December is perhaps the most social of months. It is filled with formal and casual gatherings with family from near and far. A fun, entertaining and easy way to entertain those special family members and friends — from neighbors to book club members — is a fun and festive wine tasting party. It makes for an intimate time with friends and family, yet creates a relaxed atmosphere where friends from different circles can meet and mingle. And of course, the best part involves savoring the wine and learning in the process. These are just a few tips and ideas to lighten the stress of planning.
Keep it small
The ideal number is usually six to eight guests. This size group is easily accommodated around a dining room table and is compatible with the number of pours for tasting samples from a bottle of wine.
Keep it casual
No need for fancy printed invitations. A quick email, text or Evite is sufficient to let your guests know the theme and start time. The starting time is crucial, though — this is one party difficult to start over for those stragglers.
Pick a theme
If you are supplying the wines or asking guests to join in, stay with a common theme in order to make comparisons. It doesn’t have to be a formal designation of a grape variety, region or price. Change it up for the holidays and consider “anything that bubbles,” “wintery reds,” “anything sweet” or even “bring the most expensive bottle you can afford” or “the best bargain of the year” themes. To keep it festive and not feeling like a classroom, I recommend no more than four to five wines for the evening. If you want to get a little more complex than a simple tasting, put a twist on the evening with a theme of pairing cheese and wine. Host a friendly competition among guests to find the pairing. Or conduct a blind wine tasting for guests to guess the varietal, the most expensive bottle or even the region.
What you’ll need
For the simplest setup, provide each guest with an all-purpose wineglass, a water glass and a paper cup for those looking to spit. A festive touch would be having a personalized wineglass, glass charm or other wine themed accessory for your guests to take home as a holiday gift. If you want to add food for the tasting, a sliced baguette or neutral cracker helps cleanse the palate between wines.
The lineup for tasting should start with the driest wines and move toward the sweetest for whites; light-bodied to full-bodied styles for reds. An example would be pinot noir, merlot and then zinfandel. If you are using candles, be sure to buy unscented ones, because the fragrance can interfere with taste and smell.
The most important tip is to keep the evening relaxing and fun for your guests. It’s just another way to enjoy wine while also having a bit of fun with it.