Find The Best Wine Under $20

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

It’s been two years since I had my last “find the best wine” party. The inspiration for this party was the suggestion to add a chalkboard to my living room that could be utilized during parties. It seemed like the perfect time to take a second stab at finding the best wine under $20. (Last time it was under $10, but now we’ve grown up a bit.)

A word for the wise. (Just going to lay this out there right off the bat.) There’s something I forgot about this type of party. In order to get the absolute most out of it, you should definitely specify which type of wine you’re trying to find the best of – whether that’s find the best merlot under $20, find the best sweet wine under $20, or find the best wine to pair with my favorite gouda under $20. That would definitely bring more structure to the party and result with an actual outcome. When you have 10 different bottles of wine, you’re essentially voting on your favorite type of wine. I guess we’re just going to have to do it again. (Rough life, I know.)

That said. Please note that for the 22 oz. beer party I had where the purpose was to just try as many beers as possible, I think it was totally acceptable to have all different varieties. It made it more interesting for the pallet – and there was something there for everyone.

Now, onto the party.

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

I was very proud of myself. After a few weeks of parties where I had way too much food, I think I got it right for this one.

Wine Party Menu

  • Baked Ziti, Ricotta, and Mozzarella – it’s super easy to make ahead of time, feeds a lot of people, and is great reheated if you have leftovers
  • Cheese – this is definitely the most expensive part of the lineup, we went with gorgonzola, midnight moon, truffle tremor, and gouda, the gorgonzola definitely didn’t go as fast as the others, I would probably leave it out next time unless there was something special to pair it with
  • Spinach Dip – I don’t know why I took this out of my circuit of usuals, it’s so easy to make and it’s delicious. It also gives you an excuse to put more healthy things on the able to dunk in it.
  • Philly Pretzel Factory Pretzels – I still ordered too many, I really need to work on this (1 per person is too many)
  • Sweet Snacks – Cookies, brownies, and chocolates
  • Savory Snacks – Bread, crackers, carrots, and popcorn

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

The Party Setup

This is actually a pretty easy party to setup for, and the activity takes care of itself. There are only a few things you need ahead of time:

  • A rating system – we decided to rank each wine 1-10 (worst to best), I found this to be much easier than needing to put all of the wines in order of worst to best. This does, however, mean that you could rank every bottle of wine the score of an 8.
  • A way for people to record their wine ratings – this is how you find the best wine under $20, last time we did this we used score cards that everyone carried around with them and I typed the numbers into an excel spreadsheet at the end of the night. This time we used the chalkboard wall.
  • Bags to cover the bottles – this is so that you can’t judge a book by its cover (or wine by its bottle), we also labeled them so we knew which bottle was which
  • A way to tell your glasses apart – I have a stash of “wine charms” that everybody got to choose from
  • A great icebreaker question icebreaker games are my favorite (in case you’re new around here), we went around in the circle and everyone told the story of the first drink they ever had

One of the fun parts of this party is that everybody actually brought two bottles of wine with them. We tasted one of them and the other one went into a prize pile. So with 11 bottles of wine, there were also 11 prize bottles of wine available for the winners.

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel
Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel
Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel
Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Drinking Responsibly

There are a few things you can do to make sure that your guests stay put together. Also, you can tell that we’re growing up, because I don’t think I did most of these last time we had the party.

  • Serve food – between the baked ziti and pretzels I felt like there were enough options to keep people full throughout the night
  • Make sure there’s water nearby – don’t make it so people have to ask for it, keep it right in front of them and always full
  • Provide a dump bucket – you’re not going to like every type of wine you pour, it’s okay to dump some of it out at the end of your glass (that said, we suggest you only pour a few ounces to not be wasteful until you know you like it)

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Tallying the Score

At the end of the party, you unveil all of the wine bottles, total the score, and find out who won. The persons who won took home 5 bottles, second place took 3, and third place took 3. (I think? It’s a little hazy.)

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

And then what happens is you leave a bunch of tipsy engineers alone with the numbers too long and they try to find the standard deviations to see if the scoring was really fair. Admittedly, some people scored bottles over a range of 6 numbers and some scored over a range of 3 numbers. There’s probably a way to even the playing field a little bit in the future. Maybe you rate 1-7 instead of 1-10. Also, I think if the wines were more similar it would be easier to compare them. I’m not sure that our top three bottles are actually the best bottles because of the aforementioned reasons, but here were the winners:

  1. Bottle 6: 19 Crimes, The Banished, $8.99
  2. Bottle 8: Joel Gott Zinfandel, $14.79
  3. Bottle 5: Apothic Red, $7.49

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

At the end of the day, a great time was had at all. I recommend getting through the tasting in somewhere between an hour and 90 minutes so that the rest of the wine is available for drinking the rest of the night. We closed out the night with board games – and I made a cup of tea because that’s what happens when you get older.

