How to Run a Wine Tasting Party

There are plenty of reasons you may want to have a wine tasting party. Maybe you’re having a bunch of friends over, but don’t necessarily want to go out for the night. Or perhaps you need an excuse to have a wine shopping spree, and want to share your findings with your friends. Or, if you’re like us, you have an overflow of wine collecting in the basement that needs to be tasted stat!

Whatever the reason, it’s a fun, tasty way to spend an evening. Here are the steps to a perfect wine tasting, laid out by our wine expert, Kristen, and practiced by the whole Half Past Wine-O-Clock team!11943357_900467160041337_521691704_n

Start with the bubbles

Yes that’s right. If someone brought the champagne, Prosecco, the fritz, or the spritzy, the party should always start with that. Not just because it’s fun, but because the bubbles tend to make the wine lighter on the palate. We, however, did not have any bubbly at this party so we had to change our “Step One.”

Start with a traditional white wine

If you jump right in to the sweeter or heavier-bodies wines right off the bat, a white wine won’t stand a chance on your pallet! Always start off with a white wine to begin the party so you can fully appreciate the lighter tastes and aromas the wine offers.

If you have multiple white wines remember body and flavors!  Here’s the typical order to taste in with major white grapes:

  1. Riesling  2. Sauvignon Blanc   3. Chardonnay

    Have a white that isn’t listed? Drink the heaviest bodied wine last. Chardonnay is the heaviest white wine (that isn’t a dessert wine) so always drink those last anyways.

    Don’t know about the body of wine you bought? Check out the vintage year and alcohol percentage. Drink younger vintages FIRST and higher alcohol percentages LAST. Why? The older the wine the stronger flavor it develops and strong flavors will stick to your mouth even after moving on to a new wine. Secondly, high alcohol content can “burn” the palate too early so you wont taste weaker wines after.

Move on to a rosé

It can be tempting to start off with a rosé, since they are typically lighter and sometimes sweeter than a white. However, rosés offer the perfect transition between your white wine and the reds to come. There’s no better way to switch from white to red, and adding a rosé in between can smooth the transition! 

Move on to reds, but order them correctly!

All reds are not made the same, as all wine lovers know. They aren’t all equal, either, so ordering them the wrong way can throw off a tasting. Start with any red varietals (single grapes), like we did, to transition from the lighter rosé into a heavier-bodied red that relies prominently on one grape instead of a flavorful mixture of many. This way, your pallet can easily transition from less complex, fruitier reds into the more heavily bodied reds.

The same rules apply here as with the whites. Heavier body wines go last and so do higher alc % and older vintages.

However, red wines can be harder to figure out. Here’s a list in order of body (drink first to last):

  1. Pinot Noir 2. Merlot 3. Zinfandel 4. Cabernet Sauvignon 4. Shiraz/Syrah

    Watch out! There are always exceptions with red wines. Check the label to see where the wine is produced. Warmer climate produce grapes with stronger and more pronounced flavors. Cooler climates are crisp wines. When in doubt do colder places first.

Always end with dessert wines

We ended with a sweet coconut wine from our favorite winery, but not before cleansing our pallets! It’s tough to find a placement for a sweeter wine, especially right after a fuller red. We recommend fully cleansing the pallet and perhaps waiting between the reds and sweeter wine.

Why can’t we start with a sweet wine, you ask? It’s just that after a dessert wine, the other wines will taste too harsh and heavy, so it’s easier to finish with them.

Let everyone take their favorites home

There’s no better way to end a party than by divvying up the wines based on who loved which one most! This way, everyone leaves with a small gift – the remainder of the bottle – and has a takeaway from the party. If everyone agrees on one favorite, finish it up before the night’s over – who says the party has to end with the tasting?

5 Wines Paired with 5 Comfort Foods

Some days are so rough, you need comfort food and a glass. But it isn’t always easy to pair your fave indulgences correctly. Here are a few of our favorite comfort foods matched with a wine that will only add to the comforting experience, brought to you by our wine expert Kristen!

1. Mac and Cheese and Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc’s crisp tartness cuts well into the cheesy taste of this favorite comfort dish. Chardonnay could have been a good choice, but might be a bit too heavy to combine with the cheese sauce.

2. Pizza and red wines


We think we can pair pizza with just about anything if we put our heart to it, but there are a few rules to go by. We recommend pairing a white wine with white pizza, and red wine with red sauce. Easy enough to remember, right? However, we’re not matching colors, but tastes; a white wine won’t stand a chance next to a red saucy pizza, so we need to pair it with a fuller bodied wine. For your average pizza, we recommend Pinot Noir, red Zinfandel, or Cabernet Sauvignon.

3. Fried Chicken and crisp wines


Our wine expert Kristen has tried sangria with fried chicken because of its stronger mix of fruit juices to counter the greasy fried chicken. She also recommends Gewurztraminer-based wines, although they are difficult to find, its crisp flavor would cut the poultry taste well. We don’t recommend red wines for poultry, excepting a good duck!

