Whether you wish to have an afternoon of wine tasting with your girlfriends, or an evening of wining it up with your favourite couples, Sonal Holland takes you through 10 steps to throwing a successful wine (tasting) party
If you are looking to differentiate yourself and have some quick wins within your friend circle, there is no better idea than throwing a wine party in the comfort of your home. It is a classy yet unique way to have fun with wine as well as learn something new. You could call it ‘wine edutainment’.
Here, 10 easy steps to throwing a successful wine (tasting) party to ensure that you win everyone’s vote as the gracious host.
CREATING A THEME
If learning is your main focus, you are going to need someone knowledgeable to help lead the discussion on wine. You may choose a variety of wine topics to speak about, like – how to drink wine like a professional/popular wine myths busted/food and wine pairing. Choosing a theme will help you curate and manoeuvre your evening in the right direction, giving it a meaningful twist. If you do not wish to engage a wine commentator, go ahead and create your own fun wine evening.
CHOOSING THE WINES
The simple rule here is ‘the more the merrier’. Show confidence – serve a variety of styles to please your guests. Aromatic Sauvignon Blanc, smoky Chardonnay, light and fruity Pinot Noir, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon – wine appreciation is done best over sampling a large variety of styles from around the world. Look for unusual grape varieties from relatively lesser known regions; they can add an interesting element of discussion. Sit-down dinners demand that the wines be served in a specific sequence – aperitif wines (which could be a sparkling or a white wine) followed by a white and a red or two reds served with the main course, and ultimately a sweet wine served with dessert or cheese.
HOW MUCH WINE TO ORDER
It is prudent to order as many as two bottles for every three guests to ensure you don’t run short. So if you are hosting a party for say 12 people, you will require a total of eight bottles of wine (all labels/brands put together). I would also advise that you sample some of the wines prior to ordering them. Don’t serve anything you wouldn’t drink. And most of all don’t be cheap.
INVITE ENTHUSIASTIC FRIENDS
The ideal group size for a wine tasting party is 10-12 people. It is advisable to invite guests with similar levels of knowledge about wines, so everyone can benefit equally from the experience and the wine commentator is able to peg the discussion at the right level. Most importantly, be sure to call friends who are enthusiastic about wine. No point forcing wine upon those who have no interest in it.
Serving wine at home need not be difficult anymore. Have your wine equipment ready – a foil cutter, corkscrew or wine opener, decanter or aerator and wine glasses. Decanting is not just for older wines; younger wines too need some aeration to express aromas and flavours better. Instant aerators readily available in the market can come handy for both whites and reds. If need be, hire professional service staff. Don’t be seen opening and pouring wine bottles all evening. Act like a guest and have fun at your own party.
Clear stemware with a broad base and a narrow rim works best. This way the guests are able to appreciate the colour of the wine and holding by the stem will allow the wine to remain at the right drinking temperature. Sit down dinners demand different glasses for each course and each wine. For casual stand-up wine tasting evenings, the universal Bordeaux glass can be used for both white and red. The glass should be filled no more than the level of the broadest circumference of the glass – never too full as this will not allow the wine to swirl and breathe in the glass. Sparkling wines must be served in tall tulips/flutes rather than Champagne saucers to protect the bubbles from dissipating and allow appreciation of the fine fruity aromas. Sweet wines are best served in small glasses with no more than 60 ml pouring size.
RIGHT SERVICE, TEMPERATURE AND SEQUENCE
People often blunder with serving a white wine too cold and a red wine too warm. White wines must be served cold, not chilled, at 10-12 o C and red wines to be served cool not cold at 15-18 o C. Indian room temperatures are simply too warm for red wine appreciation. So don’t shy from speed-chilling a red wine for 15 minutes in an ice-bucket prior to service. Sweet and sparkling wines are served chilled at 6-8 oC. The right sequence for wine service is light before heavy, white before red, dry before sweet, simple before complex, good before better and better before your best wines.
FOODS TO SERVE
Strictly speaking, you should not be serving any food other than plain crackers or bread and water during a wine tasting. Eating food during wine tasting tends to alter your perception and assessment of the wine. However, serving foods that are either salty or sour tends to enhance the perception of fruitiness and richness of the wines, which is why at most wine tasting parties you will commonly see cold snacks such as olives, salmon, salty hard cheese or salt encrusted bread being served. In any case avoid serving very fatty, creamy foods as they will tend to clash with tannins in the red wines. Spicy foods tend to taste spicier and hotter when paired with wines and hence their pairing can be a relative choice.
PICK A GOOD TIME
The best time of the day is early evening say 5 p.m. That way you can end the wine tasting party at around 7.30 p.m., unless you are planning to serve dinner.
SET THE TABLE
You may wish to use your dining table for the wines to be laid out. A well-laid-out wine tasting table is a beautiful sight. The wine glasses and the wine bottles once put out on the table add grandeur and excitement among the guests. Make sure not to put any flowers or scented candles as this will interfere with the nosing of the wine. Serve the breads, crackers, water and all other wine tasting snacks upfront so there is no interference of service during wine tasting.
Once all your guests have arrived and are seated/positioned around the tasting table, introduce the theme of the evening and let the evening roll from thereon. And don’t forget to thank the guests for their enthusiasm and give them credit for your inspiration to throwing a wine party. That would be a win(e)-win(e) situation.
A prolific wine commentator with an astute palate, Sonal Holland is India’s highest qualified wine professional. She is currently the Divisional Head - Wine & Beverages for ITC Hotels, India where she is responsible for creating a world-class wine programme for the group.
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