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How to Throw a Wine Country Party

Even if you don't have access to a vineyard you can still enjoy a wine country party.
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Wine is a wonderful common denominator for both making and hosting friends; a fabulous way to enjoy both is to host a wine country party. Traditionally, these are held in wine-making regions of the U.S., such as Northern California, and center around leisurely dinners and wine. Perhaps a long dinner table might be set up in a vineyard. Or the party might begin with guests gathered on the host's terrace overlooking the grapevines for a glass of wine, followed by a delicious meal in the dining room.

But you don't have to live in Napa Valley to have a wine country party. In fact, with the right decorative touches, musical selections, food choices and (of course) wine, you can create the mood of a wine country party in any backyard. We'll show you how.

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First, you’ll want to choose appropriate music and decor to create the ambience. You could go traditional and choose white linens, tall candles and classical music. Or you could select vibrant colors and contemporary music for a more casual gathering. One nice touch is to match the music you play at your party to the region where the wine you're serving was produced. For example, pair French cafe music with French wines or Flamenco music with wines from Spain. This theme can be carried into the decor.

Decide whether you'll provide all the wine or have guests contribute. If you want to be sure that all your wines and foods pair as you wish, then personally select your wines for the event. If you want to find new favorites (or save some money), ask your guests to bring their favorite bottle of wine. However, be sure to establish a price range (for example, a bottle costing no more than $20) so that no one goes overboard.

About four to six weeks before your wine country party, send out invitations to your guests. The invitations should reflect the mood of your affair, and the guest list can be large or small depending on the kind of party you want to have. A smaller size of about six to eight people is best if you're hosting a blind wine tasting, which we'll discuss on the next page.

Guests will enjoy the wine tasting more if they know a little something about  judging aroma and clarity.
Guests will enjoy the wine tasting more if they know a little something about judging aroma and clarity.
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One terrific idea for a wine country party is to host a wine tasting. There are many ways to do this but one popular way is to do a blind tasting. Gather a number of wines (labels covered), either from the same region (e.g. Chardonnays of different vintages) or a variety of wines from different regions. If you're going the latter route, start by pouring a sparkling wine, followed by whites, then reds and finally a desert wine (you can eliminate some of these choices, but that should be your order of progression). If the wines are all in the same family, start with the young vintages and move on to older ones. You can also reverse the order. Provide guests with paper or cards to write notes on. They can either rate the wines based on taste or try to guess the brand name of the wines.

You might want to spend some time teaching your guests the elements of wine tasting -- how to judge color, clarity or aroma. Or tell them something about the region where the wine was produced. And don't forget to provide water for palate cleansing and a container where guests can throw out their wine if they don't like one they have sampled.

If you’re looking for something more casual, have guests bring bottles that they've covered up with decorations before the party. Have a little competition for the best decorated bottle as well as to select the favorite wine of the night. Just be sure guests note which bottles are which!

You don’t want to fatigue your palate, so select wines that will complement each other, and don’t choose too many for a blind tasting. Consider one bottle of wine per guest (keeping your guest list small). A bottle of wine holds approximately four full servings or eight to twelve "tastings" so plan accordingly. For a larger, more relaxed party, keep the wine flowing as long as you want your guests to stay.

Don't forget to have appropriate glassware. Karyn Howard, wine expert at RayLen Vineyards in Mocksville, N.C., asserts that glassware is extremely important to get the most out of your wine experience. For example, it’s very important to serve a Bordeaux wine in a Bordeaux glass. The size of the opening of the glass determines the wine’s exposure to air, which can affect the aroma and taste of the wine. You can contact your local party rental company for any glassware that you don't already own.

Party favors are definitely not a requirement for wine country parties, but they can be meaningful tokens for your guests to remember your event. The most common wine country party favors are personalized wine glasses, wine charms, wine bottle toppers, totes to carry wine to BYOB restaurants and picture frames. To be fun and creative, craft a party favor using wine corks. Buy an inexpensive picture frame and glue unique wine corks to it to create a wine-themed gift. You could follow up by sending your guests a photo of the group at the party.

