7 Wine-Tasting Menu and Party Ideas From the Pros for a Fabulous Event

Elevate your next wine tasting with these pro-approved tips and tricks.

A wine and cheese party where each guest brings a random bottle of wine and some finger food to share is good. But a thoughtful, easy-to-plan wine-tasting party with a bit of education snuck in, and a focus on good taste makes for a more memorable event that's still simple to host. Try these expert-recommended wine-tasting menus and party ideas for your next cocktail party or gathering, and you'll all feel smarter and in better spirits. Plus, you may just find a new favorite bottle of wine, a varietel you love, or appetizer recipes you'll be making on repeat.

7 Wine Tasting Party Ideas

three glasses of wine and wine bottles on a table outdoors
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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 ten 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.

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 menu 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 different 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 favorite bottles at a reasonable price, like $20. Chances are, they'll have some tasty recommendations 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.

Wine-Tasting Menu Ideas

In terms of wine-tasting menus, 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 taste elements. 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 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 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 a 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. 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 wrong to have extra (and you'll likely enjoy additional 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°F to 50°F range). And if you store red wine at room temperature, pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes before tasting time.
  • 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). In addition, 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'll need these to dig into that delicious wine-tasting menu of delicious food.
  • A discard bucket. If someone doesn't enjoy or prefers not to finish a wine, ask them to dump it in a designated vessel that you can clean 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 menu, and equipment set, there are just a few other details 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 are 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.

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 ahead.

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