Not everyone can afford lavish wine vacations. Not everyone can afford simpler, weekend wine get-a-ways. Some people can afford a wine vacation occasionally, maybe once a year, or perhaps just for a special anniversary. If you identified with any of these then you also identify with me. The struggle is real, folks. Those of us obsessed with wine would really prefer to be overlooking a vineyard, glass in hand for the rest of our lives. This trip to fantasyland leads to one question; what do we do in the meantime? Hopefully the following Wine-Staycation ideas will help suppress our desires in-between wine travels.
The Dinner Party
This idea is probably the one I utilize the most. Think poker night, but wine night. I recommend getting three to four couples and rotating homes for the wine dinner to take place. If you are hosting there is a lot of pre-work involved like polishing glasses, selecting a menu, cooking, and even just cleaning your house, so the way we usually do it is all the other couples bring the wine – you’re off the hook here. There are several different ways of setting these dinners up and I would suggest mixing it up based on your preferences and what the crowd enjoys the most.
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This one requires thought and work. It starts with creating a specific menu for the evening and coursing it out with specific wines. Five courses are usually the recommendation, starting with apps and ending with desserts. I’ve found it fun if each course is assigned to two couples. You send out the “menu” beforehand,then each couple brings a wine they think will pair best with the dish. It becomes a fun game where everyone lovingly (or perhaps not so lovingly as the night progresses) expresses their opinions on which wine paired best with each dish. You can even figure out fun prizes for the person or couple that wins the best pairing of the night.
The Blind Party
This party is my absolute favorite as it really shines a light on the wines and is the most fun and educational kind of wine party. I love doing these even with colleagues to watch them get nervous about saying they may enjoy a wine they’d otherwise disregard if they knew what it was. Basically, everyone brings one bottle per person and you wrap the bottles in foil or whatever else. I recommend something where the bottle shape cannot be seen as an experienced taster will be able to narrow down the wine by bottle shape alone. The easy part of this is there’s no specific way to do it, although I would suggest doing the whites first and then moving onto the reds. Everyone takes a turn pouring their wines and the group tries to figure out what and why it is. This can be done with or without food and can create a lot of fun drama. Resist the requests for hints while pouring your wine, everyone will beg for them!!!
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The Sommelier Party
Very few people have ever heard about this and/or think it’s too expensive. However, assuming you have four couples, your average “nice” restaurant will probably cost you at least $600 with wine, tax, and tip. In some cases, much more. For a price less than that you can have a Sommelier come to your home and conduct an interactive wine dinner and education seminar. Most of us will even do our homework and work with you on a menu and suggested wines to pair. If you book the right Somm, you’ll be working with someone who knows how to relate the education to you and your group, while having fun without being snobby about it. There’s a lot of different and interactive ways to do this event, so don’t be shy on asking to hear multiple ideas if you choose this route. For advice on Somms that may suit your needs in your market, please reach out to me personally.
Local Tasting Events
Every major market in the U.S. has wine tasting events almost weekly that are available to the public. Some can be very small and intimate, others can be weekend long festivals, and some are just really fun parties where you can network and maybe even meet a special someone who has a like interest in wine. But where do you find these? The easiest place to find these types of tastings are on Eventbrite.com. This site will narrow down wine events listed on the site in each individual market. Another way to find out about these types of events, is to subscribe to restaurant, winery, or other entities that work with wine email lists. Yes, I agree a bunch of soliciting emails can be annoying, so I suggest finding out who throws events that you’ve been to and enjoyed in the past and getting on theirs. Below I’ve listed some of the major events not to be missed in the U.S., hopefully some in your market.
Somm Madness- Chicago, Illinois
Chicago Gourmet – Chicago, Illinois
Wine Spectator Wine Experience – New York, New York and Multiple Cities
Tre Bicchieri – Multiple Cities
South Beach Food & Wine – Miami, Florida
Aspen Food & Wine – Aspen, Colorado
Pebble Beach Food & Wine – Monterey, California
Epcot Food & Wine Festival – Disney World, Florida
Almost every market has their own “Food & Wine” festivals so don’t overlook smaller local events close to you.
What if the winery and winemaker could come to you? Guess what, they do! Restaurants all over the country, including two of mine (Prime & Provisions and Siena Tavern), offer winemaker dinners where the person who actually makes the wine comes in and provides an interactive experience with the venue’s food and guests. Depending on the venue you can expect either a very elegant experience complete with a food menu that reflects something Picasso drew up, or you may find one that highlights a simpler approach with an emphasis on just having a great time. To each their own , but I’ve always enjoyed the latter. Usually the style to expect reflects the same style of the restaurant so keep that in mind.
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The Wine Slumber Party
Whether you do this one with friends, your loved one, or just by yourself (yes, I have for the record), curling up in pajamas on a couch with a bottle of wine is perhaps the definition of happiness in my world. The question is, what shall we watch on the big screen? The wine world and the Sommelier profession is on absolute fire right now and has spawned several television shows and movies over the past several years. So, grab a nice bottle of wine and some exotic cheeses and check out my recommended list of wine shows to watch on a stay-at-home kind of night. I’ve even paired a wine with each movie and show for kicks…
Sideways – Hitching Post “Highliner” Pinot Noir
Bottleshock – Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
Somm – Fisher Vineyards Mt Estate Chardonnay
Somm Into the Bottle – Mathiasson Cabernet
Somm III – Bloom’s Field Pinot Noir
Red Obsession – Chateau Pichon Lalande Bordeaux
Sour Grapes – Miller High Life
A Year In Burgundy – Any Grand Cru Chablis
The Wine Show – Bollinger Champagne
Uncorked – Rose all day!
Great ideas! We have tried the couples wine tasting where we asked each couple to bring a favorite and explain the story behind the wine. Of course you always have the one who says that they chose it because of the label! 🙂 Having a wine vacation is a dream, especially those in Spain, Italy, France, etc. In some cases even Napa. I am always appreciative when those of you who write about and present wine, take into consideration that not everyone can or will ever realize those wine related dreams. Even sometimes with the wines that are presented. I know personally for us, our budget likes to stay in the $10-$30 per bottle range, and it’s a bit of a bummer sometimes to see wine shown and hyped only to find out it is $100+ per bottle. I don’t know too many that can afford that extravagance on a regular basis, so again, I love it when they throw in suggestions in the lower price ranges. Again, thank you for the post and the great suggestions!
You bet, Tony! No one knows better than I do than to have Opus One dreams on a Mac n Cheese Budget.