As the leaves outside change color and begin to fall, sweater weather moves in. And there’s no better time than now to host a fall wine tasting party. Having a wine tasting party is a perfect low-key hosting opportunity — less hands-on than hosting a full-blown Halloween bash and it involves much less cooking than a full-fledged Thanksgiving.
Gather friends and family for a cozy get-together over a variety of wines and other seasonal provisions. Keep these expert tips in mind as you plan a memorable wine tasting party celebrating fall and its bountiful flavors.
1. Forego fragrances at your wine tasting party
“Don’t wear perfume — or anything with a strong fragrance. At a wine tasting, you’ll want to be able to put your nose in a glass of wine and be able to identify and savor its scent without any interference. Aromas are the first introduction to a wine. Body lotions, oils, hair sprays and perfume can distract you from what you set out to do: smell and taste the wine and nothing else,” says Lisa Denning, The Wine Chef.
2. Set the mood
“Hosting a harvest-themed event is all about keeping it cozy, festive and relaxed. I would have Buena Vista Social Club music playing in the background, with simple but rich and flavorful foods and a variety of Ceja Vineyards wines from Napa and Sonoma Valley displayed in a festive fashion,” says Dalia Ceja, Marketing and Sales Director at Ceja Vineyards. “Include rustic pumpkins and grape leaf fall decor on the table and you will be set up for success for an unforgettable night of hosting. Salud!”
3. Make your selections
“I recommend having a selection of four to six wines that taste very different. This makes it easy for everyone to understand and the event becomes quite memorable,” says Hillary Zio, a certified sommelier and wine writer. “Comparing an off-dry Riesling with an oaked Chardonnay is easy, fun and helps guests when ordering at a restaurant. For reds, find low tannin grapes like Gamay and Pinot Noir to taste next to high tannin grapes like Malbec and Cabernet.”
4. Go to left field
“Choose six to eight wines, including a few favorites and a couple from left field (something you wouldn’t ordinarily try), by looking online or asking your local wine shop for recommendations,” says Matt Wenk, winemaker at Smidge Wines.
5. Think locally
“Be the wine tasting host with the most this year by pairing three or four of your favorite wines with a few small bites, extra credit for pairing local wines with local treats. Build a charcuterie board with local meats, cheeses, honey, fruits and bread,” says the Monticello Wine Trail. “Sharing the story of your local growers and makers with your guests is sure to be the best pairing of the evening.”
6. Get carried away
“Let your wine selections transport you to another country during your fall wine tasting party! Pick a wine location and carry that location into the evening. For example, go to France by serving up French wine and cheeses. Play a little French music in the background. Add a nod or two to the Eiffel Tower in your party decor and you are literally set,” says Marley Majcher, the CEO of The Party Goddess.
7. Highlight seasonal flavors
“A fall wine tasting should celebrate the changing of the seasons,” says SECCO Wine Club. “Plan to serve wine and food that highlight seasonal flavors like apples, cranberries, figs or pears. Just make sure to serve a few contrasting items to challenge your palate, too.”
8. Embrace earthy reds
“When selecting wines for a fall tasting, include those that evoke the aromas and flavor profiles of this time of year, such as earthy reds with notes of dried herbs & warm spices. Our favorite this season is the Chambourcin Reserve 2019. It’s comforting, fall-esque bouquet and velvety mouthfeel intermingle perfectly with freshly fallen leaves & crisp autumn air,” says Raechel Kuehn from Penns Woods Winery.
9. Chill out
“Autumn is the perfect time of year to explore lighter red wine styles like pinot noir and Gamay. They are great at room temperature on a chilly day or if it’s a warmer day, you can serve them slightly chilled,” says Casey from the Travelling Corkscrew. “If you want a mix of reds and whites — then opt for chillable wines like savory rosé made from thicker-skinned grapes like shiraz or cabernet or opt for white wines with a broader flavor profile such as Chenin blanc, Fiano and Vermentino.”
10. Try a variety of varietals
“Fall is the transition between summer and winter, and your selections should reflect the cooler, more earthy feel that comes with fall. We recommend varietals such as a steel-finished chardonnay for a white, and lighter reds such as pinot noir or Gamay — a varietal that is making a comeback,” says Leann Pignone, owner of Simply Charmed. “While tasting different labels of these varietals, have fun and think about what would taste good with your upcoming Thanksgiving Dinner!”
11. Pair wines and food wisely during your wine tasting party
“Our dream fall wine tasting party would feature a delightful charcuterie board that pairs perfectly with your appetizers, wine selections and the crisp fall air outside! First, start with the 2018 Estate Pinot Gris. With its notes of peach, melon and lime, this wine also highlights subtle nuances of honey, cardamom and salty sea spray. This refreshing wine pairs perfectly with chevre, gruyere and fresh mozzarella. For a heartier twist, try it with some Dungeness crab cakes!
The 2016 Estate Pinot Noir is a delicious red with aromas of cherries, berries and rose petals. They’re highlighted by savory fall spices. Juicy berry flavors, tobacco and earth are balanced by refreshing acidity and soft tannins. Those are followed through to a silky and long berry-spiced finish. Pair with Havarti, Brie, cured meats like peppered salami and dried fruits.
Finally, finish with our 2017 Tempranillo. This fruit-forward wine has aromas of strawberry jam, baked cherry pie and a hint of toasted coconut with cedar and fresh tobacco notes. Cheeses like manchego and smoked cheddar will pair delightfully, as well as a spicy Italian sausage crostini and bourbon-glazed pork belly chunks,” says Sweet Cheeks Winery.
12. Leave room for dessert
“Our favorite fall pairing is a classic pumpkin pie with a glass of late harvest Reisling. The sweetness of the wine tastefully brings out the spice of the pie,” says Karyna Davis of Wine Cellar Innovations.
Sip, sip hooray
All in all, hosting a wine tasting party at home doesn’t need to get complicated. Keep it as simple or as fancy as you would like — after all, you’re hosting this for your friends and family.
So, before your wine tasting party is over (or worse…you run out of vino), raise a glass and toast to your attendees because nothing makes a wine-tasting party at home better than friends sayings “cheers” over glasses of bone-dry whites, earthy reds and seasonal snacks.