Putting on a wine tasting on a shoestring
December 20, 2010 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Help me organize a wine tasting. Challenge: short timeframe and low budget.

I'm one of a group of six people trying to organize a small wine & cheese tasting as a social event for a fraternal organization. We collected feedback from the members, and a wine tasting was the clear winner among ideas we bounced off of them. It's nice to have that kind of consensus, but now that we're digging into the logistics we're wondering if we've bitten off more than we can chew.

Our rough attendance estimate is 30-40 people. We plan to go the 'suggested donation' route, asking maybe $10 per person attending... which might give us a budget of about $200.

For various reasons beyond our control, this event is happening on January 15, which does not give us a lot of time to pull this together, but we're not too worried about many of the smaller details. We figure we'll take care of things like:

* Cheese
* Crackers
* Plates/Napkins
* Glasses (tacky thought it may be, we will probably go with disposable plastic; 5 wines times 30ish people = at least 150 glasses)
* Lemon sorbet for palate cleansing

Which leaves the wine itself. None of us are wine connoisseurs, nor have we been to tastings ourselves, so we're not sure how much wine we'll need (how many bottles of how many different types).

We plan to contact some local wineries and distributors this week about possibly sponsoring this event with some of their product, but have no idea what to expect.

Has anyone organized something like this before? I'd really appreciate any tips about types and quantity of wine, or who specifically we might talk to at a winery or distributor. And of course, any other gotchas that we might not have thought of. The event will be happening in Boston, Massachusetts. (We already have the venue lined up.) Thanks!
posted by usonian to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: no sorbet palate cleanser. That will kill your palate.
posted by JPD at 8:17 AM on December 20, 2010

My friends use to do this all the time, on the scale of up to about 20 people. My thoughts just out the gate:

1) We never had lemon sorbet for palate cleansing. It may not be ideal, but we had water. I'm not 100% sure anything fancy for palate cleansing is necessary, strictly speaking. Plain french bread works too.
2) You need a "dump bowl" for the wine people dislike / do not want to finish.
3) A "taste" serving is about 2 oz, so one 750 ml bottle per six to eight guests, if you are allowing people to go back for more of their favorites once it's done.
4) Some sort of score card.
5) A list of the wines tasted and their designations (I'm assuming a blind tasting, so they will want to map bottle "A" to whatever it was.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:24 AM on December 20, 2010

Best answer: Last night, I attended a wine class at a local wine shop.

The class involved tasting six wines (seven, if the pre-class glass of sparkling red counts). We used only three glasses - the wines were served in flights of three; between the two flights, each person emptied the three glasses either by drinking it all or dumping it into a metal bucket on the table. I rinsed my glasses with the water that was intended as the "palate cleanser".

Also, the wine shop set out bowls of some great little finger foods: gherkins, marinated artichokes with yellow peppers, some sort of small, round, red pepper, and crackers with a fantastic cheese: beer and mustard seeds were the flavors in the cheese. Since the class was all about heavy red wines, these tart, surprising flavors helped set off the flavors of the wines.

The set-up was simple, too: they had tables covered with white paper, three glasses, a small plate and one fork plus one water glass per setting. Each wine was, at retail, less than $30/bottle.

Since your event sounds rather large, I'd pitch it to a local wine shop, maybe one that gives classes on wine appreciation. Perhaps the shop would do it at a reduced cost for the publicity/marketing plus the emails, phone numbers, etc., for mailing lists.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 8:30 AM on December 20, 2010

Best answer: Yes, no lemon sorbet. Just have crackers for the palate cleansing.
posted by something something at 8:42 AM on December 20, 2010

Definitely don't do anything with a strong acidity to use as a palate cleaner. Since this isn't a knowledgeable wine crowd, I would mainly focus on getting a wide range of red and white grapes covered. For such a low budget with that many people, if you happen to be in a city with a Trader Joe's wine shop (like New York), that's the best place to get the most bang for your buck.
posted by msk1985 at 7:17 PM on December 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses (especially about the sorbet - somebody in the planning group had heard or read that somewhere, and none of us would have known any better.)

We postponed the tasting by about a month, partly due to weather and partly because we realized we needed more time, but ultimately we pulled it together and had a really successful event. We had a lot of help from the wine steward of a local liquor store, who suggested wines in a decent price range (not too cheap but not too expensive), helped us figure out how many bottles we'd need based on anticipated attendance, picked out wines for us based on an "Old World vs New World" theme, and suggested cheese pairings. They also agreed to let us return any unopened bottles after the fact, which was great.

For anyone interested, we wrote up our process as part of a larger document related to the project for which this event was organized: http://engagingbrethren.org/sites/default/files/EngagingTheBrethren.20110317.pdf (direct PDF link, about 313Kb. The wine tasting notes begin on p. 15.)
posted by usonian at 6:21 AM on March 22, 2011

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