7 Keys To The Perfect Wine Tasting Party

Peter and I hosted our first wine tasting party a number of years ago as a ruse to pull off a surprise birthday party for a dear friend. The party was such a hit that we made it an annual tradition.

Over the years we have tweeked the event and now have it running like a well tuned party machine. Let me share a few tips.

7 keys to perfect wine tasting party

1. Choose Great Wine

 

wine tasting party selection

Obviously.

The number one key to a successful wine tasting party is to serve great wine. I’m not saying it has to be fancy or expensive wine, just that it should be something worth showcasing to your guests. Something unusual, a wine/winery with a unique story, a great value for the dollar.

Use the expertise of your local wine store staff or dive into little online research.

Or ask me!

We follow two criteria when making selections for a wine tasting party:

  • wines that we would enjoy drinking
  • wines that would be interesting for our guests to try

Variety is also good. Try to have options that appeal to different tastes: a few reds, a few whites, maybe some champagne for a little “je ne sais quoi” and “ooh-la-la”.

2. Have A Theme

A theme makes any party more fun!

A wine tasting party theme could be something like:

Location, Location, Location – Pick a place like Napa or France and explore different wines from that region.

A Variety Of Varietals – Serve a bunch of different red wine varietals ranging from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel. Ask your guests to step out of their comfort zone.

Vintage Matters – Try to get a couple of different vintages of the same wine and see if one year was better for wine making than the other. Or pick a particularly notable vintage (like Napa 2012) and celebrate the excellence.

A+ or B-, You Decide – For our most recent wine tasting party, Peter selected wines with very disparate expert reviews. For instance, Wine Advocate gave the 2011 Hall “Eighteen Seventy-Three” a score of 95 while Wine Spectator gave it an 89. What’s up with that?!?! We asked our guests to weigh in.

wine tasting party score sheet

Joe’s Wines – How about exploring the wines available at your local Trader Joe’s? Or Piggly Wiggly? Or Wegmans? (Although I can’t, in good conscience, endorse serving your party guests Two Buck Chuck. Please see #1.)

The theme possibilities are endless.

3. Supply Plenty of Glasses

Please, please, please, I beg you. Do not serve wine at a wine tasting party in plastic cups. Even the pseudo-fancy plastic wine glasses.

Wine should only be served in plastic glasses in an extreme emergency. Or maybe at a pool party. Certainly NOT at a wine tasting party.

wine glasses

You can purchase glass wine glasses pretty reasonably at a place like Target or buy in bulk at restaurant supply store.

One glass per guest is fine. Your guests can rinse their glasses between tastes at The Rinsing Station (aka The Kitchen Sink).

Speaking of glasses, if any of your guests are over 40, please kindly supply some of these.

reading glasses

4. Use Markers or Charms

Be sure to have some way that people can identify their wine glass after they have put it down. Otherwise, you might run out of glasses and chaos will ensue.

We like these fabulous wine markers. Guests write their names on the glasses and the marker washes off easily at the end of the night.

wine tasting party tips markers

Wine glass charms are also effective as long as everyone remembers which charm they selected.

At our last party, one guest brought personalized wine charms for everyone made from a little wooden tile and two very powerful magnets.

wine tasting party tips wine charm

How cute are they?!

5. Research Tasting Notes

It may be the wine nerd in me but I love reading tasting notes. They give valuable information about the wine and help appreciate the flavor and unique qualities of each bottle.

wine tasting party tips tasting notes

Tasting notes are pretty easy to find online at the website of the wine producer. Or check out Cellar Tracker which offers reviews and notes from the professionals and over 400,000 Cellar Tracker members.

We print out notes, put them in (inexpensive) frames and place them next to the bottles. Our guests can learn a little while having fun.

6. Choose The Right Food

There truly is an art and a science to creating perfect food and wine pairings. If you’ve ever experienced a perfect pairing you will know that it is magical and makes both the food and wine taste even better. But the perfect pairing takes a lot of work and is best left to the professionals.

