During the holiday season, parties and get-togethers are common, and how to put on a wine-tasting party is a question that is posed to us with regularity.
The simple answer is: Invite some friends over, then open several bottles. While this works, a little planning will make your wine party successful.
Here are a few tips you can use during the holiday season or anytime of the year.
-- Use a theme: If you and your friends are wine aficionados or strive to be, putting on theme-based wine parties is a superb way to learn about different wines in a hurry. Here's how it works: Set a theme such as "Walla Walla Valley Syrah" or "North Willamette Pinot Noir."
Next, find up to a dozen friends who want to join you. Why a dozen? Because you can get a dozen two-ounce pours out of a bottle of wine, which is a pretty good taste. Then assign each friend to bring a bottle of wine. They can decide what to bring or you can give them a list from which to choose. When everyone arrives, open the bottles and enjoy. There are any number of themes, everything from specific areas of Napa Valley to wines of Israel.
-- Make it blind: We love tasting wines blind because when you do not know who made a wine, that is a great equalizer. You won't be influenced by price, pedigree or how good looking the winemaker is. The idea of doing a blind tasting will challenge you and your friends to look at each wine in a different light.
We recently put on a Pinot Noir challenge, pitting the wines of Oregon vs. California. We had people there who were quite sure Oregon makes better Pinot Noir, as well as fans of California wines. We've also put on a blind tasting that included Syrahs from Washington, California, France and Australia. The goal was less about how to choose the best wine but rather to understand the differences between the four regions.
-- Go dark: Riedel, the world-famous wine glass producer, makes black glasses, and they are beautiful. The purpose is to tell the difference between white and red wines, which doesn't sound hard until you try it. Use a red that isn't too tannic (Cab Franc, for example) and a white that isn't too aromatic (Semillon, Viognier or Chardonnay). Put them side by side and let someone taste. Most people will guess wrong as often as they get it right. One of our most memorable wine tastings was with black glasses.
-- Theme the food, too: We conducted a dinner party with friends that was built around Petite Sirah, the bold wine found primarily in California but also is an up-and-comer in Washington and Oregon. Each couple was assigned to make a dish that would pair well with Petite Sirah. It was a memorable event with delicious food, wonderful wines and great friends.
-- End the night on a high note: Have a treat for your guests at the end. This could be a special older wine or a rare bottle or even an ice wine. It will help create a great memory of the evening.
-- Have the right gear: Regardless of the theme of your wine party, make sure you are properly equipped. You'll want to make sure you have at least two glasses for each guest. You know those little charms that are sold at winery tasting rooms? They actually come in handy at an event like this to make sure everyone keeps their stems straight. If you're serving white wines, have some ice buckets to keep them at the proper temperature. And include a few dump buckets so nobody feels compelled to drink everything in their glass. Don't forget to have plenty of water and coffee all evening long.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.