Haunt your local wine shops for fun gifts; many times, if you order in bulk, they’ll give you a discount. Or visit your local winery and purchase gift cards that guests can use toward either attending a wine tasting or purchasing some wine.

If you’re not a fan of party favors, focus on thank you notes, especially if you asked your guests to bring something to your party. Sit down the next day and write a quick thank you note on a nice piece of stationery or a wine-themed postcard. If you didn’t ask guests to bring anything, simply thank them for attending the affair. In your note, recall an anecdote about a conversation you had or a favorite wine that you tasted. Your guests will be thrilled to know that their presence was acknowledged and appreciated.

Foods and wines are both enhanced when paired properly, but the most important rule is drink what you like.
Foods and wines are both enhanced when paired properly, but the most important rule is drink what you like.
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When planning a menu for a wine country party, be sure to choose foods that you know your guests will enjoy and that will complement the wines selected. For a blind tasting, select a nice array of cheeses. Your local organic or health food grocery store will have a wonderful cheese selection, and the staff will often have an excellent knowledge of pairing wines and cheeses.

For a larger party, choose finger foods that will reflect the evening. Fresh fruits, fancy kabobs, cheeses and chocolates are excellent choices for wine country parties. For a dinner party, choose one wine for each course. If you have a menu in mind, ask the expert at your local wine shop (stay away from the big box stores) for optimal pairings. Or select the wines yourself and ask your wine shop expert what foods he would pair with it.

People often get hung up on pairing foods with wine. The most important rule is to drink what you like. If you like sweet wines, then don’t torture yourself with a dry wine you'll dislike. That being said, foods and wines are both enhanced when paired properly. As a general rule of thumb, these wines pair well with the following foods, according to Wine Country Party and Events in Northern California:

  • Champagne: halibut, smoked salmon, halibut, ahi tuna, shrimp, calamari, quail, cheese and desserts
  • Riesling: sausage, turkey, quail, pheasant, crab, scallops, trout, snapper and sea bass
  • Sauvignon Blanc: chicken, prawns, oysters, caviar, clams, mussels, ahi tuna and halibut
  • Chardonnay: swordfish, salmon, crab, prawns, scallops, escargot, lobster, rabbit, quail, chicken, quail, game hen and sweetbreads.
  • Merlot: beef, pork, veal, rabbit, quail, pheasant and pastas
  • Syrah: beef, duck, venison, squab, chicken and duck
  • Pinot Noir: salmon, tuna squab, pheasant, chicken, veal, lamb, pork, venison and duck
  • Zinfandel: squab, game hen, venison, chicken, pork, veal, swordfish, beef and lamb
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: beef, venison, goose, duck, lamb, veal and pork

The folks at RayLen Vineyards have two rules for hosting a wine party. First, always include at least one bottle of local wine -- support the local industry! Second, don’t take any of this too seriously. Know that you’re going to have hits and misses, but that’s what makes a wine country party so much fun.

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Sources

  • Ask Dr. Vinny. "What's the Best Order for a Vertical Tasting?" Wine Spectator. (July 22, 2011). http://www.winespectator.com/drvinny/show/id/44762
  • Divine Dinner Party. "Throw a Wine Tasting Party." (July 7, 2011). http://www.divinedinnerparty.com/throw-a-wine-tasting-party.html
  • Howard, Karen. RayLen Vineyards & Winery. Mocksville, NC. Email Interview. July 13, 2011.
  • Wine Weekly. "How to Throw a Wine Party." (July 7, 2011). http://www.wineweekly.com/wine-basics/how-to-throw-a-wine-party/
  • Wine Country Party. "Planning Guide." (July 7, 2011)http://www.winecountryparty.com/planning.html

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