Some years ago, a group of friends and I decided that while we loved wine, we knew far less about it than we should considering our rate of consumption. To remedy the situation, we decided to start a wine club — a casual get-together once a month where we would drink wine, enjoy a little food and bring together a mix of people from various social groups. This was the beginning of a love affair with wine.
Looking back to our first wine club in a crammed living room in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, it’s one of my fondest memories of drinking wine. It was my gateway into an entire universe of which I had only previously scratched the surface. Plus, the joy of discovery and the knowledge gained at that earlier stage became the foundation for my approach to learning about wine in the years that followed.
A casual wine club is one of the best ways to learn about wine absent pretension. Among friends it’s always more comfortable to ask what you might feel is a dumb question (though no question is ever dumb) and starting one is actually much easier than you might think.
Getting Your Wine Club Off The Ground
Starting a wine club is pretty simple. You don’t need to hire an expert or even have someone in your midst who knows much (or anything) about wine. To start, you just need someone who’s organized and willing to take the reins, get the ball rolling and help guide the club. They need not be a wine connoisseur! A good comparison as to what it takes to start a wine club is starting a book club. How many of you that are in book clubs actually have a member who was an English major, or works professionally in the literary world? Probably not many of you, yet you all enjoy getting together, talking about books, and learning a bit more about literature and each other. This is the same idea behind a wine club.
Next you have to think about how many members will be in your club. My wine club had over 15 people, which meant that we split up into pairs, with each pair bringing one bottle of wine and then sometimes a snack to go along with it. We didn’t feel the need to consume 15 bottles in one sitting! If you have a smaller group, though, it may make sense for each member to bring a bottle so you’re able to taste through a variety of wine at each meeting.
In addition to getting your leader and members organized, starting a wine club should also mean having a food plan because it’s a little tough to drink through bottles in a tasting without at least having a little snack. Maybe each month the person hosting wants to cook up a dinner for the group to enjoy during the meeting (we used to have the host make a few quiches, or a big pot of pasta, or lasagna). Or you can have each person bring a little snack for the group to munch on while tasting. At the very least, have some water crackers or bread on the table and ready to go. It will also probably help to have plenty of water ready for everyone to drink throughout the tastings as well as a bucket in case anyone wants to spit (although I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that…).
Research And Materials For Your First Wine Club Meeting
For your first club, have your leader bring a tasting sheet for everyone in the group (you can download ours here) and some information on the basics of tasting wine: looking at wine, swirling wine, smelling wine, and sipping wine. Lucky for you, you just have to click our Wine 101 section to find this information. You can also send these links out to the group in advance. How convenient!
The tasting sheets are there not to formalize things, but rather for your group to just get a sense of the kind of questions people think about when they taste wine — they are not to be taken too seriously. Let the conversation go wherever it needs to to create an enjoyable, if not educational, evening! It’s probably handy to also print a few wine smell and taste charts to pass around to the group (a Google Image Search for “wine smell chart” or taste chart will lead you to plenty of examples — just pick any of them — there is no one that is “right”). Keep in mind, this is just so everyone can get an overview of the things people consider when they taste — it’s not an absolutely necessary step to start your wine club.
Next, instruct your members to each bring their favorite bottle of wine and set a price range — when we started out, our range was between $10-$20 — although it may change from one meeting to the next depending on your theme. Then tell your members to ask their wine merchant to share a little information about the bottle: a few factoids about the region, the grape, or the producer. They can also find a lot of this research online.
Your First Wine Club Meeting
Now here you are at your first club. Everyone has their bottle, there is some delicious grub on the table and everyone is eager to get going. To start, have your leader walk everyone through the basics of tasting wine, and then start tasting. One thing we learned after our first meeting: do not pour everyone full-size glasses of wine during your tasting! It’s smarter to pour smaller portions, 2 ounces is standard, so you can drink through the bottles, have your conversation and then finish up the night with the remainders from each bottle. Go through each bottle of wine and let the person who brought it share why they like the wine as well as few little facts that they picked up from the wine merchant who sold them the bottle (or from a little internet research). Once you’ve tasted each bottle, have the group vote on their favorite and let the winner choose the next theme. (Theme ideas can be found at the end of this post.)
Your Next Club And Beyond
Once you’ve selected your next theme, have your leader do some basic research on the theme and ask the person who selected the theme to help them. This doesn’t need to be anything too extensive! Just a little background history to get the conversation flowing. Follow the same routine as the first club: have each member pick a bottle that matches the theme and ask their wine merchant (or Google) for a few facts. The bottle can be something they’ve researched beforehand or something that the wine merchant recommended. Whatever works for them! As each bottle is tasted, the person who brought it will share their knowledge and the group can discuss the wine. I don’t want to offer any specifics as to the flow of conversation, because it should go wherever the group wants it to go — it depends on the interests (and attention span) of the individuals involved. Remember, this is just a fun activity to help you learn a little bit more about wine and what you do and don’t like. Rarely do you get the opportunity to have a taste of so many bottles in a row, back to back, and have a conversation about them — so savor the moment!
Like your first meeting, have the group vote for their favorite bottle at the end of tasting and let the winner pick the next theme. (You can also just have everyone decide on the next theme as a group, but we thought it was fun to have our “winner” decide.)
Between clubs, encourage your members to drink delicious wines and share their finds with the group at the next meeting. Also, it’s probably a good idea to tell them to keep up with VinePair to continue their wine education online!
Wine Club Meeting Theme Ideas
Below are some sample theme ideas, but you should run with whatever the winner wants to learn more about! This is a great way to give everyone an opportunity to have a say in the next night’s drinking adventure and will keep things interesting. Plus, it’s fun to imagine your own themes. Note that you may need to plan in advance when you have certain themes, like those that involve different countries. When this happens, just split up the countries (or whatever else it may be) at your current meeting so that everyone is bringing a different bottle.
Old World Wines
New World Wines
Old World Vs. New World Wines
Varietals: Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.
A Journey Through The Noble Grapes
Compare Varietals From One Region
Compare Varietals From Different Regions
Try Wines From Various Regions In One Country
Try Different Wines From The Same Winemaker
Download Our Free Wine Club Tasting Notes Worksheet!
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