As I’ve posted previously, one of my favorite things to do when visiting northern Santa Barbara County is explore area wineries, including my personal favorite, Cambria Winery. But you can bring the experience home by inviting some of your closet friends and family over for a casual wine tasting party.
Here’s some tips to ensure even casual wine fans will have a memorable experience.
A Guide to Throwing a Wine Tasting Party at Home
The Guest List:
Consider the size of your space and plan accordingly. Typically 4-8 guests allows for great conversation while remaining comfortable for everyone.
Think of the time of year you are throwing the party – sipping a powerful Cabernet outdoors in mid-August might be less enjoyable than, say, an exploration of crisp, chilled Pinot Gris.
Focus on a particular region — Santa Maria, Central Coast, Napa, Sonoma, France and Italy, for example. Or focus on a particular varietal grown in different regions to taste differences in terroir and style.
As Cambria Winery specializes in cool-climate varietals, we chose two Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs.
Wine varietals featured: Julia’s Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir, Bench Break Vineyard 2011 Pinor Noir, Katherine’s Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay and Bench Break Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay.
How Much Wine to Purchase:
As a general rule of thumb;
Taste = 2oz pour
1 - 750ml bottle = 12 2oz pours
Standard glass of wine = 5oz
1 - 750ml bottle = 5 glasses
We recommend having 2 bottles of each varietal available for tasting to allow for full glasses to be enjoyed afterwards.
Serving wines at their optimal temperature allows for guests to taste the wine varietals at their best.
- White Wines: Serve between 45 and 50°F
If white wine is served too cold, flavors and aromas will be masked. Too warm and they become flat. We suggest chilling white wine for 45 minutes to 1 hour before serving.
- Red Wines: Serve between 55 and 65°F
Red wine tends to seem excessively tannic and acidic if served too cold. Too warm, they will become overly alcoholic and lifeless. We suggest chilling room-temperature bottles for 10-15 minutes in the refrigerator prior to serving.
Ideally, the guests would have one glass for each type of wine varietal being served. Since we all don’t have an extra supply of glasses, it is perfectly fine to provide one red and one white wine glass to each guest. You could even provide just one glass; opt for one that has a wide bowl and narrow rim.
In addition, we suggest providing water to clean the palette in between tastings and an optional dump bucket in case a guest is not in favor of a particular varietal.
Providing a Wine Scorecard is also a great way for guests to interact with the wine tasting experience and to keep note of the wines they preferred.
Encourage the guests to nibble on neutral crackers throughout the wine tasting to help cleanse the palette. Afterward, when everyone is enjoying a full glass of their choice, allow the guests to try wine and cheese pairings along with a few additional snacks that compliment the wine as well.
When selecting the cheeses, keep a diverse mindset to allow for a wide-range of selections within just a few samples. Provide options from different animals (cows, sheep, goats), regions, textures and flavor profiles. We suggest choosing a soft, semi-soft and hard cheese.
Cheese selections featured are Belletoile 70% Triple Cream Brie from France, Double Cream Gouda from Holland and Manchego Cheese from Spain.
Additional items to offer the guests include:
- Seasoned Almonds
- Quince Paste or Fig Spread
- Dried Fruits such as Fig, Cherries, Golden Raisins
- Fresh Fruits such as grapes, figs, pears or apples
- French Baguette Slices and Crackers or Crostini
- Dark Chocolate Varieties (ie. 70% Cacao with Almonds)
- Meat Selections such as Prosciutto, Coppa, Salame and Capocollo
- Cold Smoked Salmon
- Gourmet Olives
Serving and Tasting:
Start by serving your guests with the lightest-bodied wine and work your way up to the fullest-bodied wine. Encourage them to try each varietal using the 6 S’s.
1. See: Notice color and clarity
2. Swirl: Swirl wine in the bowl of the glass to release aromas
3. Sniff: Place your nose in the glass and take several short, deep sniffs
4. Sip: Roll the wine around your mouth. Slurp in a bit of air if you feel confident.
5. Savor: Swallow (or spit) and take note of how the wine lingers in your mouth
6. Share: Talk about it! Describe your tasting experience with the other guests and note it on your Wine Scorecard.
Most importantly, as the Host, relax and enjoy the experience as well. Wine is about creating memories and savoring the time spent with great friends. Cheers!
By: Kristin Mansky