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.
Putting the Party Together
Opening wine bottles

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.

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.

Continued on page 2:  The Appetizers