Wine and cheese parties are an easy way to entertain! Wine and cheese are perfect compliments to each other and don’t require a lot of advanced preparation. Don’t feel intimidated about hosting wine and cheese parties even if you have only basic wine knowledge. Here are some tips to get you started:
Checklist – Keep a checklist of what needs to be done and check off each task as it is completed so you don’t forget any of the details. Set aside tasks each day to complete so that you’re not overwhelmed on the day of your party.
Guest List – Keep your guest list manageable. Six to twelve guests is an ideal size and will give everyone a chance to mingle and converse.
Send invitations – Send invitations out at least two weeks in advance of your party. Although it’s convenient to invite guests via email, it’s always nice to give a personal touch by mailing an invitation. People tend to save actual invitations they have received in the mail as a reminder of the date and time of the party.
Where to Hold the Party – Depending upon where you live and the time of year along with how large or small your entertaining space is will determine where to hold wine and cheese parties. If space and weather permit, you can entertain outside in a courtyard, patio, deck or backyard. Use folding tables to set up your tasting and seating areas.
Indoors, a dining room/area or kitchen will suffice. A dining table or folding table will work or if you have a breakfast bar you can set that up as a tasting area. Make sure to have chairs for at least 70 percent of your guests. Folding chairs with colorful cushions or ribbons attached can take the place of conventional chairs.
Place chairs in groupings away from the tasting table to create smaller mingle areas. Tray tables or end tables work well for guests to place their glasses and plates while conversing.
Selecting Cheese – Purchase four to six different types of cheese (click here for cheese suggestions. ) Twelve to twenty ounces of each cheese is recommended. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of cheese or varieties that you may not be familiar with. The goal of wine and cheese parties is to enjoy a mixture of tastes and flavors.
Palate-Cleansers – Purchase a small but interesting assortment of crackers and breads for your guests to eat between cheese and wine courses. Avoid crackers and breads that are strongly flavored or sweet as they will confuse the palate and interfere with the taste of the wine and cheese. Fruit can also be used along with crackers and breads but do not purchase overly-sweet, tart or citrus fruit. Red or green seedless grapes are recommended.
Make sure that you provide plenty of water for your guests to drink in between cheese and wine courses. Use a decorative wine carafe, decanter or pitcher and place a few slices of lemon in the water. Serve the water only slightly chilled.
Choosing the Wines – Purchase four to five different wines but no more than that so as to not overwhelm your guests with choices (click here for wine suggestions If you are a wine novice and feel that you only have basic wine knowledge, don’t panic! Good wines come in a variety of prices and types. Consult with your local wine merchant for advice on the types of wine to select. If you don’t feel comfortable asking questions, or if you live in an area that doesn’t have a wine shop, you can purchase wine online. For twelve guests, purchase two bottles of each wine.
Choosing wine glasses – When choosing wine glasses for wine and cheese parties, there are no stringent rules to follow. But, it does make sense to use wine glasses that make the wines visually appealing as well as providing ample room to breathe in the aromas within the glass. There are many types of wine glasses available in stores or online ranging from cheap wine glasses to unique wine glasses and Reidel wine glasses in all price ranges. A traditional rule of thumb is to use wine glasses that have larger and broader bowls for red wines and narrower wine glasses for white wines.
Accessories and Decorations – Depending upon the kind of wine and cheese parties you are hosting, accessories and decorations can be as simple or as elegant as you choose. Some decorating suggestions are: fresh flowers in colorful containers (use old wine bottles or wine decanters), stringed lights (small white lights or grape clusters), unscented candles, wine bottles or wine glasses filled with colorful sand or water. Use pieces of fabric with grape designs to accent a table or to line a basket that holds bread and crackers. Or use decorative cheese knives and cheese boards on the serving table.
Small plates for cheese can be ceramic, glass, paper or plastic. For a more elegant or eclectic theme, try using small mismatched antique plates or plates with a grape motif. Or, use plates with a wine glass holder attached so that guests can mingle, drink and eat at the same time.
Cocktail napkins can be either cloth or paper. Use solid colors to compliment your décor or wine and cheese-themed napkins.
Toothpicks and mini-forks should be available alongside all of the cheese plates for your guests to use. Place a small container on the serving table and mark it “used toothpicks” for guests to deposit their used picks.
Water glasses – Have a supply of water glasses available for guests who may prefer water or soft drinks during wine and cheese parties.
Wine opener – Although wine bottle screw-top caps are becoming more prevalent, you should have a wine bottle opener and a foil cutter on hand for those bottles that still use corks.
Wine chillers – Have an ice bucket or individual wine chillers on hand for keeping white wines chilled at the serving table.
Note paper – A supply of note paper and pens at wine and cheese parties for guests to use to jot down their favorite cheeses and wines.
Table settings – Use colorful tablecloths or table runners for an upbeat theme or white table cloths for a more formal effect. Disposable tablecloths are also an alternative if the theme is more casual.
Choosing the Music – Music creates the mood and sets the tone for wine and cheese parties! Wine and cheese parties that are casual should have music to match. Smooth jazz or contemporary instrumental music are good choices. For a more formal theme, classical music works well. No matter what kind of music is chosen, make sure that it is subtle; nothing so loud as to make your guests have to shout above the music to converse. And, make sure the music plays continuously throughout the course of the party.
Don’t wait until the last minute to get ready for your party! Here are some important items to keep in mind:
Housekeeping - Party areas dusted and cleaned. Low lighting helps minimize any dusty areas. Bathroom should be clean with paper hand towels, guest soap and room spray or scented candle. If outdoors, make sure furnishings are clean and landscaping is trimmed.
Two to three hours before the Party
Set the serving table; tablecloth, napkins, plates, toothpicks, glasses, chillers, flowers, etc. Chill the white wine in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Chill the red wine in the refrigerator for no more than 30 minutes.
Make labels for each type of cheese along with a brief description. Do the same for the wines. Place note paper and pens at the end of the serving table for guests to jot down their preferences.
String lights and any other decorations. Choose the music and get it ready to play as soon as your guests start to arrive.
Place chairs together in small mingle areas; set up side tables.
Place a trash can in an easy to find place in the kitchen or out on the patio so that guests can easily discard any used disposable items.
Get dressed. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready for your guests arrival.
Thirty minutes before the Party
Place white wines on the serving table in chillers. Place red wines on the serving table (no chillers). Only open the first bottle of each wine; the second bottles can be opened during the party. Set a descriptive label beside each bottle of wine.
Set out the Cheese Selection – Cheeses should be removed from the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to the arrival of guests. Group similar cheeses together on plates (soft cheeses, hard cheeses, etc.) but don’t crowd them together. Make sure there are cheese knives for each type of cheese for guests to use. Set a descriptive label beside each cheese.
Set out palate-cleansers and water on the serving table. Start the music. Light the candles.
Other considerations - Have coffee available for your guests. Don’t forget the coffee cups, sugar and cream. Keep the number of a taxi service on hand in case someone is in need of a designated driver.