4. Vanilla Ice cream and dessert wines: double the dessert!


Sweet wines pair best with vanilla ice cream. We would even suggest pouring a thick dessert red wine over a vanilla ice cream, especially if the wine is cherry or blueberry flavored!  Examples of these wines are Jackson-Triggs Ice wine, Sweet Baby vineyard Blueberry table wine, and Apfel Eis apple icewine from Harvard Ma winery (Still River Winery).

5. Dark chocolate gooey brownies and dark reds


Perhaps the greatest comfort food of all, we need a wine that can perfectly compliment a chocolaty brownie. In order to balance the deep sweetness of a brownie, we recommend dark reds like Shiraz, Merlot, or Temparnillo.

Did we miss any of your favorite comfort foods?

Image sources (CC Attribution):

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

12 Things Any Young Wine-Lover Relates To

Happy Friday fellow winers! We’re looking forward to finally getting our hands on a bottle of wine this weekend. In the meantime, we’re left to soberly reflect on the hilarious struggles of being a young wine-lover.

If you’re college-aged and just getting into wine, we can relate to your struggle – and so can these hilarious moments from pop culture!

So we all know wines are overpriced because restaurants assume we don’t know what’s what. We’re definitely getting better at spotting the worth of a wine, but in the meantime we might need to get some corners and go right for the most, er, economic listing.

Who says we aren’t putting our degrees to use? If there’s two things we learned in college, it’s how to drink and how to deal with the bizzarro people in our lives.

Hope you didn’t think we were sharing! As a broke, desperate 20-something, there’s nothing worse than someone inviting themselves to a glass of your wine. Most bottles are for sharing…but let’s be real, we have one personal bottle on hand at all times.

Do we even need to say anything about this one?

Guests better appreciate the financial efforts we’ve put in to getting wine! That’s $6 I could have spent on two coffees…or 1/8 tank of gas…or a cute sale item…or toward that impending, terrifying educational debt…

We all had that one friend in college who knows how to pour a real glass!

If you have the right friends, you shouldn’t even have to ask!

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We’ve all had nights when exam study guides start to look like ancient Latin…

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We know exactly how to coach a sister through a breakup.


We know how to pair wine with foods we can actually afford…


We know how to befriend dorm and apartment neighbors fast.


And like fine wine, our friendships and wine expertise just improve with age!

Enjoy your weekend and pour an extra glass for us!

Are Wine Bottles Deceiving?

So we all know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but apparently this counts twofold when it comes to wines. That is, when pretty packaging is what draws us to a bottle.

As a 22-year-old, it’s difficult for me to pass through a wine section unnoticed and, honestly, unsupervised. Older wine veterans will frequently hover over my shoulders, offering suggestions and critiquing any bottles I lay my eyes on, let alone pick up. But usually, this pestering guidance turns out to be more assisting than annoying.

A great piece of advice I received from one of these hovering liquor store staff members was about the visuals of a bottle. The liquor store had a display of “OMFG” and “WTF” bottles out, and this worker couldn’t pass it without complaining about the display and its popularity. Wines like these, similar to “Bitch” and other wines targeted directly at college-aged drinkers relied more on packaging and graphics than quality and taste, he said. He insisted it was the wines girls my age would never think to pick up that were the best, and to always shape my purchases around what wasn’t expected of my age bracket: what expert marketers weren’t using as a ploy to get their hands on my wallet.

Although New Age is still one of our faves, we’ve found this to be pretty true. Recently we were attracted to the artistic, sweet image of a daintily-drawn elephant on a bottle of sweet Rose. We fell for the ploy we’d been warned about and in return received a bottle of glorified water. That’s what it tasted like, at least.

Thankfully, our wine expert Kristen has a set of qualifications that can help us, and you, from ever making this mistake again:

What can we do to find some better quality bottles?

  1. Research before you buy – using the Vivino App to see what others think
  2. Know your wine regions – A Syrah from France tastes very different from a Shiraz from Australia
  3. Base decisions on geography: cold regions produce higher acidity thus tart wine. Warmer regions have more sunshine, so they produce higher sugar levels, which in turn creates fuller flavors.
  4. READ those wine labels – Does this wine come from a sub-region (specific city)? Does it have a quality label like “D.O.C.G.”, “A.O.C.”, or one of the “Crus”? These show that the grapes in the bottle are from specific places and prove quality. Each wine producing country usually has their own system.
  5. Beware the flair – traditional wine makers stick to the traditional wine label format (vintage, vineyard, grape variety, country, region/city, and quality indication). New cutting edge labels can hold great wines (like New Age), but they hold less information and can be harder to determine quality before purchase.


Based on Kristen’s advice, can you tell which of these is more traditional vs. eye catching?

The picture on the right is a more traditional wine label format v.s. the eye catching rooster label.
The Rooster wine WAS actually good but there is no proof on the label for quality or even a vineyard name on the front. Unless you know you like the grape, this can be risky.

At the end of the day it all comes down to each drinkers personal tastes. For more information on wine labels, check out the link here.

If you have tips of your own that you would like to share please post them to our comments!


Image credits: Bitch Wine, WTF Wine