Planning A Wine Tasting Party

2772 0
Story by Dave Eckert

As a wine lover, there are few things I enjoy more than tasting a bunch of different wines with good friends and good food. More than any other wine lends itself to cuisine and conviviality, and a good wine tasting party can enhance both.

Everybody loves tips, so here are some I’ve come up with through the years.

  • Pick a theme that’s easy to execute with regards to both the wine and the cuisine. You can get narrower or more esoteric down the road, but out of the gate, select wines that are easy to find in a wide price range and cuisine that pairs with them quickly and easily. I’d start with something more mainstream, say Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay or Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, if you and your friends prefer SBs to Chards.
  • Decide of the type of tasting you’d like to organize. What I’ve suggested above is a varietal tasting. It’s much easier to pull off than a horizontal tasting where you would choose a single category from a single vintage such as 2010 Napa Valley Cabernets or 2014 California Chardonnays. With a varietal tasting, you can pick Cabernets, Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, or what ever wine varieties you want from around the world in all different price ranges and from different vintages.
  • Limit the number of wine choices. I’d recommend no more than four per grape variety. This will give you and your guests plenty to taste and talk about without overwhelming their palates.
  • Make it a blind tasting. Remove the top of each wine and then wrap the bottles in foil, clearly labeling each wine with a sharpie. One, two, three, four for white and red is as complicated as you need to get. Mix them up in order or price and region so it’s not as simple as cheapest to most expensive, and let the fun begin.
  • Do a little research on the wines beyond where they come from and how much you paid. I find “tidbits” on the wines, their regions, their vintage, and their history really add to the appreciation and understanding of what you’re tasting.
  • Go easy on the pours. A two ounce pour per wine is perfect. Anything more and you’ll turn the wine tasting into wine chugging and that’s certainly not the point.
  • Set a budget and stay within the range. Your theme could easily be “Cabernets under $20” if you like, but I find it fun to bring in a wines at different price ranges and from different countries and regions to spice up the debate.
  • Decide on the number of people you can comfortably accommodate and provide adequate glassware.
  • Keep the tasting simple. I prefer either bread or crackers and water during the tasting. Save the food for after the tasting where you can create something that pairs with the wines you’ve featured. I included a great recipe to do just that, and you’ll find more at
  • Make sure the wines are the right temperature. As Americans, we serve our white wines too cold and our red wines too warm. My rule is to pull the whites from the fridge 20 minutes before serving and put the reds in the fridge 20 minutes before serving. It’s pretty much foolproof.

I could go on and on here detailing the use of spit buckets, eliminating extraneous scents in the room, which includes urging your guests not to wear perfume or cologne, talking about how your guests should view, swirl, sip, and savor the wines, but enough is enough. The key is to have fun and learn something about your palate and the wines you enjoy. Cheers!


Local Recipes


Dish Name:  Tuna Tartar

Wine Pairing:  Hanna Sauvignon Blanc

Restaurant:  Bristol Seafood Grill

Dressing Ingredients:

(1) ring mold, 2-3/4” x 1-3/8”     |    2 TBL spicy pineapple mango salsa, or salsa of your choice    |    2 TBL avocado salsa, or salsa of your choice    |    2 oz. wt. ahi tuna, ¼’ dice    |    Salt and pepper blend    |    2 tsp. cilantro oil    |    ¾ tsp. Sriracha sauce    |    4 white corn tortillas, sliced in half    |    Salt as needed


Place ring mold in the center of a small rimless bowl and pack with pineapple mango salsa in bottom of mold. Pack the avocado salsa on top of the pineapple mango salsa in the mold. Dice tuna in to ¼ inch cubes. Place tuna in a chilled bowl, season with salt and pepper blend and mix well. Pack seasoned tuna on top of avocado salsa in ring mold. Remove ring mold. Make a tight pool of cilantro oil all the way around pineapple mango salsa. Squirt Sriracha sauce in three evenly spaced dots in the cilantro oil. Deep fry tortilla halves at 360 degrees until crisp and golden brown, or heat as desired. Drain well and season with salt as needed. Fan the tortillas to the top of the bowl and serve.


