Because you deserve the best, we’re pouring out tips for the ultimate wine-tasting menu for parties. Elevate the experience with these sommelier and other wine pro tips and tricks. We’re not talking about your basic wine and cheese party (although we have tips about how to step that up too!)

By Karla Walsh
Updated July 02, 2020
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A wine and cheese party where everyone just brings a random bottle and finger food to share is good. But a thoughtful, easy-to-plan wine tasting party with a sneaky bit of education and focus on good taste makes for a more memorable event. Try these expert-recommended wine tasting party ideas for your next virtual happy hour or in-person gathering, and you’ll all feel smarter and in better spirits as a result. Plus, you may just find a new favorite bottle of wine, varietal you love, and appetizer recipes you'll be making on repeat.

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7 Wine Tasting Party Ideas

Rather than leaving it up to chance, have guests Venmo/Cash App/Apple Pay for the vino, so you can be deliberate about the selections (and ensure you don’t end up with 10 bottles of the same rosé wine ... although there could be worse things). Or designate specific wines for guests to bring.

Then pick one of the wine tasting menu themes below to guide your selections. For a virtual tasting, portion out tasting pours into mason jars, ($9, Target) and deliver them to each attendee’s doorstep for a contactless “cheers.” All that’s left to do after that is hop on a video chat for a safe, no-designated-driver-required wine tasting party.

1. Blind Tasting

This format is a fave of Maurice DiMarino, the wine and beverage manager of Cohn Restaurant Group in San Diego, because it forces you to overcome any potential biases from previous raves or criticisms. One way to add a competitive and interactive element is to place a variety of bottles in paper bags (hence the “blind” description), allow everyone to taste, and ask each guest to guess the grapes. The person who answers the most correctly wins a bonus bottle to take home.

2. Tour the Globe

“Taste a well-known grape like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc that's grown all around the world,” suggests Gretchen Skedsvold, co-owner of Henry & Son, a wine store in Minneapolis. Purchase one bottle each from France, New Zealand or Australia, South Africa, Argentina or Chile, and California or Oregon, then explore the differences.

3. Go Regional

Or do the opposite and select a mix of grapes grown in the same country. For example, stock up on Carménère, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc all from Chile and note the vast difference between these grapes grown on very similar soil.

4. Let the Food Be Your Guide

Rather than worrying if the wine tasting food is the perfect pairing with the wine (spoiler alert: if you like a wine, it will pair beautifully with whatever you’re eating), let the food lead the conversation. “Select a food and ask everyone to pick a different wine to pair with the food,” Skedsvold says. Whip up a Chicken Curry, for instance, then sample it with a red, rosé, white, and sparkling variety before choosing your top pick.

5. Variety Pack

You can learn a lot by sipping on diverse wines back to back. You might not guess by appearance, but the flavor of Chardonnay compared to Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc is vast. With that in mind, select a bottle of those three whites and three distinct reds (DiMarino recommends Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot). Each sampler can then notice the subtle (and stark) variances in acidity, body, alcohol level, and tannin, which is that astringent quality that dries out your tongue.

6. An Eye for Value

Great wine need not cost a fortune. For a casual wine tasting party that won’t break the bank, but will get everyone talking, visit a wine shop and ask the staff for their personal favorite bottles under a reasonable price point, like $20. Chances are, they’ll have some tasty recommendations of their own they’ll be excited to share. Ask everyone to sample a sip of each, then either guess the price of the bottles or pick the most expensive.  

7. New vs. Old World

The same grape grown in different countries and aged in disparate ways can taste like a completely different drink. Taste and see by comparing one varietal, say, Malbec, grown in the old-world (Europe) and new-world (anywhere outside of Europe) styles. Old-world wines tend to be lighter in body, higher in acidity and minerality, and lower in alcohol and fruity flavors than their new-world counterparts. See if you and your tasting pals can spot the differences between one white and one red of the same grape.

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Wine Tasting Food Ideas

In terms of wine tasting foods to serve, DiMarino prefers to save the food until after the tasting activities for a clear palate experience. 

“When people pair food with the wine, it often changes the overall flavor of the wine, which is why I suggest saving hors d'oeuvres or dinner until afterward. Of course, save a few bottles to enjoy with food!” he says.

That said, if you want to host a finger-food wine tasting or are seeking some easy snacks with wine to help balance out the alcohol (never a bad idea), DiMarino recommends selecting foods that showcase different elements of taste. Try: 

“Having a variety of flavors on your wine tasting food spread can also show how certain foods do not work with certain wines, like tart lemony recipes with Merlot,” DiMarino says.

You can never go wrong with having extra bread and crackers around to snack on between samples to set a blank tasting slate.

