With the holiday season upon us, tips and tricks for parties and entertaining are everywhere.  Hostess gifts you can make yourself.  The perfect party pumps or sparkling dress.  Affordable dinnerware.  The right way to set a table or create a festive centerpiece out of yarn.  If I had unlimited funds and an apartment three or four times bigger I would host a party every weekend.

But what actually happens at the party?  After you’ve donned the outfit most flattering for your curves, and set out an expensive-looking (but budget-friendly) cheese plate.  The guests arrive.  How do you get people really chatting?

One idea absolutely perfect for this time of year: a wine tasting.  And I don’t just mean sipping a selection of excellent wines and discussing the smells and tastes, there are plenty of opportunities to be more specific and learn something too!  Perfect for those of us (me included and especially) who can barely distinguish a Merlot from a Shiraz, and have no idea what a “tannen” is.

Now I can’t take credit for these ideas; a good friend (and wonderful hostess) is one of a couple ladies instrumental in putting together intimate wine tasting events every couple months, and I’ve had the good fortune to go to two.

While both events I attended were all women, there is nothing gender exclusive about the activities.  My boyfriend much prefers beer over wine, and I’ve still gotten him to go on a few wine-tasting trips because at the end of the day, alcohol is alcohol.  And sometimes dudes like to feel classy.

Chardonnay and Bottle Shock

Supplies Needed:
Appetizers (Ideally snacks that pair well with Chardonnay, or whatever type of wine – “varietal”? – you choose)
Brown Paper Bags
DVD of Film

The first one was focused specifically on Chardonnay as it relates to the film, Bottle Shock, which is worth a watch even if you’re not a wine nut (Alan Rickman is always a delight, and despite unfortunate hair, Chris Pine is still a babe).

Each guest was asked to bring either a bottle of Chardonnay or a food that paired well with it, the goal being to have bottles fromall over the world – particularly California and France (the two areas being pitted against each other in the film).  The hostess then put each bottle in a brown bag with a number on it.

Once the brown-bagged wines were placed all around her apartment, she gave us a brief history of Chardonnay leading up to the historic tasting that the film was based on, called the Judgement of Paris.

Guests were then let loose to try the wines.  Rather than discussing which tasted like pears or limestone, the assignment was to identify which were French, which California, which the most expensive and which one was Two Buck Chuck.

I am proud to say that I was the only one who correctly guessed the Two Buck Chuck.

And then once the tasting was complete, the screening of the film (and swooning over Chris Pine) began.

Related Party Ideas:
Wines from Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez paired with Sideways
Bordeaux paired with Year of the Comet

Other Wine-centric Films: This Earth Is Mine, A Walk In The Clouds, A Good Year, Mondovino, From Ground To Glass, Corked

California Wine Sampling

Supplies Needed:
Signs with different regions written on each – can be framed or not

The most recent event I attended was all about California wines.  Again, each guest was asked to bring a bottle, this time from different regions in California.  Concerned every bottle would be from Napa, the hostess asked that guests try to select bottles from other places – I went with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bonterra Organic Vineyards, comprised of grapes from both Mendocino and Lake County.  It cost me $11.99 from Trader Joe’s and was worth every penny.

Of course, because everyone actually listened to the the hostess, there were no wines represented from Napa or Sonoma.

Instead of brown bags, this time the wines were displayed by region, next to framed signs listing each area (frames purchased from the 99 Cent Store) that had been placed around the apartment.

Again, a brief history of California wines was read aloud – did you know that the first commercial vineyard in California was planted by a captured pirate?  Or that thanks to an 1863 disease outbreak in Europe, the one thing that restored the European wine industry was grafting old vines to North American roots?  Crazy, right?

Guests then proceeded to taste and snack, and were also invited to write their favorite and least favorite California wineries (by region) on a posterboard for everyone to see (and take note of).

Related Party Ideas: Any popular wine state or country!  Australia!  France!  Italy!

A few decor ideas that would work for either…

  • Fill mason jars, hurricane glass, or glass vases with corks
  • Display photos of the guests visiting wineries
  • Purchase a wine magazine and display scenic photos

And no, I did not forget that this is a music blog.  So here is the perfect playlist to take you through the evening:

“Sweet Talk” – Jessie Ware

“Take Me Away” – Wild Belle

“Shades of Grey” – Delilah

“& It Was U” – How To Dress Well

“Roses & Wine” – Diego Garcia

“House” – Kindness

“You Go To My Head” – Billie Holiday

“Age” – Lianne La Havas

“Fool” – Sarah Blasko

What songs would you make sure are on the playlist for your wine party?  What are some other wine-related themes or decor would you try out?