to talk with about something interesting like maybe a book or movie, share some wine and a little bit of food sounds like fun. I will start to work on my group soon.
What’s the difference between a wine party and a regular party? I assume that a wine party might be slightly more civilized than the keg parties I attended as a student, but a little less formal than a sit-down dinner party. In any case, any parties I hold at home always include wine and lots of it!
This is such a wonderful idea! I never thought to just have a wine party with friends. When having meetings at home I always have wine and snacks but this is a great tool to use when planning a cozy get together with friends!
While the idea of a refined, sophisticated wine party sounds super, I fear that any such gathering of my friends and I would start well, and end badly; we would just drink everything in sight and forget about any kind of ‘cultured’ aspects of the evening!
Well to be quite honest, I think that wine parties are things that are best left to other people to throw. I will attend them, and eat and drink and be merry, but when it comes to preparing and thinking of themes, I would not really be of much assistance. I am not big on themes, in general, and I am not sure I would come up with anything good. I love the tips though, and thanks for sharing.
These are some good tips, especially for those who have wine lover friends! That would be such a cool experience to live along with the people you love the most after your family. Thank you for sharing this!
Great suggestions. This sounds like an easy party to plan due to the small number of guests. As far as food pairings are concerned, I would think the cheeses would be almost as important as the wines!
It’s great that you elaborated on the importance of not having high-tannin wines if I were to serve them to novices. None of my family members are heavy drinkers and I only want to add wine to our dinner for a more classic touch. It might be better to just have two bottles delivered to my apartment before they come over so I can taste it beforehand.