Have guests sample five different types of wine (more will overwhelm the palette). It's fine to mix reds and whites; just serve them in order from lightest to darkest, since darker wines tend to be heavier. For six guests, have two bottles of each: one for tasting (pour small amounts of about one ounce) and one for drinking afterward.
For an easy theme, select vintages that all hail from a specific region: Tuscany, Napa, or your own state. Get local suggestions from your neighborhood wine shop or take a hint from one of these sites: Zachys Wine Online (zachys.com), Binny's (binnys.com), or Appellation America (wine.appelationamerica.com).
Provide one Bordeaux glass (shown in photo) per person for the duration of the tasting. (Don't rinse the glass between servings, since even a drop or two of water can dilute the wine.)
As a general rule, 15 to 30 minutes before guests arrive, put reds in the refrigerator. Take whites and rosés out a few minutes before pouring.
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If you want to go all out, make clever invitation-coasters with a map of your featured wine region. Download and print out a map from National Geographic's MapMachine, at nationalgeographic.com/maps. Trim, then use a spray adhesive to glue it to a piece of four-inch square card stock.
Chocolate that contains at least 60 percent cacao, which makes the chocolate richer
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Download these songs to get the party started:
“High and Dry,” Jamie Cullum
“I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye
“I'm Not Drinking Any #@%!$ Merlot!,” from the Sideways soundtrack, composed by Rolfe Kent
“In the Waiting Line,” Zero 7
“Into the Mystic,” Van Morrison
“Lovely Day,” Bill Withers
“Peel Me a Grape,” Diana Krall
“Rebel Rebel,” Seu Jorge
“Sophisticated Lady,” Thelonious Monk
“That’s How Strong My Love Is,” Otis Redding
Head to itunes.com, where you can purchase these songs from the Real Simple-generated iMix.
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Show Your Guests How to Taste
Step 1: Look at it. Is the wine bright (light-bodied) or dark (full-bodied)? Clear (drink up) or cloudy (toss it)?
Step 2: Swirl your glass gently to release the wine's aromas. Then put your nose deep into the glass (don't be shy). Is it fruity? Floral? Herbal? Earthy?
Step 3: Hold the wine in your mouth while slowly inhaling air (you'll make a slurping sound). It may feel odd, but the process aerates the wine and opens up your olfactory sense to enhance its flavors.