For dinner recipes to enjoy after you finish the official tasting component of the evening, Svedsvold says, “I never get tired of the adage ‘what grows together goes together,’” which means you’re generally on the right track when you serve wine from one country alongside a recipe that’s traditionally made in that same place. For a casual wine tasting party, try Margherita Pizza with Italian Montepulciano. Or for something a bit more upscale, consider Boeuf Bourguignon with French red Bordeaux. 

What You’ll Need to Host a Casual Wine Tasting Party

If you’re hosting the wine tasting party in your home, stock up on this equipment and these items to ensure a seamless, stress-free experience. 

  • Enough space and seating. Especially during times of physical distancing, it’s wise to set chairs spaciously or host your wine tasting party outdoors on a deck or patio, or picnic-style. 
  • Wine. “Technically a ‘tasting pour’ is 2 ounces, and there are twelve 2-ounce pours per bottle,” Svedsvold explains. “I would avoid tasting many more than six wines or you'll get palate fatigue, and three wines are about the fewest I'd taste for the sake of variety.” Since it’s never bad to have extra (and you’ll likely be enjoying extra wine with dinner), estimate about a half to one full bottle per guest. Start with small pours for each guest, and they can always come back for another round if desired. 
  • Ice bucket, wine fridge, or refrigerator. You’ll be able to taste and experience the flavors best when the bottles are at their optimal wine serving temperature. Keep sparkling and white wine in the fridge until 15 to 30 minutes before you plan to taste (that way, they’ll have time to ever-so slightly increase closer to the 40 degrees to 50 degrees Fahrenheit range). And if you store red wine at room temp, pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes prior to tasting time.
    • Sparkling: 45 degrees Fahrenheit 
    • Whites: 45 degrees to 55 degrees Fahrenheit
    • Reds: 55 degrees to 65 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Glasses. If you don’t want to invest in sets yourself (such as this Riedel Tasting Glasses Set, $100, wine.com), “call a local party equipment company and rent some for the evening if you’re hosting a larger group,” DiMarino suggests. While different glasses help release aromas in different ways, a classic white wine glass is a great default if you’re only able or want to supply one glass per person (it can be rinsed with water between wines and reused). It’s best if the glass size and shape for tasting can be the same for every guest, Svedsvold adds, “so there's a kind of ‘control’ for the delivery vehicle, even though everyone tastes wine differently.” 
  • Corkscrew. While some bottles have twist-off (and more recently, even pop-top bottle caps), a majority still are topped off with corks. To make quick work of opening, we recommend this Houdini Corkscrew, ($30, Target).
  • Plates and utensils. You will certainly need these to dig into that delicious food at your wine tasting.
  • A discard bucket. If someone doesn’t enjoy or prefers not to finish a wine, ask them to simply dump it in a designated vessel that can be cleaned up after the party. 
  • Water. Use this to rinse out the glasses if necessary and to stay hydrated.
  • Pen and paper. For taking notes or answering questions for one of the quiz-style wine tasting party ideas mentioned above, set out enough writing utensils and paper for every guest.

Bonus Wine Tasting Party Tips

Now that you have your wine tasting party ideas, wine tasting food menu, and equipment lineup all set, there are just a few other details to attend to for the most tasteful event.

  • Right-size your gathering. A smaller group size encourages conversation and means you won’t have to supply several of the same bottles. Aim for a guest list of six to 10 adults.
  • Try this order of operations. It’s not a must, but if you’re able to select the order of the wines to taste, start with sparkling, then work your way from lighter to heavier (light whites, full-bodied whites, rosés, light reds, then bolder and heavier reds).
  • Remember the five S’s of wine tasting. To examine each wine, follow the sommelier tasting strategy of See (examine the color and viscosity), Swirl (to allow air to infuse into the wine), Sniff (take in the aroma), Sip (sample a small taste, allowing it to linger on your tongue for a moment), and Savor (think about what flavors you just noticed).
  • Attempt to eliminate (or at least decrease) the intimidation factor. Because party hosts must always expect the unexpected, “be ready to make last-minute changes to the game plan, have fun, make jokes, and encourage everyone to ask questions,” DiMarino says. And remind everyone that there’s no right or wrong answers with wine. If you like the flavor, it’s a good wine for you, even if it doesn’t earn rave reviews from critics. 
  • Go virtual. If your guests prefer to join safely from home, DiMarino and several other wine pros can actually help take on the hosting duties for you. “People enjoy the comfort of their own home while partaking in libations and seeing others virtually; it’s a great time,” he says. Seek out Facebook events or search “virtual wine tastings” online to find one that fits your price point and schedule, or host an event yourself online through Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Rooms, Google Chat, or your preferred virtual conference software. (In case you missed it, online game nights are a blast too!)

Now that you know how to host an unforgettable wine tasting party, start assembling your guest list and raise a glass to all the fun to come. (And if you want to give back while having a good time, consider these charity-supporting wines.)

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