Host your own holiday wine-tasting party

How to host your own vino party and empower your sipping guests.
From the novice taster to the experienced aficionado, remind your guests that wine should be approachable and fun, not snooty and stuffy.


What better way to celebrate the season than with a festive wine tasting party? Too daunting, you say? Not so. Whether your guest list is made up of colleagues, the neighborhood gang or book club gals, the key is to keep it fun and simple. Wine on its own can be festive enough, so a lot of fussy pomp and circumstance isn’t necessary for this type of gathering.

Start with a great invitation to set the tone for your party. There are countless wine-themed options online and in print, so have fun creating the perfect vibe for your get-together. You can indicate on the invitation that every guest should bring a bottle to share (within a specified category) or provide the libations yourself. There are endless categories around which to shape your tasting—hearty wines of the Chianti region in Italy, buttery, full-bodied Napa chardonnay, Washington merlot, beautifully mellow  Oregon pinot noir, food-friendly New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Your options are seemingly endless, so consult with your local wine shop and have fun getting creative. My personal favorite for the holiday season is to celebrate with bubbles. Champagne, sparkling wine, prosecco—they all delight and say “special occasion,” so get in the mood and raise your glass to a fabulous holiday party!


Getting Started: The “Vine Inspiration” for your Tasting Party

A tasting party is best suited to a smaller group, maybe six to 12 people. Keep it intimate so that you and your guests can easily work your way around a table of wines and discuss what is served.

Decorate your room and table with pretty winter garlands, greens and lots of candles that will light up your table with a subtle, diffused glow to allow wine glasses to shimmer. Wine is the star of this party, so no need for clutter; once again, simple elegance is the key. Just remember you want to keep all your candles and flower arrangements unscented, as this can interfere with detecting aromas in your wine.

Photo by: Emily J. Davis

As your guests sample the wines and nibble on hors d’oeuvres, you, the hostess, should make sure everyone feels comfortable. From the novice taster to the experienced aficionado, remind them that wine should be approachable and fun, not snooty and stuffy. I like to advise people that tasting, evaluating and enjoying wine is broken down into five easy steps. Stick to these and you will have a memorable tasting party that everyone will enjoy.

1. Swirl. Turn the wine around in your glass and see what happens. Why do people do this? To release the aromas or “esters” of the wine, allowing the fragrance to jump from the glass to your nose.

2. Smell. Stick your nose in the glass (Don’t be shy!) and talk about what you smell. Is it fruity, floral, herbal, earthy? Strawberry, honeydew, buttered popcorn, black pepper? Wine is not about snobbery or pretension; it is completely subjective and there are no right or wrong answers, so go ahead, get creative and exchange adjectives with your friends about what you get from that glass of wine.

3. Sip. Ahh, the best part. Is it a taste filled with fruit, oak, cassis? Does it taste astringent or acidic? Let your taste buds do the work here, as they are ultimately the deciding factor­. Make sure the wine hits the front, back, sides and top of your tongue to give each wine a fair chance at winning your approval.

4. Savor. This is what it’s all about: Enjoying the wine, tasting it with different foods and celebrating with your friends. Cheers!

5. Style. And finally, very simply, is the wine your style? Immediately, you know if you like it or not. What tastes delicious to one person might taste awful to the next. Therein lies the beauty of wine; it’s all up to your personal taste and preference. Ask yourself a few key questions: Would you purchase this wine? Would this choice pair well with your favorite meal? Is it within your budget? These are points to ponder as you decide if this wine is for you. 

This simple five-step process in evaluating wine should let you clearly define your “wine preference profile” so that you can confidently choose a wine on a restaurant list or know what aisle to navigate at your favorite wine shop. This process can guide you to identify and define a few key elements that you like (or don’t like) in a bottle of wine. So go ahead—pop those corks, start tasting, celebrate and have fun discovering the world of wine.


Wine Tasting Party 411: A few ideas to help your event go smoothly

Selections. Pick a theme: Napa, Tuscany, France, Australia? The regions to choose from in the world of wine are abundant, so keep it simple—pick a region and stick to it. People are often intimidated and confused by wine, so don’t overwhelm your guests with too many selections. Choose six wines (they can be an even mix of red and white; just drink them in order from lightest to darkest). Plan to purchase (or assign your guests to bring) two bottles of each selection: one for tasting (pour small amounts, about one ounce per taste) and one for drinking afterward.

Enjoy wine with simple foods such as crackers, cheese or fruit.

Glassware. Use your own or rent simple Bordeaux-style glasses for a minimal charge at your local wine shop or party rental company. Have each guest use their glass for the duration of the tasting and encourage them to rinse with water between tastes. And remember to stay hydrated—nothing can ruin the memory of a great party more than a nasty headache, so plan to drink one glass of water for every glass of wine that you consume.

Food. Once again, simplicity is the key. Bread, crackers, cheese—whatever you choose will keep your guests from getting light-headed. Go with subtle, savory flavors that will complement, not overwhelm, the wines.

After the tasting, encourage your guests to revisit their favorites and share their thoughts with one another. Go back and try selections you initially didn’t care for—as the open bottle accepts more air, the aromas and flavors will open up and develop, often changing (positively or negatively depending on the wine) and yielding another round of fun, lively wine chatter. 

A wine tasting party is a great holiday entertainment alternative. It typically provides a lively, convivial, interactive atmosphere that is at once festive and jovial, as well as educational. So enjoy celebrating the season with a unique event and raise a glass to good health and good cheer throughout the holiday season and into the new year. Salut!




Event styling by White Peacock Styled Events; flowers provided by Pink and Green Floral; cookies created by Edina resident Susan Ebner; cake pops by DIP (Heidi Swinney, 612.747.7612).