Your goal in choosing food for a wine tasting party should simply be to do no harm.

Think sweet, mild and savory dishes rather than bold, hot and spicy dishes.

There are certain foods for which beer (or milk) are a better match than wine. I’m lookin’ at you Mr. Jalapeño Popper.

Whether you are serving just appetizers or a full meal, we have found that finger foods work best. With a wine glass in one hand, silverware just gets in the way.

Simple ingredients and simple flavors are the key. Chicken, shrimp, fruit, veggies with a creamy dip, mini-quiches, spanakopita, mini deli sandwiches all work well.

And of course, cheese is wine’s best friend.

wine tasting party cheese plate

You can’t go wrong serving a lovely cheese plate with a little chocolate dessert chaser.

7. Invite Fun Guests

Perhaps as important as the wine selection, having enthusiastic guests is crucial to the success of a wine tasting party – or really any party for that matter.

wine tasting party guests

The best guests are those who are excited to join in, willing to try new things and drink responsibly.

Remember to facilitate the responsible drinking by having plenty of non-alcoholic drinks for the designated drivers and encourage everyone to have the Uber app on their phone.

As an intimate gathering with a few pals or a big, blow-out celebration for your entire crowd, a wine tasting party is the perfect way to share your love of wine.

Now I want to hear about your experiences with wine tasting parties. Do you have any theme ideas to add to the list? Favorite wine tasting stories?

Do not drink and drive!

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My 2015 To Do List

Albert Einstein defined insanity as the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

By that definition, the idea of me making ANOTHER set of New Year’s resolutions is totally insane.

So I won’t.

But, a to do list is a completely different thing.

I love making to do lists. It’s so satisfying when you can check off a completed task. And I feel absolutely no pressure to finish everything on the list. If I did that, what would I have to carry over to my new list?!

So without further ado, and because the clock is ticking down on New Year’s Day, here’s what I came up with. My 2015 to do list.

15 in 2015

In 2015 I Will…
  1. Shower my grandsons with as many hugs and kisses as they will allow.
  2. Try new wines.
  3. Improve my knife skills. (For cooking not for surgery or being a ninja.)
  4. Learn HTML code. Also, hire someone to help me when I screw up the HTML.
  5. Attend at least three Notre Dame home football games. I would prefer victories if that’s ok.
  6. Visit Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara wine countries. (See #2)
  7. Sign up for French lessons.
  8. Pay it forward whenever I can.
  9. Read more. And I mean books, not People Magazine or TMZ.
  10. Become more active on Instagram (for Clare).
  11. Host not one but TWO wine tasting parties to make up for the fact that we skipped 2014.
  12. Wear my yoga pants for yoga and not just for grocery shopping.
  13. Make plans to meet – in person – some of the fabulous bloggers who have been so kind and supportive.
  14. MOVE BACK TO CHICAGO!
  15. Finally, and most importantly, take every opportunity to celebrate the blessings of family and friends. Nothing else matters without them, right?

Wishing you all a year filled with love and laughter, many more highs than lows, good health, good fortune and an abundance of blessings.

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Hanukkah Pockets

Presenting my first (and most likely last and only) DIY post.

How To Make Hanukkah Pockets

Our daughter Annie, who grew up celebrating Christmas and now celebrates Hanukkah discovered the concept of Hanukkah pockets via the source of all things good and inspirational:

Pinterest

What are Hanukkah pockets you ask?

Imagine a Christmas stocking and Advent calendar had a Jewish offspring.

The idea is that there are eight pockets in which to hide a special little trinket for each of the eight days of Hanukkah.

Annie thought this would be a new, fun tradition to begin with baby Andy’s first Hanukkah.  And for some crazy reason, she thought that I would be the person who could make this happen.

Challenge accepted.

