What is the absolute best party to have if you want to get old and new friends together, encourage them to mingle, and ensure they have a great time? Wine tasting. There is something about wine tasting that just naturally generates conversation. Everyone wants to talk about what they’re tasting, if they like it, and tell stories about other wines they’ve tried. Even if you somehow end up with terrible wine, everyone has a great time talking about it! Another wonderful thing about this type of party is that it can be as complicated, formal, simple, or informal as you want. The key is to think about the vibe of the party you want to have and who you’re inviting.

Wine tasting parties generally fall into 3 categories- a formal pairing, a blind tasting, or an informal event where you have lots of wine and food and everyone can mix and mingle as they choose. A formal pairing is where food and wine is chosen so as to create a pleasing experience on the palate. You want pairings with flavors and textures that will enhance or balance each other. A way to make this fun is to provide a tasting menu to guests with the different flavors they will note in the wine and what aspects of the wine the food was chosen to enhance or balance. You can also provide this on tasting cards next to the pairings if you want your guests moving around.

A blind tasting is one where you have all the wine labels covered and guests have to figure out which wine varietal they are drinking. If you have very experienced tasters, you can have them do this completely unassisted, but if you have less experienced tasters you may want to provide notes on how to taste (swirl, sniff, sip) and which varietals they have to choose from. You may even include some notes on the characteristics of each.

Finally, an informal wine tasting is one where you set out wines, foods, and desserts and let your guests decide what to eat and drink. This is great for a more casual setting where you want guests to mix and mingle with minimal structure.

A friend of mine is hosting a wine tasting in a couple weeks that is actually a combination of these and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. First, she’s going to have a blind tasting of some of her favorite wines to see if her guests can choose the correct varietal, with a prize for whoever gets the most correct. Then she’s going to have a more informal set up where foods and wines are generally paired together (reds with a few food options in one area, whites in another) but the guests will be able to choose what to eat and drink together. This is a great way to provide some structure to your guests but still allow the party to flow in a relaxed manner.

One decision you need to make is if you are going to provide all of the food and wine or if you want to make it a potluck. Again, you have a lot of options here. If you provide everything, it gives you more control over the pairings and makes set up a little easier for a blind tasting because you won’t be trying to cover wine labels while your guests arrive. If you opt for a potluck style, either you can provide the wine and have your guests bring food, or you can have your guests bring their favorite food and wine pairing. Both of these are fun ways to let your guests participate a little more and showcase a favorite recipe or bottle of wine. Any of these options allows you to focus on a theme if you choose- wines from a specific country or region, a particular grape from different countries, or an around the world style with each wine from a different place. Just make sure to let your guests know your theme so they can get excited about the theme.

To help generate conversation, you may want to consider having a game or competition for the guests. You can offer a prize (or bragging rights) to the guest who gets the most varietals correct in a blind tasting, you can see if they can tell the difference between more or less expensive wines, rank the wines from best to worst on a scorecard, or even guess the number of corks in a bowl. The options are really endless.