If you enjoy wine, why not expand your palate? For wine enthusiasts, a terrific way to try a variety of wines - without breaking the bank -- is to host a wine tasting party with friends in your own home. It is a fun and educational way to try different styles of wines, while spending quality time with friends.
On location at The Grange of Prince Edward County winery & vineyard
It was during a 2014 visit to Geneva, Switzerland, when I was there as a travel writer covering a festival, that I became interested in wine after tasting delicious some wines from the Lake Geneva region. So I enrolled in a Wine Specialist certificate program at George Brown College to learn more and expand my travel writing.
I since interviewed female winemakers and began to conduct small educational wine tasting at the end of my talks. This weekend, I conducted an educational "blind tasting" for 20 yogis at a "yoga and wine" workshop. And I've discovered it is both relaxing and fun.
And so, a wine tasting is great for a girl's night in, or celebrating a friend's birthday, or a good excuse just to get together. It can be done simply, at a minimal cost, with some planning and organization.
Here are tips on how to conduct a wine tasting party:
1. Start with a theme: Determine an overarching theme for the wine tasting. For instance, will you be comparing wines from different regions of the world? New World vs Old World wines? Different styles? Personally, I like comparing wines made with the same grape from a cool vs warm climate.
2. Invite wine-loving guests: The best guests for a wine appreciation night are, of course, those who appreciate wine. Keep the group to a small gathering, no more than 8 or 10 people to keep it manageable. Ask your guests in advance if they prefer white or red wine, so you have an idea because some people have preferences or allergies.
3. Try a blind tasting: Cover the wine labels by either keeping the bottle in the paper bag it comes in, or use a nice decorative paper to cover the label. This is a fun way to get your guests engaged and guessing at what they are drinking. At the end of the tasting, reveal the wines.
4. Set expectations and explain the process: Before you begin, let your guests know what they can expect and the process you are going to take them through so they understand the game. Be sure to inform them, in advance, of how much alcohol they will consume over the course of the evening (e.g. one or two glasses in total).
5. Get the right materials: Each of your guests should have a water glass, spit cup and a clean wine glass. Keep water jugs handy. Also provide paper and pens if you want them to take notes.
6. Keep the food simple: The easiest food to compliment your wine tasting is a cheese platter, so you can focus on the wines, unless you are doing a "food and wine pairing" experience. Stay away from spicy foods or strong smelling dishes that will overpower the wines.
7. Consider décor: If you wish to go all out, get some nice fresh cut flowers and candles (but not scented) for the table.
8. Summarize the results at the end: Whether you are doing a blind tasting or if guests know what they are trying, summarize the tasting with results such as overall impressions, favourites, and so forth. Pull out your computer and try doing an online shopping experience together.
9. Provide a list of the wines: At the end of your tasting, provide the guests with a list of the wines they tasted, including price and where to buy. Or, at the end of the tasting, put all the wine bottles together on a counter so guests can take photos of the wines for reference.
10. Be Responsible: Be a responsible host and ensure your wine-tasting guests are responsible, too.
Enjoying the wines of Switzerland's Lake Geneva region
Considered hosting a wine tasting party. It is a fun way to experience different wines and share an evening or afternoon with good friends.
Want to discover quality wines at affordable prices? Follow my new Instagram account @ShannonWineSpecialist.
Shannon Skinner is the host/producer of ExtraordinaryWomenTV, a radio show host, inspirational speaker and author, who lives to travel and discover fine wines. She occasionally hosts wine tastings for groups in Toronto. More about her adventures at ShannonSkinner.com. Tweet to her at @Shannon_Skinner.
This blog was originally published on ShannonSkinner.com
Also on HuffPost:
The winery: Peller Estates On the map: 290 John St E., Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: $15 per person for their daily Greatest Winery Tour. The sell: The most unique tours. What you need to know: With a wine and cheese tour (yum), a restaurant on site, and a tasting room made out of ice, Peller Estates can easily take up a full day.
