First, it's important to know your goals for this venture. Is it to learn more about wine or simply to find wines you enjoy? For me, it is a little of both, but that's up to you. You might also think how often you want to meet. The more people, the harder it is to find a date. We generally end up every couple of months.
Rick and I were brought into our group by Dick and Cheryl, the original hosts (Dick is our wine guide). Dick had taken some classes, so he would pick a theme, provide the wines and some background on key terms ("tanins," "finish," etc.) and what to look for when tasting. (Color, region, etc.)
But one needn't be a wine "expert" to figure out the basics. A little digging on the Internet will help, or talking with the wine merchant at your area wine store or grocery. And don't forget to read the labels!
Now, Dick and/or the host determine the theme (because our meetings always include dinner and sometimes the meal will reflect the wine region). And, on occasion, someone will have visited a country and want to learn more about the wines from that area. (And it's a really good time to share your stories with friends!)
For the most part in our group, Dick brings a selection of wines of various prices. This is sort of his "thing" and we're happy to have him do it. But we also recognize that it can be an expense. Sometimes we will do alternatives to that.
For example, at our last tasting, every couple brought a bottle of wine and did the presentation to the group.
Details for a Cork Poppers-style gathering.
First, decide how many are part of your group. We have 11. We would love to have more (and occasionally will have a guest) but if you are including dinner as we do, you'll need to have the space to feed them. At my house, it's pretty tight!
Then determine the number of bottles of wine you will need. We find that for 11 or 12, one bottle of wine gives each person a good taste and there is generally a bit left over to share for "seconds." Remember, you are "tasting" not having a whole glass of wine!
So, we generally figure 6-7 bottles of wine, depending on the theme that week. Remember to have a combination of reds and whites.
Then comes the "theme." You can go by region ("Northern Italy," "New Zealand and Australia," "Bordeaux," "French" (in general), "South American," etc. Or, you can go with something like "Wines for a Summer Night" or "Wines for Thanksgiving." Or, you can go with a type of wine like "Sherry" or "Pinots."
The host provides the main course for dinner. This may be thematic or just something they love to cook. They also provide the table wine and water for the tasting (unless you have someone like Clayton in your group who always brings water!).
Other guests bring bread or crackers and cheese for tasting (this can get pricey -- in a group our size, one person gets the cheese, another the bread); salad, dessert, a veggie.
The host also should have enough wine glasses for the group. These glasses don't have to match and they can come to the table for dinner. Don't make it hard on yourself!
Most of our hosts also provide party favors or place cards because we're a creative bunch and that's just what we do!
Let the Tasting Begin
When Dick is guiding us, he shares a little about the region (often his wife, Cheryl, provides this info) and something about the wine. A lot of this info can be pulled from the web or the label. He also brings paper with info on the wines for us and pens so we can take notes.
Then we taste and laugh and share our thoughts which can range from "the best ever" to "I can't even finish this." We guess at the price, which is then revealed to us. And of course we love it when it is a reasonable price!
(Don't hesitate to "take it on the road!" One of our members has a boat and a highlight each summer is a cruise on the Grand River.)
After the tasting it is on to dinner. We've had everything from cookouts to casseroles, chili to Boeuf Bourgougin.
That's a typical Cork Poppers gathering, but you could pull off a wine tasting cocktail party very easily.
The Stand-Up Version
Have every guest or couple bring a bottle of wine and enough cards with info about the wine to put nearby. Then just have people taste and they can take a card with the wine info for those they like. (It will help to remind them to take "tastes" versus full glasses, so everyone has the chance to try everything!)
Either the host can provide ample cheese, hors d'oeuvres, water and coffee or guests can also bring something for the table.
I've also been to one where everyone brings a bottle of wine for the tasting and one that is wrapped to trade (drawing numbers or simply picking up one that you didn't bring.)
Not Everyone Likes Wine or Drinks Alcohol!
This is an important point to remember -- some in our wine group have issues with reds, which may trigger migraines. Others may have medications that prohibit alcohol. So make sure you have something they would like -- sparkling waters are always festive, coffee or iced tea.
At the End of the Day...
At the end of the day (or evening) everyone heads home -- safely (be responsible!) and filled with new favorites at a variety of prices -- and list of wines that are a "thanks, but no thanks!"
And you'll all have a wonderful time!
Trust me. I know!