Don Davis of Uncorked Events has always had an eye for a good party. Whether having half his high school over for a night of cheap beer while the parents were out of town, renting out a mansion in Chicago during college, or gathering 1,500 people for a Moroccan-themed fundraiser in the city, Don has always thrived on bringing friends together to really enjoy life. His focus now lies with hosting public, private, and corporate wine-focused events throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
Wine: The New Book Club by Don Davis
While I do like to read, wine is my great passion. It’s like a book club; just replace each book with a bottle! The combination of wine, friends, and food is hard to beat. And the fact that wine helps to prevent heart disease is an added bonus!
While there are absolutely no rules for how to set up a wine group, I’ve made a few suggestions to get your creative juices (and hopefully fermented grape juices) flowing.
Starting a Wine Group
Begin with a manageable group of ten people or less. Don’t worry about the level of each person’s wine knowledge; the most important factor is making sure everyone really loves wine. The thrilling part of a wine group is tasting, learning, and sharing together regardless of “expertise.” Start with a meeting once every month or two—you can always increase the frequency later.
Developing a Theme
Keep it simple at first with the wines easy to find. “California Pinot Noir” or “Sauvignon Blanc under $20” are themes that come to mind. Having a country-specific night like “Australia” or “South Africa” is always a winner as well. Over time you’ll likely opt for more specific themes. For example, you could have a “Syrah World Tour” night and assign each person a specific country or region that produces syrah.
If you have a real bunch of wine geeks, you won’t be short of ideas. A few creative ones I’ve been a part of include: “California Cabernets 1990–1995” and “White Burgundy & Fried Chicken” (oh, what a night that was!).
There are endless potential themes, and coming up with them is one of the great pleasures of a wine group. Why not open a bottle and think about it?
Making the Night Successful
In an ideal world, you would have a separate glass for each wine, but this is impractical. If the host does not have enough glassware, ask guests to bring one or two. I recommend having two glasses per person (if possible) to enable side-by-side comparisons.
Make sure you have plenty of food on hand–not only will food enhance the experience, it also enables tasting more wines without getting too tipsy. It can be as simple as ordering pizzas or have each guest bring an appetizer. My personal favorite is to cook up a big feast. This works best if your group loves to cook and you rotate hosting (and dishwashing) duties.
Experiment with blind tastings, hiding the labels in brown bags. This really helps in detecting nuances and differences in the wines, while removing any preconceived notions you have. With that said, I find blind tastings tedious if you do them all the time, so mix it up!
Don’t worry about taking extensive notes—the most fun part about a wine group is enjoying each other’s company while sharing a passion. It is helpful, though if you have one scribe in the group that can email the list of wines tasted the next day. If you have a volunteer, creating a wine group blog is easier than ever.
Keys to Longevity
Have someone in charge of the schedule and emailing the group. Take turns selecting the theme. Consider rotating the location amongst the group. Take a trip to wine country together once a year. Splurge on a night of special wines every so often. And most importantly, just enjoy every last minute of toasting and tasting one of life’s greatest pleasures with your friends.