Dish name:  Filet Oscar

Wine pairing:  Napa Valley Zinfandel

Restaurant:  J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks and Seafood


(1) 8 oz. filet    |    1 tsp. salad oil    |    1 tsp. steak seasoning    |    1 ½ oz. wt. super lump crab meat    |     2 oz. foyot sauce, hot    |    1 cup mashed potatoes    |    3 oz. wt. blanched asparagus    |    ½ tsp olive oil    |    ¼ tsp salt and pepper blend    |    Balsamic tomato relish, desired amount


Oil and season steak on both sides with salad oil and steak seasoning. Cook to preferred specifications by placing steak on the grill at 45 degree angle to the grates. Then turn 90 degrees. Flip over. Turn 90 degrees again. Heat crab meat for about 1 minute, just long enough to warm. Place the cooked filet to the finished plate and top with warmed crab meat. Ladle foyot sauce over the crab meat and filet. Place mashed potatoes, or other desired starch on the finished plate. Place asparagus in a pan on the grill, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper blend while heating the asparagus. Grill until heated thoroughly, about 1 minute. Place asparagus on the finished plate, and place tomato relish (or other garnish of your choice) across the center of the asparagus.


Dish name:  Bone-In Ribeye

Wine pairing:  Caymus Napa Cabernet

Restaurant:  J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks and Seafood


(1) 18 oz. wt. Cowboy Ribeye Steak, bone-in    |    1 tsp. salad oil    |    2 tsp. steak seasoning    |    1 starch of your choice    |    1 vegetable of your choice


Oil and season steak on both sides. Cook to preferred specifications by placing steak on the grill at a 45 degree angle to the grates. Then, turn 90 degrees. Flip the steak over and turn 90 degrees again. Remove steak from the grill and place the steak on the right side of the plate. Place the steak on your final dish and serve with a starch and vegetable of your choice.


Dish name:  Pretzel Crusted Trout

Wine pairing:  Mer Soleil Silver “Unoaked” Chardonnay

Restaurant:  Bristol Seafood Grill

For the trout:


(1) 8 oz. portion of trout, cut in 2 fillets    |    ½ tsp salt and pepper blend    |    1 oz. clarified butter    |    ¼ cup ground pretzel


Season trout fillets with salt and pepper blend. Press the flesh side into ground pretzel until fully coated. Heat clarified butter in a sauté pan. Place trout fillet in pan, pretzel crusted side down Cook for 2-3 minutes until pretzels are golden brown. Turn trout fillet over and continue cooking 2-3 minutes until trout is fully cooked.

For the side dishes:


1 TBL clarified butter    |    3 oz. blanched French green beans    |    1 cup Yukon gold potatoes    |    ¼ tsp salt and pepper blend    |    ¼ cup frisee , 2” of root removed, separated into individual pieces – make sure there’s no clumps!


Heat butter in sauté pan until hot. Add potatoes, French beans and salt and pepper blend. Sauté until hot and potatoes are crisp. Turn off heat and add frisee. Toss to just start to wilt frisee. Place potato, beans and frisee mixture in the center of the finished plate. Place trout fillets on beans and potatoes.

For the bacon-mustard vinaigrette:


Heat bacon-mustard vinaigrette, or vinaigrette of your choice until just hot. Ladle around the front of the plate to complete your dish. Enjoy!


Dish name:  Smoked Salmon Flatbread

Wine pairing:  Trefethen Dry Riesling

Restaurant:  Bristol Seafood Grill


1 flatbread crust    |    2 scoops of white pizza sauce, cold    |    8 red onions, julienne 1/8”    |    2 tsp capers, drained and rinsed    |     2 ½ oz. wt. smoked salmon, sliced    |    3 TBL watercress, tops only    |    ¼ tsp. lemon oil    |    Pinch of salt and pepper blend    |    2 tsp. buttermilk sour cream


Scoop white pizza sauce on top of flatbread and use a pastry brush to evenly cover the entire surface. Top evenly with onions an capers. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 3 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven and top evenly with smoked salmon. Place watercress in a small bowl and mix well with lemon oil and salt and pepper blend. Spread the mixture across the flatbread evenly. Cut flatbread, making 7 alternating diagonal cuts so you have 8 triangle-shaped pieces. Place on the plate. Drizzle flatbread in a zig zag pattern with buttermilk sour cream.

About The Author