A Super-Casual Wine-Tasting Party

Have friends bring over a bottle of wine they love -- you'll learn new labels and might even find a new favorite table wine.

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I love wine, but I don't know a lot about it. Sure, I can tell good from terrible, but that doesn't make me a connoisseur. Since I learn best through the immersion method, throwing a wine-tasting party twice a year is the best way to get friendly with more labels and add to my short list of reliable table wines.

I'm not talking about an exclusive gathering of sensitive palates, swirling and sniffing ad nauseam. How it works is simple: every couple brings two bottles of wine. One is a wine they already love, something easygoing and affordable but worth introducing to others. The second bottle is a wild card, a wine new to that person. This is the fun part, branching out into the unknown. I rely on the wine buyer at my local market for suggestions. Sometimes it's an overlooked wine region, other times it's an unusual version of a well-known varietal -- like a drier, crisp gewurtztraminer from Anderson Valley, California.

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Creating a Menu to Pair with Unknown Wines

Though a wine-tasting gathering technically falls in the "cocktail party" category, letting the host off the hook for dinner, I always put out enough appetizers to fill up my guests. Instead of going on to dinner, the trend is for friends to linger, talk and sip wine, and a table brimming with lovely appetizers encourages guests to settle in.

  • Make a few formal appetizers, and round out the rest of the table with olives, nuts, and cured meats.
  • A wide ranges of cheeses, fruit, and perhaps a smoked trout spread will ensure friendly foods for the white wines.
  • Heartier dishes, like cocktail meatballs or grilled vegetables, will complement the reds.
  • Use edible fall fruit such as pears and champagne grapes to garnish the table.
  • Ask a friend to bring an extra bottle opener.
  • Have small cards and pens at the ready for jotting down favorites.
  • Have friends write reviews of their favorite wines before they arrive and place them near the bottle.
  • Leave cards by each wine for guests to make comments.

Since this is my first party of the fall, I'll make a centerpiece for the table, perhaps even a wreath for the door, and I will have candles burning throughout the room.


This sweet-tart caponata (pronounced kap-oh-NAH-tah) is a Sicilian dish, featuring sauteed eggplant, sweet pepper, onion, and celery spiked with vinegar and tomatoes.

View Caponata recipe

Caramelized Onion and Fig Bruschetta

Get everything ready to pop into the oven just before guests arrive. Then bake the bruschetta while the first glasses of wine are being poured.

View Caramelized Onion and Fig Bruschetta recipe

Herbed Feta Cheesecake

This savory cheesecake says "party" with a Greek accent. Make the cheesecake up to 24 hours ahead, then cut it into thin wedges and let guests serve themselves.

View Herbed Feta Cheesecake recipe

Meatballs in Tomato-Wine Sauce

For the perfect accompaniment for these appetizer meatballs, sprinkle finely shredded or grated Parmesan cheese on slices of French bread. Bake in a 425-degree oven about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden.

View Meatballs in Tomato-Wine Sauce recipe

Up to a month week ahead...

  • Cook the meatballs and sauce and freeze them in separate containers. Thaw 24 hours ahead of the party and gently reheat the meatballs in the sauce.

Two days ahead...

  • Make the caponata.
  • Cook the onion mixture for the fig bruschetta.

One day ahead...

  • Make the Herbed Feta Cheesecake.
  • Create your centerpiece.

One hour before guests arrive...

  • Set out the caponata to bring it to room temperature.

15 to 30 minutes before guest arrive...

  • Put out the fruit, cheeses, and other appetizers.
  • Set out wine glasses, napkins, and wine openers.
  • Reheat the meatballs.

15 minutes before guests arrive...

  • Take the white wines out of the refrigerator to take the chill off.
  • Uncork the reds to let them breathe.

Dilled Onion Cheese Ball and variations

No fall holiday party is complete without a plate of crackers and a cheese ball.

View Dilled Onion Cheese Ball and variations recipe

Parmesan-Artichoke Crostini Spread

Prepared artichokes take the work out of this yummy, lemony dip.

View Parmesan-Artichoke Crostini Spread recipe

Greek Lamb and Cheese Strudel

Treat your guests to this savory, ultra-flaky pastry.

View Greek Lamb and Cheese Strudel recipe

Italian Chicken Spirals

These low-carb spirals will be the hit of your party.

View Italian Chicken Spirals recipe

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