Have you ever had a party like this? How would you have you tried to keep the scoring fair? I’d love to hear more about it in the comments below.

Currently Vol. 07

Currently Vol. 07

Last week started off very stressful and ended much more calmly, which was appreciated. This upcoming week will probably slap me in the face thanks to my few days of relaxation, but that’s a problem for future Chrystina, so here we are.

Finished with the big audits that we were doing at the office. There are still many more to go, but the big ones that were taking up the majority of my nights and weekends were finally finished.

Stressed out about a mentor/mentee networking event. We did an Iron Chef competition here in Philadelphia where everybody is given a team of ingredients and you have 30 minutes to cook a course, whether it is an appetizer, entree, or dessert. This is not my jam. I am just genuinely programmed wrong for it. First of all, I’m a planner. To the extreme, that is how I deal with my anxiety of cooking, I spent a lot of time planning and prepping so I know what I’m doing. I’m also an Integrator, which means that I like consensus among a group. There’s no time for consensus in Iron Chef competitions, only doing. So that was stressful. It turned out fine though, and my mentee spent a lot of time calming me down, so that was nice of her.

Loving the feeling of acting as a mentor. I’ve gotten the chance to do it a few times recently. It feels good to offer wisdom I’ve learned and some of my connections to really cool folks I’ve been meeting.

Exploring Lancaster with Ben. Every since visiting Lisa last summer in Lancaster I’ve said I wanted to take Ben back with me. It’s such an adorable city. It’s so walk-able. There are so many coffee shops. And the farm-to-table mentality is wonderful.

Surviving the Whole30. I did indeed start the Whole30 on Wednesday. (There will be a blog post at the end, don’t you worry.) Surviving might be too harsh of a verb. It’s happening. It’s eh. My mouth is a little bored. I’m always a little bit hungry. I’m a little over-anxious about messing up. But it’s happening. We’ll see how the amount of traveling I’m doing in the next few weeks interferes with this. Five days in I’m still doing okay (I think).

Looking forward to touching base with everybody next week. Enjoy!

How to Choose a Party Venue: Party Planning 101

Party Planning 101 - How to Choose a Party Venue via Chrystina Noel

This year I will be doing a series about how to plan a party when you have no idea where to start. I’m super excited to share with all of you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way on my party planning adventure. We started last month with how to choose a party theme. Once you choose your party theme you have an overall idea of what the party will be. The next step is to choose a party venue. In many cases, there is an obvious choice (your house), but there are definitely other options to consider if that won’t work out.

Option 1: Your House

This is the most obvious option because you have the most control over it. You know the space, you have access to your own kitchen and refrigerator, and you don’t need to pack anything up ahead of time. Of course, if you’re worried that your place isn’t big enough, don’t have enough room for parking, or have a bunch of moving boxes sitting around, there are many other options at your disposal.

Option 2: A Friend’s House

If you have a friend or family member that has better accommodations than you that is either willing to co-host the party or let you take over their house for an evening, this is another option for the party location. The logistics of bringing in all of the things you need could get a little tricky, but it’s nothing that a last minute grocery store run can’t fix. Just make sure to sit down with the person whose house it is to ask to find out how they like to maintain their space to make sure that it stays clean and comfortable for the folks living there.

I did this once in high school, mostly because there was no way my parents were going to let me have a party with a band, so I hosted a party with everyone I knew at my friend Kristine’s house. Her parents were up for the adventure so I figured why not. Granted, the party ended with a rainstorm, drying band equipment with hair dryers, and a car crash at the end of the night (totally sober and completely by accident). So that was kind of a hot mess, other than how it ended it was a really great party. Just check the weather first and you’ll be fine.

Option 3:  An Outside Venue

You also always have the option of choosing an outside venue for your party. This can either be renting a hall, choosing an activity that comes with a venue, or finding a free location for people to meet up. It all depends on budget, level of effort you want to put in, and how much space you think you’ll need.

Rent a Hall

Renting a venue is definitely the most complicated option, only because you need to bring all of the things in yourself. That said, it definitely saves you some money, especially if you can find a venue where you can bring in all the food and drink yourself. You can rent a fireman’s hall, a warehouse, a barn, art gallery, or a church basement. You should be able to search on the venue websites to find more details, and if you can’t find anything you can always call.

Think about places you already inhabit on a regular basis, places where you are a regular are more likely to let you in to use the venue (possibly even for free). I tried this recently with my hair salon and had great success. (Yes, you can even choose a hair salon as a venue, any space that has the vibe you’re going for.)