I arrived in Boston about ten days before Andy’s due date so that I could help with a lengthy pre-baby to do list that included finishing some projects around their new house, planning and prep for hosting Thanksgiving and the design and execution of the Hanukkah pocket project.

We doodled and sketched in an attempt to come up with the perfect design. One Sunday, a good five days before her due date, Annie and I headed to JoAnn Fabrics to buy the supplies:

  • Heavy cotton twill fabric in gray for the background banner (1/2 yard fabric at least 44/45″ wide)
  • Lighter cotton fabric in 4 different colors for the pockets (1/4 yard per color of fabric at least 44/45″ wide. I’d probably spring for a half a yard just to be sure to have enough.)
  • Silver cord to hang the banner (about a yard)
  • Dowels (about 1/2 inch diameter, 16 inches long)
  • Fusible bonding web (aka iron on tape for stitch-less hems)
  • Thread (way more than you think you will need)
  • Number and letter charms (found at Michael’s)
  • Silver paint pen (also found at Michael’s)

Funny story. After wandering the aisles for a while and not quite done with our list, Annie said she was feeling really tired and we should wrap up our shopping ASAP.

Turns out she was likely in early labor since little Andy was born about 18 hours later.

While Annie was busy delivering her baby, I was busy delivering the Hanukkah pockets.

So here we go…

Eight Crazy Steps To Make Your Very Own Hanukkah Pockets

1. Cut a piece of the heavy cotton twill fabric 15 inches wide by at least 44 or 45 inches long. Fold in half, stitch up the sides with a 1/2 inch seam, and turn inside out. Fold over the top edge and stitch across leaving an opening wide enough to slip the dowel through. This is your backdrop.  (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of this step…rookie DIY fail.)

2. Although the original inspiration showed pockets that looked like envelopes, we decided to go with something more like pouches. We liked the idea of deeper pockets to accommodate all sizes of trinkets. We also decided to make each pocket with one color fabric on one side and another color on the other side.

Sassy, right?

We selected four different colored pocket fabrics meaning that each color would be used twice for the front of a pocket and twice for the back of a pocket.

So, cut out 4 pieces in each pocket color, measuring 7 inches wide by 11 inches tall.

Hanukkah pockets 1

3. Stitch contrasting colors together with a 1/2 inch seam and trim the corners to make them lay better when turned inside out.

Hanukkah pockets 2

4. Keeping the pockets inside out, fold over the top about 2 1/2 inches then seal the rough edge by ironing on the fusible web. This will anchor the unfinished edge without showing any stitches. It also gives the top of the pocket a firmer shape.

Hanukkah pockets 3

The iron on webbing goes under the rough edge to seal it down.

5. Turn the pockets right side out then fold over at the top to make a cuff. Now the pockets are ready to sew onto the backdrop.

6. Starting at the bottom, pin each pocket down, four on each side of the backdrop. The pockets should overlap each other a bit but allow for plenty of room to flip up one pocket to insert a gift in the one below. We chose this design to maximize the size of each pocket while not making the finished product too long.

Hanukkah pockets 4

Once you are happy with the spacing, sew the back top edge of each pocket onto the backdrop. I used a zig-zag stitch for extra security.

7. We found some cute number and letter charms at Michael’s. I sewed a number on each of the eight pockets and charms spelling out the name across the top.

Hanukkah pockets 5

8. Finally, color the ends of the dowels with the silver paint pen and tie the silver cord on the ends of the dowel to your desired length.

I also used a couple of hand stitches to tack the end of the silver cord behind the backdrop to both hide the ugly end of the cord and to secure the cord so it wouldn’t slip off the dowel.

Voilà!

Hanukkah pocket 6Pretty cool, eh?

All kidding aside, I love this kind of a project – decide what you want the finished product to look like and figure out how to make it happen. And honestly, if I can do this, anyone can.

Happy Hanukkah!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m so thankful for the many blessings in my life including my family, friends and all of you who are kind enough to visit here.

Wishing you all a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving.

Keep Calm and Turkey On

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