Bring a little taste of Napa (and your kids) to your next dinner party
When you want to entertain without all the fuss and muss of a formal dinner party, host a wine tasting with a few friends. It will seem like you spent days preparing, but really you’ll have invested a few hours and minimal effort to prep for your guests arrival.
Best of all, no sitter is needed. Plan for an early evening arrival and the kids can play while you sip, savor and nosh and still get everyone to bed on-time.
While the adults make their way through the tasting menu, the kids can play, catch a movie and munch on pizza (courtesy of the local delivery man). Paper plates and juice boxes make for easy clean-up, and special treats like candy or popcorn can help delay the need to leave for a little bit longer.
To set-up your tasting, you’ll want a few bottles of wine. To mimic what you’d find when visiting a vineyard, start with whites and move onto reds (lightest to darkest). Have your guests take part in the wine selection by assigning each couple a bottle or two to bring along. Encourage guests to seek something new so the tasting is a learning experience for all.
At a recent wine tasting party we sampled the following( in this order):
- Greywacke Wild Sauvignon – Marlborough, NZ
- Qupe Y-Block Chardonnay – Santa Barbara, CA
- Holloran Vineyards ‘Stafford Hill’ Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, OR
- Novy Syrah – Santa Rosa, CA
- Whitehall Lane Merlot – Napa Valley, CA
- J. Lohr Hilltop Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – Paso Robles, CA
I set the table with 6 glasses for each guest (if you find yourself without enough glasses, purchase a plastic sleeve), plates for appetizers, utensils and a guide with tasting notes. In the center, I presented the food to pass around family style.
When each couple brings an appetizer to share, you’ll cut back on the cooking (and clean-up). Various people bringing dishes also allows for a variety of food to be sampled. Guests should keep in mind the tasting theme and consider what food would pair well with the wines being served.
Treats that have made their way through my doors for wine tasting nights include little crostini topped with fun toppings such as sliced meatballs, chunks of chicken parmigiana, bean dip and olive tapenade. As well as endive cups filled with delicious Tuscan Chicken Salad. But if you’d rather keep the food in house, make it simple by throwing some pre-made (I love Trader Joe’s) appetizers in the oven.
As the host, I jump at the chance to experiment with the cheese plate. Although markets like Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Wegman’s and Trader Joe’s offer excellent cheese selections, when I want to impress my friends I head to a small, local shop.
The one cheese shop I favor, close to my home, is Wasik’s The Cheese Shop in Wellelsey, Massachusetts. The cheese maker, Brian Wasik is typically in store and beyond helpful. I explained what my goal was in cheese selection and he guided me through his cheeses to find the perfect cheese pairings to compliment the wines.
Armed with three cheeses: La Tur from Piemonte, Missouri Truckle, and Taleggio from Lonbardy , Italy, I set off to find the special little touches that would take this platter from something to nibble on to the star of my table. Adding piles of salumi (the Italian word for cold cuts) , some tall bread sticks, a bundle of grapes, pile of apricots, a line of olives, and a little honey to drizzle over the truckle, the cheese plate was ready for my guests to enjoy.
And enjoy they did because the six adults at the table almost polished off the entire cheese plate. First, tasting each cheese alongside the appropriate red or white, then gobbling up the accompaniments as they returned for seconds and thirds.
Guide your guests by sharing the following tidbits about each cheese so that they learn not only about the wines you’re serving, but also the food:
- La Tur from Piemonte is a creamy blend of pasteurized cow, goat and sheep milk that pairs well with whites.
- Missouri Truckle is an unpasteurized cheddar cheese aged in a cheese cloth on the outside, allowing the cheese to breath and resulting in a dry, crumbly texture paired with the light reds.
- The Taleggio from Lonbardy , Italy is a semi-soft, washed rind, smear-ripened Italian cheese that held up well to the bolder reds.
This allows them the confidence to host their own wine tasting, and hopefully reciprocate the invitation.
Add a little touch of wine to your cheese by labeling using old wine corks. Using a dark colored marker, label each cheese then stick a toothpick into the cork, and insert into the corresponding cheese.
And finally, add a little extra something to your wine tasting party by asking everyone to send you a picture of the wine labels so you can put a wine menu together. To do this, research the wine maker’s tasting comments and add them to sheets of paper accompanied by the photo of the label, and space for taking notes. This keepsake lets your guests not only remember the night, but also find the wines that you’ve discovered. It also acts as a guide for the wine phobic so even if they can’t actually smell or taste the correct flavors in the wine, they can comfortably fake it. If you don’t have time to create your own guide from scratch, use my template as a starting point.
You’re friends will be amazed at how easy it is to host an elegant evening of wine tasting.
-Just one mom finding a way to enjoy wine with friends, Courtney
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