5 Tips for Planning a Wine Party

Let’s plan a home wine party together!

If you enjoy the communal, intimate drink custom of sharing a bottle of wine, and want to combine a social event with experiential learning, plan a night that celebrates both the beverage and your company.

Gathering your family and friends for a wine event can be fun for both the hosts and the guests, as long as the right strategy is employed to stay organized while embodying a relaxed and casual environment.

Horizontal image of happy friends toasting outside.

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If you’re envisioning a more memorable experience, far more planning is necessary than just throwing a bowlful of nuts and a few bottles on the table next to a few bottle openers and let everyone have at ‘em.

Create a fantastically entertaining night, one in which your imbibing guests can take away some valuable information – and not just a hangover.

Our five simple tips will guide you along the way.

1. Picking the Attendees

In general, an ideal wine party should be small and intimate for you to maintain better control of a planned event that is following a certain itinerary.

Horizontal image of happy friends celebrating with drinks outside with food.

A gathering with four to six guests can be perfect, as it allows everyone to talk, to discuss the varieties selected, and to relax throughout without feeling overwhelmed or crowded.

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 and more distracted with a larger amount of people.

Some thrive in a bigger crowd, but others will invariably be pushed to the margins of the group.

If you do decide to go larger, intentionally segment your participants into smaller groups to keep discussions restricted and regulated rather than disheveled and scattered amongst the entire group.

Divide your company into smaller groups, and assign the members of each group according to comfortability levels.

If you want to avoid awkwardness, choose to keep certain friend or coworker groups together. But if you love disrupting typical social constructs, and believe your guests will be comfortable with this, then mix up the normal circle of friends to encourage everyone to meet and interact with new people.

Second, from a practical perspective, you want everyone to be able to sample every beverage without blowing your budget.

So, with the general knowledge that 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 make it worth the whole reason why everyone is gathered together.

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 amount of people in your group within your budget.

And here’s another major consideration to review well before your guests arrive: ensure everyone’s travel safety when the night is over!

Assign a designated driver, or figure out a plan for everyone to strategize a sober ride home via a car service.

It’s also a smart idea to set up a guest bedroom or other area of the house for a potential overnight guest or two who may have imbibed more than originally expected.

Anticipate any possible outcome, and plan ahead – make sure that guest bathroom is clean with fresh towels!

2. Establishing a Theme

If you are going to have a party, setting a clear theme allows you to narrow down the focus in a way that will not overwhelm you with an endless selection of booze.

Horizontal image of a man buying drinks at a store.

This will be a relief for both you as the host as well as your guests – don’t try to make your fun gathering more complicated than what it should be!

Just remember to keep the preferences of your invited guests in mind here, as a serious consideration of what you choose.

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, heavily astringent options that might overwhelm more delicate, less experienced palates.

You want to share examples that you enjoy and those you want your guests to enjoy as well.

For other possible themes, focus on varieties from a particular region, or a particular grape. You could also do a comparison between certain regions, price points, or blends.

You can also focus on rose, orange, natural, or sparkling products for a deep dive in more specialized styles.

Or why not try a few varieties of canned or boxed wines for a fun exploration of suppliers that use alternative packaging?

And if you want to host a sober gathering, you can also focus on non-alcoholic or dealcoholized varieties.

You should also establish purchasing decisions. If this is going to be a recurring event you want to take ownership of entirely, you might make the choice to purchase all of the beverages yourself.

However, you can also decide to divide the purchasing amongst you and your guests – once the theme is established and clearly communicated to your company, allow each guest to buy a single bottle to bring to the party.

To avoid a repeat purchase, create an excel spreadsheet, email, or text message chain prior to the party that details who will be buying what bottle.

Recording tasting notes for each themed event is also crucial to maintain information – encourage guests to bring a notebook and pencil, or remind them to record notes in their phones.

You can also enlist a secretary for each theme, and rotate that role among the members of your group.

3. Thinking about Order

This is a particularly tricky aspect of a wine party!

Horizontal image of a group of friends toasting.

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.

The best way to strategize the serving order is to plan easy and obvious transitions.

What will the next wine selection bring out that contrasts well with the one before it? How can you avoid a rut – or worse yet, a total letdown – in moving from one variety to the next?

Here are four of the most basic strategies of progression:

  • Move from white to rose to red
  • Move from delicate to bold
  • Move from smooth to effervescent
  • Move from savory to sweet

There are, of course, other transitions to keep in mind that will allow each wine its fullest appreciation from the drinker, anything from the season of production to the length of aging in oak barrels.

Another easy way to consider the order is by thinking geographically.

For example, if you have chosen a lineup of domestic American producers, consider a progression from the west coast to the east coast. If you have chosen something even more focused, like Californian selections, consider a progression north to south.

If you do try to finish with a bang and slightly miss the mark for whatever reason, you can of course take comfort in knowing that your friends and family members still have enjoyed a fun evening spent laughing, drinking, and eating together!

4. Choosing the Best Glassware

How important is the drinking vessel to your enjoyment of what you are consuming? This is a good question to ask before guests start arriving at your front door!

Vertical close-up image of chilled drinkware toasting.

