No matter the time of year, there are wonderful arrays of wines that are well suited to each season. For example, a summer wine tasting party could feature a group of chilled Chardonnays or Pinot Grigios. During the holiday season, it would be fun to sample selections of champagnes or specialty wines. During the fall, try some of reds, such as Merlots or Cabernet Sauvignons.
Once you have decided on the types of wine, it's time to choose how your wines will be selected, and how they will be tasted. There are several basic ways to select your wines. The simplest selection method, called varietal, is to select a single grape, Merlot for example, and have your guest choose any one they like to bring to the party. If you are able to provide all of the wine, that's wonderful! However, shake it up a bit and have each guest bring a bottle they select, and have them be prepared to tell a little bit about it. A little more challenging is the horizontal tasting method. Ask your guests to bring a wine with a specific year and a specific varietal, such as a 2005 Pinot Noir. Stick to a maximum of eight bottles for the tasting, any more than that and it becomes too confusing and more complicated. Invite eight guests, or plan a larger gathering of 16 and have your guests buddy up on the cost of a bottle.
Order is important when deciding how the wines will be tasted. For casual wine tasters, starting with the lightest, freshest wine first, and gradually moving on to heavier, drier wines, will be best for the novice palate. Any sweet dessert wines should go last. Be sure to have water available between bottles to cleanse the palate and rinse the wine glass clean. Everyone should have 3-4 wine glasses each so that your guest can go a few samples before having to clean the stemware. Also provide pens and paper for everyone so that they can keep notes.
Setting the stage for your wine tasting is simple and easy as well. For the table, use a simple white tablecloth so that guests can compare colors of the wine easily. Use white plates and white candles to create a pretty display. Finally, be sure that the wines are being served at the correct temperature. Put the reds in the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving and it should be about 55 degrees, perfect for reds. In turn, take the whites out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving and they will be about 45 degrees before serving.
When the guests arrive, spend some talking about the different wines guests will taste. Give your guests time in between tastings to have discussions and take notes. Serve additional food and drinks after the tasting is over, and as a nice and easy party favor for everyone, prepare a list of the wines tasted, the cost and where to purchase them and hand them out as your guests leave. Your guests will appreciate it!