I got 2 hours of sleep last night and worked out twice, and now I've had a glass of wine for dessert, donned my fanciest fleece pj's, and immersed myself in the imaginary Bartlett Administration where racist, misogynistic, fascist, proudly-know-nothing, demagogue conspiracy theorists don't tie experienced, knowledgeable, policy-oriented presidential candidates in US elections. West Wing forever, or at least until I can handle the news again. So let's talk about the wine party!
I got the idea from my parents because they are much cooler than me and went to one 7 years ago. It's a fun, easy way to get people together, and the perfect combo of simple cocktail party with a little something extra to do and talk about during the cocktail chatter. No gimmicks, no constant interruptions or herding of people, just a table of wines and some score cards. Plus, if your life blows up on your a few days later, you might have lots of leftover wine to help get you through.
I've gotten several requests for more information, so the basic set up is this: invite a bunch of friends (I used evite, despite my deep and true love for paper stationery) and tell them you're doing a Bargain Wine Tasting and they can bring a bottle of wine (we went with red, but if you have a lot of people you could do separate red and white competitions) that costs less than $10. And then I also asked them to bring an appetizer, dessert, or other beverage to add to the spread. Later, when I realized we had 10 couples coming, I sent out an update email asking people to bring 2 bottles of their chosen wine if possible. I didn't think 20 people could taste each wine if there was only one bottle of each entry.
Next, use this party as an excuse to buy the extra hostessing items you've been longing for. Like 24 cheaper and chunkier (but still real glass! plastic wine cups are the worst- these were $16 total for all 24 at Bed Bath and Beyond - with the annoyingly large coupons - and they're so much sturdier and glass makes wine taste better. It may be cheap wine, but we have standards.) wine glasses and a second beverage dispenser because you saw a recipe video on facebook for apple cider sangria and you need to make it but you also want people to drink water. Run through the liquor store next to Costco because you need "750 mL of cinnamon whiskey" for the sangria and discover the giant handle of whiskey he gives isn't because you're connected to Costco, it's because that's what 750 mL looks like. Begin to wonder how many Uber drivers live in Fort Worth.
Create a score card; each person will need one. I did mine on Word because I am not fancy. Print out a copy and then take it to Staples where they will print out 8 more copies on cardstock for less than a dollar.
Order a "Cheers" sign off Amazon because it seems appropriate and then go to Target to buy everything else you need: plastic cups for the sangria and water, plates, napkins, decor, prize for the winner, and 24 sharpened pencils because we're not messing around.
On the day of the party, get up at 5:05 a.m. to take your children to a triathlon north of town. Get home at 10:30 and go teach your barre class at noon. Get home sweaty and hyper and dive into the party prep. Cut up 6 apples (organic honeycrisp, because we spend more on apples than wine) and dump them in your new drink dispenser. Add 750 mL of cinnamon whiskey. Marvel at the volume. Get your cream cheese and butter out to soften. Beautiful things come from these. Wash all your new wine glasses. Open your new wine pens from Amazon and get really excited because there's a whole new category of pen you never even knew about.
Get your extra party table from the garage and set up the wine table. You need brown paper wine bags (stolen/borrowed from the Kroger self-checkout line; you'd feel guilty except you're considering them a gift with purchase for the one million dollars you've spent there since you left Austin and HEB behind. Then decide it's actually their penalty for not being an HEB), numbered for wine bottle anonymity and scoring. The wine pens, your sharpened pencils, and the score cards your husband cut out and then you had to re-trim because he does not value wine party precision all go on the wine tasting table.
Prep the food table with decor and your favorite serving dishes. Check your cream cheese and butter and then make this pumpkin cheesecake ball. Struggle with the "form into a ball" step, but decide it'll be covered in mini chocolate chips and everyone will be drinking too much one to note the ball is really a misshapen oval. Add the rest of the ingredients to the sangria. Save the club soda for last and then run out of room to add it. Decide you'll serve it next to the sangria and really hope people add it. The entire beverage dispenser now smells flammable and delicious. Continue getting food ready, including the tiny cocktail weenies no classy cocktail party is without. Wish you had a tiny crockpot and decide to sub in your rice cooker- google tells you it's fine.
Realize it's 6 and people are coming at 7. You are still in sweaty barre clothes. Thanks to foresight and an amazing nanny who volunteered to host your children at her house, you have already arranged for them to be picked up early so you will have time to get ready and they won't touch anything you have already cleaned. Your kids appear in the kitchen, each with a tiny Lululemon bag packed with essentials- PJ's, toothbrushes, toothpaste, plastic gorillas, and extra hair bows. Find them adorable, smother them in kisses, and shoo them out the door.
Shower! Blow dry and straighten your hair because that's how you show you're fancy. Curse that you can't just let it dry on its own while you do other things. Finish hair and makeup with 15 minutes to spare. Get out the most delicious cheese logs in the world. Serve with the most delicious crackers (and others that are still good, but slightly less delicious).
See friends come up the door 5 minutes early. They had to make a quick escape from their own kids and they're carrying hot baked brie. This is when you let go and just let the night happen; there's hot baked brie and goat cheese logs. It's going to be good.
Collect everyone's wine bottles (2 bottles of the same wine to enter int he competition) in the kitchen as they come in the door. Motion them to the growing snack table in the living area and caution everyone to ADD THE SODA to the sangria. Less than 50% do. Once everyone has arrived, get out your numbered brown paper bags, flip them over (assuming you also want to blind taste), mix them around, and start putting the bottles (reserving the extra bottle in case one taster bottle runs ou) in the bags. Open them up (it helps to ask a few people to bring extra wine openers if you're like me and only have one), carry them out to the tasting table, and get everyone's attention to explain the rules:
Get a score card. Write your name on the back to keep them from being mixed up. Sample each wine - small tastes! remember there are 10 - and rate each one from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. Add comments as you like and/or to guess the varietal and re-taste as needed. At the end, write down your top favorite and runner up at the bottom. Turn in your score card. I told everyone we'd plan to announce the winners at 9 (90 minutes later). And go!
Everyone took their jobs seriously. Some didn't taste at all (I hadn't thought of that, and really 1 bottle of each wine probably would have been enough if we'd been careful). Some had planned to taste, but really liked the sangria. It was really fun. Drinking the wines kept the party moving and gave you things to chat about if you didn't already know everyone. At 9, I collected the cards and reviewed the results. I thought I might have to add all the individual scores, but as it turns out there was a clear #1 and #2. I called everyone together and unveiled the runner-up and grand prize winner! I then opened up each remaining numbered bag, unveiling the wine, and reading some of the funnier or more descriptive comments. It was super fun to find out how you rated your own wine.
The winner turned out to be my non-wine drinking friend! She picked a fabulous red blend from Target. And mine was #2! I went with my favorite "house wine' - a red blend from Costco that retails for $6.99. I almost went fancy with a top shelf $9.99 entry, but decided I should see how my every day stacks up.
And that was the party! The apple cider sangria was a huge hit- there wasn't a drop left at the end of the night and the food was all great, including the apple chunks that were in the sangria that I made everyone eat (cinnamon fire bomb apples! your next great party food). We wrapped things up around 10:30 or so and clean up was easy. One of our guests suggested dumping all the leftover wines together and keeping the pitcher in the fridge for sangria, which is precisely what I did, and it made for a delicious sangria on Friday (+ sliced up and squeezed lemon and orange, orange juice, triple sec, fresca).
Go forth and wine taste! Or apple cider sangria taste. Or pumpkin cheesecake ball/oval. Or just join me in watching The West Wing. Goes great with a glass of Bargain Wine Winner #1.
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