Bored by the same happy hour after happy hour? We turned to Kerry Woolard, the general manager at Trump Winery (remember her awesome guide to wine pairings?) to get her advice for pulling together a tasting for your friends that’s casual, fun and—best of all—on budget. This might be your new Thursday-night tradition.
Set a theme
Choosing a theme will give your tasting a focus. Usually, tastings are themed around either a region (many different types of wine from just one place, like Burgundy) or a varietal (just Pinot Noirs, from all over the world).
Stick to five or six wines
This is a good number of wines to taste over the course of the evening. Get one bottle of each wine for every 12 people that will be there, since one bottle amounts to about 12 (small, tasting-appropriate) glasses.
Crowd-source your selection
Have your guests bring a bottle of wine within your theme. It’s more fun that way, and it’ll save you a ton of money.
Try wines from less-well-known regions
Look for wines from an up-and-coming region like Croatia, Virginia or Australia—they’ll be less expensive and often just as good as those from California or Italy.
You don’t need much to host a wine tasting—just a few basics. Of course, you’ll need a corkscrew and wine glasses. It’s also nice to set out paper cups for people to discreetly spit into if they don’t want to swallow the wine. Provide writing materials, too, since it’ll be impossible for people to remember their first impressions without writing them down. Pick up a wax pencil from an art supply store to write everyone’s names on their glasses.
Put each bottle of wine in a numbered paper bag, and don’t reveal the bottles until you’re done tasting. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said in a tasting, “I hate pinot noirs.” They’re all so different from one another, but if someone sees the varietal, year, region or other information, their first impression could be different and they could write off a wine they might really like.
Skip the food (for now)
The wrong food can totally ruin a wine. Unless you’re super familiar with wine and pairings, stick to plain foods like baguettes, breadsticks or water crackers. Save any other food until you’re done tasting.