Hosting a wine tasting at home is a great opportunity to enjoy nice wines and casual conversation in a relaxed setting where you get to control the ambiance. Bonus: you aren’t paying wine bar mark-ups, which means you can splurge more on your favorite rare or unique wines for everyone to enjoy.
Here’s how to spice up your wine tasting and make it a night to remember.
Upgrade your glassware
The taste of any given wine is a matter of personal preference. But there’s one thing you can do to ensure your guests consistently have a better tasting experience: crystal glassware. Crystal is lighter and thinner than glass, which improves a wine’s taste.
In our home, we only use Reidel wine glasses, a traditional and elegant glassware brand worth the additional expense. Reidel glasses are not just sleek; the molecular structure of their glassware actually makes a difference. Even non-professional tasters report improved flavors using crystal drinkware.
You could buy glasses to match each and every varietal if you so choose. Reidel makes glasses shaped to be “in tune” with different varietals, so you can get pretty specific. Reidel Vinum Burgundy glasses, for example, are designed based on the characteristics of the Pinot Noir varietal.
Even if you don’t invest in an entirely new crystal glassware collection, any wine will taste better in a crystal glass and elevate your guests’ tasting experience. The more your guests enjoy their wine, the more they’ll respect your taste for choosing it.
Try a few unique food pairings
Once you’ve settled on the wine you’ll serve and the glassware you’ll serve it in, how about something to go with it? Think outside the box, and move beyond traditional choices like chocolate. Instead, prepare a foodie presentation that will leave your guests talking, tweeting and Instagramming.
Spicy ethnic foods: If your guests have a tolerance for spicier foods, turn up the heat. Some spicy food — like chile-heavy cuisines — pair better with fruity wines, while other types — like aromatic Thai food — will pair better with robust reds.
Ice cream: Ice cream is always a crowd pleaser. From simple vanilla to more exotic floral ice creams like lavender and elderflower, you can choose from a variety of flavors depending on what type of wine you’re serving.
Fried chicken or fish: Sparkling wine isn’t just for special occasions. For acidic and sparkling wines, consider pairing Southern-inspired fried foods. The acidity and bubbles will cut through the grease and enhance the flavor of the spices.
I encourage you to come up with your own samplings using local foods for an even more personalized experience.
Make it a competition
Last but not least, why not up the ante with a little bit of friendly competition?
You can feature wine-themed trivia questions with a bottle prize for the winner. Here are some easy-to-prep activities (no smartphones allowed):
Cheese tasting: Set up a cheese bar with samples from around the world. Guests can guess the types of cheeses and their origins. After you’ve tallied everyone’s guesses, you can reveal the tasting notes of each cheese.
Blind taste test: Serve glasses poured with and without an aerator, and see who can taste the difference. You could also try serving comparable bottles at different temperatures. Turn it into a game not only by asking guests to guess the temperatures; also have them guess which glasses are the “correct” serving temperature for each wine.
Wine trivia: Read up on wine, compile your best wine trivia (how many bottles in a barrel, what state produces the most wine after California, etc.) and award points for the closest guess.
The most important part: stay hydrated, and have fun — it’s a wine party!
About the author: Andy Hayes is a creative web producer based in sunny Portland, Oregon. He is also the founder of Plum Deluxe, a community of friends and family that enjoy life’s luxuries, big and small.