A few months ago my friend Bailie gave me an idea for a wine and cheese game. Here’s the premise –
Everybody you invite brings 2 bottles of the same wine to the party. The wine needs to be under $10. One bottle goes into a prize stash and the other one goes on the table and is opened. Everybody at the party tries every bottle of wine during the course of the evening and votes on which one is best. At the end of the night the winners get to take home the prize stash – and everybody else gets a list of pretty good wines under $10.
It definitely turned out to be an awesome party, and a great wine and cheese game. There was definitely some prep work to be done before the party began, but once the party kicked everything everything was smooth sailing. Here’s how it was done –
I invited everybody to the party via email. I explained the premise in the invitation, told everybody that I wouldn’t be offended if they didn’t believe in $10 bottles of wine, slapped an RSVP date on the end of it. I sent follow up emails two weeks before, a week before, and I started text messaging people I was unsure of the week of the party in order to make sure I had an accurate count. (Even up to 24 hours before the party the range could have been anywhere from 0 to 26 people.) Since everybody was going to have to spend $20 on wine, I decided not to ask anybody to bring food, but I did specify that I would not be serving dinner and everybody was responsible for eating on his or her own beforehand.
The day of the party I got a text message asking what one of the couples could bring to the party. That was actually the most ideal timing to recieve this text message because I told everybody who had asked earlier not to bring anything because I hadn’t begun to coordinate the food list yet. They brought vegetables and hummus. Because we were opening one bottle of wine per person arriving at the party, I knew that I had to do something about absorbing the alcohol. I ordered a 200 rivet pretzel tray from Philly Pretzel company with 3 dips – cinnamon, cheese, and spicy mustard. That pretzel tray was nearly gone by the end of the night as was probably the best investment of the evening. I made a batch of cupcakes using my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe (which didn’t actually go at all because everybody was so excited about the savory options). A friend brought a batch of oreo pumpkin cheesecake cupcakes (a recipe similar to this one). And I also bought $60 worth of cheese from DiBruno brothers, because no wine and cheese party is complete without cheese from DiBruno brothers. After consulting the guy behind the counter I ended up with the following:
- Billy Blue
- Delice de Bourgogne
- Prima Donna
- Sappore Del Piave
- Gruyere Alpage
They were all absolutely delicious, but our two favorites were definitely the Billy Blue and the Delice de Bourgogne. The billy blue description reads “made with fresh pastured goat’s milk & aged for 4 months. Creamy & piquant” and the Delice de Bourgogne description reads “this cheese is a luxuriously creamy, rich, full flavored cow’s milk cheese from France. Similar to brie in both style and texture, this cheese has the added qualities of full-fat milk content giving it an interior likened to that of whipped cream cheese.” And don’t forget to serve honey with the Delice, it makes it infinitely more delicious. In addition to that, we had two baguettes (which both went), an apple (which turned brown too quickly too eat and wasn’t worth buying), and some crackers – which added a nice variety to the bread.
Before the party began there were a few things that I made in order to facilitate the execution:
- Bottle Numbers
I had round circles already cut out from my birthday party last year and I wrote the numbers 1-21 on them.
- Scoring Cards
I made scoring cards using some cardboard, washi tape, stamps, and markers in order to make keeping track of things easier. I even made sure to put the scale on there so that people couldn’t forget while the party was happening.
- A Google Spreadsheet
Before the party began I created an excel spreadsheet that was already pre-populated with formulas to easily determine the winner after I was a bottle of wine in.
Key Decisions Made
There were a few decisions that were made about the execution that really helped the evening move along.
- I decided that instead of everybody rating the bottles against each other that it would be easiest, therefore every bottle got rated 1-5, 1 being dislike and 5 being like. At the end of the night, whichever bottle with the highest score won.
- Originally I was told that whoever won was going to take home all of the bottles of wine. We decided to make a first, second, and third place to spread the wealth around (and make sure that nobody needed to carry home a ridiculous amount of bottles). First place won 6 bottles, second place won 4 bottles, and third palce won 3 bottles.
- Right as the first group walked in the door they suggested that we cover the bottles so that you couldn’t judge a book by its cover. It made it a little bit complicated because you couldn’t tell if you were drinking a white or a red, but hey, wine is wine. Since almost everybody had stopped by the liquor store on their way over we had all of the brown paper bags handy to wrap the bottles up in. It also made it interesting because 2 people had brought the same bottle – they did end up ranking pretty close to each other, but we were all joking about the fact that they absolutely might not be.
- I had a jug of water always full nearby so that people could stay hydrated throughout the course of the evening. I even went through the effort of using the Brita to fill the pitcher throughout the course of the day so there was a large amount of filtered water right when the party started.
- I made a point to tell everybody that in order for all 14 people to try every bottle of wine they could only pour 1-2 ounces in their cups. For some people, this worked, and for some people (like me) they should have used a 1 oz. shot glass in order to keep a better handle on things.
- At the beginning of the night I started writing down the list of who brought which wine, which wine it was, what year it was, what brand it was, what number it was, etc and by literally the second person it got to be too much to handle. I decided it would be easier to take a picture of the person holding their bottle of wine and their number before they got brown bagged.
Other Ideas Considered
There were a few ideas that I had throughout the course of the planning and the event that I wasn’t able to or decided not to execute. Let me know what you think.
- I debated setting up stations of wine around the house to keep the flow of traffic moving. It would have been cool to put a few dixie cups at each spot, pair the cheeses specifically with that group of wine and have food and a water jug available at each station. Unfortunately, I don’t really have enough space or extra tables to execute this. A few people took some bottles to a different room, which worked well for spreading people out, but I definitely learned a lot about small house party hosting during this event, which I was absolutely be doing a post on later on.
- We tried to decide if it made a difference in your voting if you preferred red or white wine. I considered putting a question about it on the scoring card and adjusting the scores accordingly (I never did quite figure this part out though), but we ultimately decided that we were going to trust people to just be honest.
- I considered asking everybody for the name of the wine they were going to bring before they came, but honestly, I had a guess that nobody was going to buy it until right before they showed up – and it was right. It would have been useful to know how many reds and whites we were going to have because I considered splitting it up by that.
- I had considered buying water bottles for everybody to take as they left, but I just didn’t have the strength to carry a case of water bottles back after I carried those pretzels for 10 blocks.
- It may have been useful to start with all of the whites and then fade into the reds like a wine tasting, but yet again, we weren’t sure it was worth the hassle.
The first place wine was the Robertson Winery 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, followed by the Frontera 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, with third place being the Col di Sasso 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon & Sangiovese. And as for the kitchen, well, that ended up looking a little bit like this –
First of all, y’all should try to repeat this party and let me know how it turns out and which wine wins.
We’re also considering playing this same game with fall beers. We think it involves splitting each bottle of beer 4 ways and having one person in the kitchen pouring all of the beers for everybody to taste at the same time, otherwise it would be a complete pain in the butt to hide the bottles.