Varieties of glassware could be equally as important as the wine varietals – but only if you want them to be!

If you are interested in showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of various styles and models of wine glasses, you’ll need to ensure you have the right glassware for serving your particular lineup of wines.

Do you want to demonstrate how a shorter stemmed or stemless wider glass is better to partake in a red that is served closer to room temperature, versus a white that is served chilled and thus requires a longer stem to keep body heat away from the liquid?

In our separate glassware guide, we’ll show you how to enhance your favorite wines with the right kind of glassware.

But there’s a serious, unstoppable doom that you need to accept beforehand:

Your glasses will break. They will shatter. And you will have to throw them away.

This won’t be a surprise – you’re throwing a boozy party! The more you and your guests drink, the more risk there will be of physical slipups involving spilled beverages and wrecked glassware.

If you’d rather not deal with any extraneous expenses of buying – and buying again for replacements – higher quality glassware, simply choose some basic, budget-friendly options you can use specifically for larger, more casual parties.

Image of the Schott Zwiesel Banquet All-Purpose Glass filled with alcohol.

Schott Zwiesel Banquet All-Purpose Wine Glasses, set of 6

A set of all-purpose wine glasses will do just fine for parties – you can serve any kind of wine in them, and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg to replace if they break.

The Schott Zwiesel Banquet All-Purpose Wine Glasses come in a set of six, which you can purchase online from Sur La Table.

Now you can relax, knowing that you are saving your nicer stemware for more special occasions!

And make sure your guests don’t lose track of what glass is theirs – that’s easy to do when all of the glassware is exactly the same!

Zoom Silicone Drink Markers, set of 12

Purchase a set of multi-colored glassware charms, and assign a different color or design for each guest.

These Silicone Drink Markers from Zoom are available to purchase in a set of 12 different colors, and they fit securely either around the stem or on the rim.

Find the set now on Amazon before your next party!

5. Determining What Food to Serve

Presumably, you want your guests to keep their faculties about them throughout the party – and an empty stomach and a dry mouth are not going to help!

Horizontal image of a dinner event scene with a spread of appetizers and drinks on a covered table.

Other than providing a constant source and steady flow of cold, refreshing water in between glasses of wine, this also requires something solid to prevent the party from taking a sordid turn.

A small assortment of simple finger food appetizers and bites to rotate throughout the evening will perfectly suffice. And a big platter of cheese and charcuterie along with crackers and sourdough bread slices is another crowd-pleasing option to consider.

For a more meticulously built menu plan, there are indeed thoughtful pairings with food and wine, and some foods match certain varietals better than others.

If the marketing on the bottle provides suggested pairings, heed those options when you’re doing your initial info gathering. The suggestions will be generalized and safe to choose.

If there is no guidance on the bottle, consult your local specialty shop to gather in-person perspectives from knowledgeable sales reps.

Basic pairings often match or contrast the strength of the varietal. For a pairing that echoes the strength of the wine, offer a beefy main course like Dutch oven short ribs with more robust, tannic reds like cabernet sauvignon.

For a contrasting pairing example, serve a light and effervescent sparkling style with creamier and richer food items, such as brie, shellfish, creamy potato soup, or pasta dishes with thick sauces like alfredo.

For further knowledge, and to have your own go-to stash of reference materials to access at any time, peruse the bookshelves!

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine

“Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine” is a foundational beginner’s book on wine, and offers simple and straightforward information, pairing ideas included. Buy the book now from Amazon.

If you have a strong sense of the nuances of a particular example, on the other hand, you may try your hand at matching based on your personal instinct and experience.

In your opinion, what food will bring out the peppery finish of a spicy malbec, or the more tropical fruit nuances of a sauvignon blanc?

If you ask questions and do some research beforehand, you can show off rather nicely and confidently for the rest of your party.

If all of this seems too complicated, do yourself a huge favor by serving a more food-friendly varietal like merlot, so you don’t need to even worry about the anxieties and intricacies of pairings.

Keep It Simple, Silly

The most crucial advice of all when hosting a wine party is to not overcomplicate the planning.

It’s simple… choose drinks and foods you enjoy, and people whose company you enjoy!

Hosting can be so anxiety-ridden if you make it too much like work. Though there is planning involved to work out all the details, as we have reviewed in our five tips, the party isn’t just for your guests… it’s for you to enjoy, too!

You want your guests to have fun, but your own mood will definitely find its way into the vibe of the party – and that will be utterly noticeable if you seem stressed, worried, and panicked.

Horizontal image of a dinner scene outside, with a woman pouring a drink for a man.

Don’t forget to take a few breaths during the planning process, relax, and be confident that you will host an entertaining event with a thoughtful theme, great drinks, delicious food, and even better company.

So pour yourself a glass and settle in for the evening… enjoy it, learn for it, and learn from it!

Do you have any advice to share when hosting a wine event? Leave a comment below.

The party isn’t over yet! Keep the conversation going and the drinks pouring by looking over more of our wine-related articles now:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Product photos via Amazon and Sur La Table. Originally published on August 18, 2014. Last updated on January 19, 2024.

About Nikki Cervone

Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

15 thoughts on “5 Tips for Planning a Wine Party”

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. “(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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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.


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