The winery: Kew Vineyards On the map: 4696 King St., Lincoln Price of the tour: Contact the tour for prices and availability. Most tours depend on the group size. The sell: The best girls' trip/bachelorette weekend. What you need to know: This 160-year-old estate offers up everything from acres of vineyards to the perfect spot for an all-gal picnic.
The winery: Redstone Winery On the map: 4245 King St, Lincoln Price of the tour: Not a tour, but three wine tastings for $8. The sell: The best patio. What you need to know: Besides the stunning view, drop by Redstone for a selection of 16 wines, including two ice wines.
The winery: Château des Charmes On the map: 1025 York Rd, St., Davids Price of the tour: Tours range from $10 to $20 per person. The sell: A little slice of Niagara history. What you need to know: With 30 types of vintages in their vineyards, Château des Charmes is also great for family gatherings and special occasions.
The winery: Inniskillin Wines On the map: 499 Line 3, Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: Tours start at $10 per person. The sell: The iconic winery. What you need to know: You can't check out Ontario's wine country without a visit to Inniskillin Wines. With their iconic ice wine collection, dabble your palette in everything from sparkling to Cabernet Franc.
The winery: Southbrook Vineyards On the map: 581 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: Tours range from $10 to $35 per person. The sell: For the green thumb. What you need to know: The vineyard offers a dinner series every third Thursday of the month where you learn how to pair your wine with meals made with local ingredients. The vineyard is also proud of its green roots — a tour can teach you about their organic growing and farming practices.
The winery: Tawse Winery On the map: 3955 Cherry Ave., Vineland Price of the tour: Contact Tawse to make a reservation for tasting tours. Availability depends on group size. The sell: One of the most popular and award-winning wineries in the region. What you need to know: From white to red to rosé, Tawse is home to some award-winning blends and five vineyards in total.
The winery: Megalomaniac Winery On the map: 3930 Cherry Ave., Vineland Price of the tour: Tour and tasting $10 per person. The sell: The best view. What you need to know: During the month of August, you can also take part in the winery's jazz nights.
The winery: Fielding Estate Winery On the map: 4020 Locust Ln., Lincoln Price of the tour: Daily tours $10 per person. The sell: The most relaxing winery. What you need to know: The winery also has a daily cheese plate tasting at their retail shop on site.
The winery: Domaine Queylus On the map: 3651 Sixteen Rd., St. Anns Price of the tour: Contact the winery for reservations and prices. The sell: Off the beaten path. What you need to know: With 40 acres of vineyards, Domaine Queylus also serves up lessons (on their tours of course), on their distinct way of making wine.
The winery: Two Sisters Vineyards On the map: 240 John St E., Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: The Estate Tasting Tour is $20 per person. The sell: Delicious pizza to go with your wine. What you need to know: With a restaurant on site, experience holiday dinners, seasonal festivals and wine pairing events.
The winery: 13th Street Winery On the map: 776 Fourth Ave., St. Catharines Price of the tour: Wine and food tour $20 per person. The sell: Noted as one of Niagara's best wineries. What you need to know: According to the Globe and Mail, 13th Street Winery has tasty offerings but the sparkling wine and gamay are considered signatures.
The winery: Trius Winery On the map: 1249 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: Nine different wine tours. Check out the site for reservations and prices. The sell: Ideal for mini romantic getaways What you need to know: With a restaurant on site and several different types of wine tasting experiences, we suggest renting a local inn nearby and spending a good chunk of the day at the winery.
The winery: Vineland Estates Winery On the map: 3620 Moyer Rd., Vineland Price of the tour: Tours range from $6 to $25, depending on the group size. The sell: Perfect wedding venue. What you need to know: For a small intimate wedding of 56 guests, Vineland can host both wedding dinners and receptions. But our favourite part? The spectacular view.
Follow Shannon Skinner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Shannon_Skinner