Choose an Activity that comes with a Venue

This is the easiest, but most expensive option since you won’t need to bring anything with you, and may need to be considered as you are choosing your theme. There are so many venues that you can rent out that may come with pre-made party packages. Here’s a list of possible options sorted by type of activity:

  • Enjoy Some Food and Drink: The obvious choice for this category is to choose a restaurant to all meet up at (remember, some restaurants are more interactive than others – like the melting pot or a hibachi restaurant), you can keep it a little cheaper by choosing a coffee house, but you can also consider a cooking class (iron chef style, how to make pasta, sushi, etc), or do a private tasting (breweries, wineries, chocolate shops, and any specialty store).
  • Get Creative: There are so many businesses these days that offer creative classes, you can work with the owner to coordinate your own class that could consist of: hand-lettering, jewellery-making, pottery making, glass blowing, greeting card design, or more.
  • Get Active: If you’re sick of sitting around the house, choosing a venue that helps get you up and moving might be fun. You could find a dance studio (salsa, swing, pole, etc), rock climbing gym, laser tag studio, bowling alley, or mini golf course to invite your friends to.

Or you could even visit an arcade (which didn’t fit in any of the above categories). The options for choosing an outside venue are really endless. Think about where you like to hang out and what activities you do that you might like to invite a friend along to, and that will help you narrow down your list.

Find a Free Location

If your budget is tight, there’s always the option of finding a free location for your party as well. While you may need to think a little more creatively, it’s definitely possible to make it happen. You could meet up at a local park, the town library, or even a mall. For my 19th birthday my friends and I went to a mall, divided into 3 teams, and each got $15. We then had one hour to buy something that began with every letter of the alphabet. Not going to lie, it was a pretty fun challenge. And the venue was free, which was great.

Things to Consider

There are a number of questions you will want to consider when choosing an outside party venue. Here are just a few to get the ball rolling:

  • Can you bring in your own food? Do you need to use a specific caterer?
  • Can you bring your own alcohol? Will you need to hire a bartender?
  • How early can you get in to setup?
  • Is there a deposit or cleaning fee?
  • What is included in the cost per person? What if someone doesn’t show up?
  • What if there’s a snowstorm that day?
  • Where will people park? Is it easy to get to via public transit?

The key is to think about your guests and anticipate things they might need ahead of time. Actually, that’s pretty much the definition of party hosting right there: making your guests feel comfortable while they’re at your event. Hopefully this thought makes hosting a little more manageable!

What’s been your favorite place that you’ve hosted a party? Do you have a go-to location outside of your house? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Currently Vol. 06

Chrystina Noel Currently Vol 06

Better late than never. It was another week, man. I’ve got a theory you can guess some of these currently happenings based on previous weeks posts, but here goes nothing:

Tired. So tired. Hoping that I find more time this week to wind down and take a second to breathe, but I think I’ve been saying that for a month now. I really need audit season to be over sooner than later.

Grateful to have had the chance to sing on the Verizon Hall stage this past weekend. I had a blast singing. The musical was phenomenal. As were the soloists.

Worried that I made too many polarizing statements to the people sitting next to me during the concert. You know when you say something, but it needs a bunch of clarification around it? Yeah… I never had time to make any of those clarifications. They still seemed to like me by the end, so that’s cool.

Loving the chance to be a mentor to some college students. Even though I’ve made it to manager I don’t usually work with too many people younger than me so I haven’t really gotten the chance to take on that mentor role, but I think it’s something I could be really good at.

Watching season 11 of Cheers. Finally. It’s taken months. Looking forward to starting 30 Rock next.

Listening to “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana. Over and over again.

Gearing up to start the Whole30 this week. I decided to give it a go. We’ll see how this goes. I’m much more worried about what happens if I don’t have time to prepare food than about having to give things up for a month. Part of me thought it might just be useful to hire a chef for 30 days. It would save me a heck of a lot of energy figuring out what I’m allowed and not allowed to eat.

Surprised that the big balloon I bought for my birthday party (on January 8) still has enough helium in it to be floating. Yay for Disney princess balloons.

Having lots of conversations around relationships, friends, and staying in touch. Who’s worth staying in touch with, how to make new friends, how much effort you should be putting in, etc. No conclusions yet, just a lot of interesting conversations with a lot of late twenties, early thirties folks feeling the same way: a little bit lonely and not sure where to find what you’re looking for.

Introducing my parents to one of the best friends I’ve made in the past 10 years. It’s weird how your parents don’t know who your friend are after high school. Especially the important ones.

That was at least a little more exciting than it has been. I also walked home in a complete down pour this week with no umbrella or jacket, worked on perfecting my fried dough game, and got to hang out with my parents. So those things were cool too. How was your week?