How to Host an Outdoor Wine Tasting

Summer evenings have an enchantment all their own. When the air is soft and the topaz sky mellows to indigo, we’re drawn outdoors, and drawn together.

At a time like this, a party with a point of view adds just the right amount of focus. What fun to introduce your guests to the earthy bouquets, bright tropical tones and spicy notes of summer wines.

Select a theme

To expose guests to the depth and breadth of wine without leaving them feeling overwhelmed, select four to five wines of the same age that fall within a certain theme. You might want to sample different varietals from the same region, or try wines made from the same grape but produced in different parts of the world. For summer, opt for lighter wines like a crisp Chablis, effervescent prosecco or classic fruit-driven California zinfandel.

Establish neutrality

Help guests ponder each wine with an open mind and untainted taste buds. Slipping each bottle into a wine bag or paper bag tied with a bit of twine is sufficient to conceal the label and allow for a blind tasting.

For cleansing the palate, serve chilled water and flavor-absorbing neutralizers like water crackers or plain baguettes. A crisp white tablecloth or butcher paper sets a sophisticated mood.

Taste & appreciate

Before the tasting commences, refresh your guests on the basics of examining the complexity, character, potential and faults of a wine. Our partners at Food & Wine offer a simple primer.

One to 2 ounces is the perfect pour for tasting each selection. Choose a Bordeaux or all-purpose wine glasses that are narrower at the rim than in the middle of the bowl, and large enough to allow for a swirl. For prosecco and other sparkling wines, however, opt for traditional flutes or prosecco glasses.

Taste dry or light-bodied wines first, ending with sweet or full-bodied vintages.

Ask guests to record their impressions of each wine on notecards, and allot time after each tasting for sharing observations. Provide one or two buckets for guests to pour leftover wine between tastings, and offer individual cups for guests who prefer not to swallow the wine.

After the final tasting, take a vote of favorites before revealing each label. There are bound to be plenty of pleasant and entertaining surprises.

Repeat & relish

As the evening folds into night, your party can continue assessing the wines. With aeration, some wines will grow richer flavors, while the freshness of others will crumble.

If you’re serving hors d’oeuvres or a meal, light yet smoky grilled foods like white fish, chicken breast and vegetables pair well with summer’s lighter wines. Guests will enjoy experiencing the synergy of a great pairing – where both the complexity of a dish and the subtle notes of a wine are enhanced.

PAIRING TIPS from Laithewaite’s Wine

Consider the balance of the wine and the dish. A light meal, like pasta primavera tossed in olive oil with garlic, is best complemented by an equally light wine … perhaps a northern Italian Pinot Grigio. And if you’re enjoying a heavier dish, like beef stew, a bold Cabernet Sauvignon works well.

Pinpoint the dish’s main element – usually a sauce, or a spice – and choose a wine accordingly. If you have an earthy sauce, select a wine with a similar palate  – like a Cru Beaujolais with portobello mushroom risotto. A lemony cream sauce over scallops, chicken, or veal is wonderful with a bright Chardonnay.

A spicy dish can be tricky to pair. Avoid anything with lots of tannins like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Young Barolo. Try lightly sweet sparkling wine. Bubbles refresh the palate, and the sweetness is a lovely foil to heat.

Sweet wines go well with other sweet foods – and also with salty, pungent foods. Enjoy ice wine with apple pie and a slice of sharp cheddar. And port and Stilton cheese has been relished for generations.

For more inspiration on hosting your next outdoor affair, don’t miss our interactive video, It was a Perfect Day. You’ll find delicious recipes, designer tips on decor, an exclusive wine pairing menu and more.