So you want to host a wine tasting? Make it fun! Wine tasting doesn't have to be a stuffy affair. After all, wine is first and foremost about pleasure. So even if you are trying to organize an education tasting, you should keep it enjoyable. One of the best ways to keep your guests interested and focused on the wine while having a great time is to plan a fun wine tasting theme. A cohesive theme helps keep the tasting focused and helps to get guests involved, drawing them out to comment on and discuss the wines. After all, the discussion is what is really the most fun and educational, not just tasting the wines. Otherwise you could just have wine tastings all alone at home!
Some of the themes listed below are not mutually exclusive. Mix it up, make it interesting in any way that seems entertaining to you and your guests. You can even throw in some wine tasting party games to really turn up the excitement.
Blind Wine Tastings:
A blind wine tasting is a fun way to get everyone involved and keep your guests guessing. In a blind tasting, the tasters are blinded to the wines. Generally, the bottles are covered with a brown bag to hide their identity and then numbered with a marker. That way your guests are not biased based on the label, producer, price or anything else. You can share your unbiased thoughts and impressions about the wines. You can have random wines or they can all have some theme, such as a vertical or horizontal tasting (see below). It can even be fun to incorporate a game such as scoring each wine to see which wine gets the most votes. Or you can award prizes for the person who guesses the the most wines correctly (vintage, producer, region, grape varieties, etc.). At the end you reveal the wine and can discuss further once you know what the wines were. It is a good idea to reveal the wines while everyone still has a bit of each wine left to taste so they can go back and reassess their impressions after finding out what they were drinking.
Vertical Wine Tasting:
A vertical tasting is an assortment of the same wine, from the same producer and vineyard, across several vintages. It is a great way to begin to understand both the style and specific characteristics of a producer or vineyard as well as the subtle differences that result from the different growing conditions of different vintages. While this can be difficult to arrange for someone new to wine, who only has access to the newest wines that are on the current market, if you have friends who collect wine and can help source the bottles this type of tasting can be very educational.
Horizontal Wine Tasting:
A horizontal wine tasting theme is much easier to put together. It is a tasting of various wines from the same vintage. Ideally, wines from the same region and general style are tasted from one vintage to compare the different producers and vineyards. This helps to learn about the characteristics of the vintage as well as the differences between the various producers or vineyards the wines come from. This type of tasting is much easier to put together than a vertical tasting because the wines all come from the same vintage. If you stick to a current vintage then you will have many options you can find in the marketplace. While it is generally best to stick to one region or style of wine, if you really want to challenge your guests you can include several wines from the same vintage but from different regions, grapes or countries to help learn about the, sometimes dramatic, differences between them.
Wine Region Theme:
A great way to learn a lot about a particular wine region is to host a tasting where the theme is just one wine producing area. Choose several wines produced in that region, from different producers, vineyards and sub-regions within the area. As you and your guests taste through them, pay attention to the similarities as well as the differences. Can you identify any characteristics that unify the wines? What sets them apart? Ask these questions to your guests. If you draw people out to talk, discuss and argue, your tasting will be more fun and educational.
Wine Scoring Party:
Another fun way to get your guests all personally involved is to ask everyone to score each wine. While most tasters find it easy to say if they like or don't like a wine, it requires much more attention to the details of the wine to give it a specific score. There are different ways to do this. One of the best is to supply your guests with a wine tasting score sheet which serves as a template to score wines. You can have sections with room for notes on the wine name, color and appearance, aroma, flavor and mouthfeel and overall impressions and conclusions. For the standard 100 point score they can give up to 5, 15, 20, and 10 points each for the color/appearance, aromas, flavors and overall impression/finish, respectively. The scores for each are added and added to 50 to create the final score between 50 and 100. You can then compare scores across guests and figure out how the wines ranked.
Wine and Food Pairing Dinner Party Theme:
Traditionally, wine is not meant to be enjoyed alone. Throughout history wine has accompanied food and many people believe that alongside food is where you should enjoy and judge wine. While tastings of wine alone is a lot of fun, a full dinner can really make the food and wine shine, bringing out nuances of each that were missing before. If you or your friends love to cook, pairing wine with each dish or course is a great way to both learn about the wines but also to learn about what types of wines work with specific foods. You can serve several wines alone with a given course and vote on which paired the best with the food. A fun way to do this is to choose a country or region and pair that area's cuisine with the wines produced there. For example, you can pair traditional Spanish cuisine with Spanish wines. The cuisine and wine of these old cultures grew up alongside each other over centuries and therefore they often create some of the most profound food and wine pairings. There are so many other options, from the general (like French wine with French food) to the specific (like Provençal cuisine with Bandol wine or Southwestern French cuisine with Bordeaux). If you are really enthusiastic you can even decorate the room and table in the style of that region to get everyone in the mood. Get creative and make it fun!