So, you want to host a wine tasting – a little classy, a lot of fun. But you also don’t want to let one night do too much damage to your health goals, feel awful the next day or have the tasting turn into, well, this:
Good news! You can enjoy some wine, have fun and even impress your friends without your sommelier certification. You just need some planning, communication and creativity. We’ll even get you started with some healthy tips from Stacy Beeson, a Registered Dietician in the Denver area. We promise — you can have your wine and drink it too.
Before we go any further, here’s a reminder: Don’t drink and drive. Designated driver. Ride-sharing apps. Cabs. Bus or train. In 2018 we have many options. Do your guests a favor and include these options, or at least a reminder, in your invitation.
Safety first. Now here’s the rest of our tips:
Select Your Theme
If you want to host a wine tasting we’ll assume you’re interested in wine and not just looking for an excuse to drink. So make it interesting, and maybe even educational. You can go in a number of directions, so get creative, but here are a few ways you could go:
- Region: Select a specific wine-making region, such as Burgundy or Napa Valley, and try several wines from that area. Don’t be afraid to search for non-traditional areas. Yeah, France and Italy have this wine thing down, but wouldn’t it be nice to explore five wines from Morocco or Brazil?
- One Variety, Many Regions: Choose one or two grapes or styles and try those wines from all over the world. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sonoma County, South Africa and Australia.
- Budget: Whether you want to stay under $10 or splurge for a special occasion this can be a fun way to explore value in wine. Fun twist: Buy only wines under $10 and over $50, have guests taste them blindly and then guess which price bracket each wine falls into. Just keep your answer key secret.
- Blind Tasting: You can cover the labels, put the wine in decanters or simply put them in a bag and then assign a number to each. Vote on favorites, play a guessing game or just enjoy tasting and evaluating wine objectively. If you have a trusted wine store, you can even ask the staff to pick out and label wines for you so you can enjoy the mystery along with your guests.
Health Tip: Beeson notes that springing for a more expensive wine is a great way to make the tasting feel special and keep your portions in check. Let’s face it, you’re not pouring the ‘92 Silver Oak as freely as the Two Buck Chuck. “It’s even more special and everyone can really sit and savor,” says Beeson.
Two ounces is a good rule of thumb for a single tasting. A bottle of wine is typically about 24 ounces, so you can expect about 12 tastings per bottle. Know how many people are coming and plan accordingly. But you also have to know what two ounces looks like in the glasses you plan to use. “One of the recommendations I give people is to get the measuring cup out, see what two ounces looks like, pour it into your glass and get used to that volume,” says Beeson.
Health Tip: Beeson sticks with the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommendations for low-risk drinking. The NIAAA recommends one four or five ounce glass of wine a day, no more than five days a week for women. For men, two glasses of wine a day, no more than five days a week. Understanding that a wine tasting is a special event and you probably don’t want to have just one glass, Beeson recommends following the NIAAA’s daily and weekly drinking limits: No more than three drinks a day and seven drinks a week for women, and no more than four drinks a day and 14 drinks a week for men. Keep the weekly limits in mind. If you have three drinks during your wine tasting, you’ll want to limit yourself to four or fewer drinks for the rest of the week. Going above these limits regularly can increase risk for alcoholism, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, high blood pressure, suicide and accidents.
For the tasting itself, women have a maximum of about 15 ounces (about seven tastings) and men 20 ounces (about 10 tastings) to work with to stay within the low-risk limits. Beeson recommends trying 10 and 15 ounces, respectively, and saving those last five ounces for your favorite wine or two.
Get the Right Supplies
You can’t host a dinner party without plates, silverware and serving dishes, right? The same applies to a wine tasting. The essentials:
- Glasses: You can use one glass per person, but if you’re having both red and white it is nice to have a glass for each or just two glasses so guests can compare wines simultaneously. White wine glasses are taller and more slender while red wine glasses are shorter and wider.
- Wine Opener: Not having one will put a serious damper on your night. Having more than one will make things much easier and give you a back-up.
- Spit Buckets: Allow your guests to taste and spit if they have a lower alcohol tolerance or pour out any unwanted wine. It’s also really helpful to rinse your glass with water after each wine so the flavors don’t mix and you get a true taste of each wine.
- Crackers or Bread: Palate cleansers. Keep it simple and use water crackers or a simple bread.
For the serious wine tasters:
- White Background: A tablecloth or paper will help bring out the color profile of the wine.
- Decanter: A nice decanter aerates your red wine and helps bring out more flavors.
- Tasting Grid: A nice tool for guests to jot down their thoughts. Don’t forget pens!
Health Tip: For portion control, Beeson recommends glasses on the smaller side. It’s a small mental trick to make the tastings seem like more than they are, but it can make a small difference. Also, using the tasting grid or just taking notes encourages guests to sip, think and savor a little more rather than just sipping right through each sample.
Provide Some Food
Snacks are *always* a good idea. Yes, some purists suggest not eating until after the wine tasting as to not interfere with the flavors of the wine. But at the same time, it’s very interesting to see how wine interacts with food. So what you serve and when you serve it will depend on how serious your crowd is about wine tasting. Bottom line: you can’t go wrong with having some berries, dark chocolate, cheese and salted nuts on the table with the wine. Having some “heavier” appetizers available is also a great idea and then people can decide if they want to enjoy them with the wine or after. Whatever you decide, let your guests know what to expect in your invitation. You don’t want people coming on an empty stomach, drinking a few glasses of wine, and only having a few light bites to eat.
Here are Beeson’s go-to recipe recommendations for snacks that are light on calories and still bursting with flavor:
- Bruschetta: Whole grain baguettes topped with tomato, garlic and basil is a staple, but you can top your bread with other ingredients.
- Salmon and Cucumber Spread: Six ounces of canned salmon mixed in a food processor with light, whipped cream cheese with a little dill, lemon zest and capers. Spread over whole grain bread and top with a slice of cucumber.
- Apples, Pears and Cream Cheese Spread: Whipped cream cheese with some tart apples and pears is a perfect summer snack with wine. Mix some red pepper jelly in with the cream cheese if you like a touch of spice.
- Rinsed Olives and Gherkins
You can create your own twists on any of these steps, but we think they’re a great starting point for a fun-yet-simple, no-fail party. Go into your tasting with a plan on how much you want to serve each guest to keep them within the healthy guidelines. You don’t have to play parent to everyone, but it sets the stage for a safe and fun evening. Salud!