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?

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