Party On: Some Ideas for Your Own Wine Gathering
© by April Eichmeier

Holding a wine party is one of the best ways to make acquaintance with the grape. Parties are also an opportunity for the less wine experienced to interact on the same playing field with the more experienced, ask questions, and learn. Those who are more experienced get some practice verbalizing their knowledge.

The primary investment - a place to hold it, a few loaves of bread, water, maybe some cheese and fruit - will yield tenfold in knowledge, laughter, impressing important clients, etc.

Here are a few party ideas. For all parties, however, I would recommend setting a bottle price range, say $10 to $20, so that nobody throws the game with a real expensive bottle and nobody feels obligated to refinance the house. Second, if you don't have at least two wine glasses per guest, ask them to bring a glass or two. Alternatively, ask a local wine merchant if he or she will rent you their tasting glasses. I've had good luck with both methods.

The Competition

Have guests bring two bottles of wine: one red, one white. Instruct the guests to cover the bottles, chilled when necessary, and have the partygoers cover the bottles with the standard brown paper bags secured with some twine at the top. Last, have the guests learn as much as they can about the wine they're bringing.

Your job, besides the provisions, is to prepare scorecards and supply pencils. Have the guests rate the color, aroma, and taste, then leave a spot for overall score. I suggest scoring from 1 to 10 (10 being best). The overall score can be an average of the three senses scores or a general opinion: It doesn't really matter - hey - this is fun. Leave a spot for guests to write down the bottle's number (you'll see in a minute why).

If you have a computer program that prints postcards, this job is a snap. Otherwise, two scorecards fit easily on one piece of paper.

As they arrive, label each bottle with a number. Have guests sip each wine and evaluate it. I suggest that the guests sip whites first, then reds, clearing the palate with water and bread in between.

When everyone is done evaluating, tally the score of each wine and announce a winner in both categories. Give a fun prize such as a bottle stopper, corkscrew, or a gift certificate to a local wine shop. Have guests share what they learned about their wine.

Variations: a Champagne/Prosecco/Cava/sparkling wine competition, dessert wine, variety (example: Chardonnays, Merlots, Zinfandels), country (France, USA, Australia) or even region (Burgundy, Washington, Coonawarra). Use your imagination!

Pie Parade

It's not a stretch to say that many among us have questions about "What wine goes with what food?" For this party, you're going to order pizza. You read right - pizza.

Pizza is the perfect way to learn food matching: It's moved beyond the tomato, imitation cheese and pepperoni formula. Pizza is available with marinara, alfredo, barbecue, olive oil, and other sauces. You can get chicken, bacon, ham, steak, hamburger, shrimp, arugula, olives, corn mushrooms, squash, and pineapple on your pie. You can have it with cheddar cheese, goat cheese, mozzarella cheese, or no cheese at all. I have even seen Indian-inspired pies topped with a tomato curry sauce, cauliflower, chicken, and garlic.

And if you can't order it, make it (Epicurious has good recipes, for example, or search for "Pizza" - or "RC pizza" to limit your search to archived recipes - right here on

Have your guests bring wine - some good, hearty red "pizza" wines and some whites - an oaky chardonnay or a light Alsatian - and see how each partygoers' palate reacts to each wine. For example, if you have pizza with a creamy alfredo sauce and bacon (very Alsace-like) you may find that the lightness of a Riesling counteracts the sauce. You (or a guest) may discover that good ol' Chianti fits the bill.

You may also find a stinker combo - like a marinara, olive, and goat cheese pizza just doesn't jive with that citrusy sauvignon blanc. Or barbeque with anything too tannic.

Dessert? Chocolate, of course!

The point of the party (besides fun, remember!) is to learn about how wine and food interact. From this exercise, you can design your own (non-pizza based) meals.

Trivial Pursuit

As we mentioned above, formula is out. Novelty is in!

Wine shelves are increasingly populated with "different" wines, wines that don't come from Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc. In other words, wine that is made from grapes outside what we may consider traditional. Now the shelves are full of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Temperanillo, Primitivo, Viognier and Chenin Blanc.

Most of these grapes have long been used in Europe or elsewhere. It's time to join the Old Country.

Have your guests go to the wine shop and pick out the most fun, interesting, and unusual wine they can find. Xinomavro? Go for it. Trebbiano? What's holding you back? Like "The Competition," have your guests learn all they can about the wine, and share.

No matter the party, enjoy it. And you'll have bragging rights at the office.

November 2003

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