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.

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.

How To Choose a Party Theme: Party Planning 101

Party Planning 101 - How To Choose A Party Theme 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.

How to choose a party theme might seem like a strange place to start, but I think it’s the most important. Once you choose a party theme, the rest of the decision-making process becomes much simpler.

All parties have a theme, whether it’s “just because” or celebrating a specific holiday. If you choose to have a “just because” party, you may need to be more specific in choosing the feel, colors, or menu for your party. If you are celebrating a specific holiday, a simple Pinterest search will find you all of the things you need. Here are some ideas to choose a party theme that’s right for you:

Step 1: Choose a Basic Concept

Check the calendar

A calendar can give you great ideas for party themes. Each month has its own unique set of holidays, each with its own cause for celebration. For example:

  • New Year’s Eve
  • Chinese New Year
  • Groundhog’s Day
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Mardi Gras
  • Patrick’s Day
  • Earth Day
  • Easter
  • Fourth of July
  • Rosh Hashanah
  • Yom Kippur
  • Diwali
  • Halloween
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas

And if the major holidays aren’t your cup of tea, you can find plenty of smaller “fun” holidays to celebrate like: Pi Day (March 14), Geek Pride Day (May 25), International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19), or National Cupcake Day (December 15).

Think about things you love

This is probably my favorite way to choose a party theme. Things that I love include: chai, bubble tea, romantic comedies, greeting cards, Disney, singing, photography, and buffalo sauce. I assure you that each one of these things can easily be turned into a party theme (or at least menu item). For example:

  • Chai: I once hosted I “find the best chai” party.
  • Bubble Tea: I once hosted a bubble-themed baby shower and served bubble tea.
  • Romantic Comedies: I definitely have hosted at least one movie night in my day.
  • Greeting Cards: I’ve hosted parties at my house where people made Valentine’s Day cards or Christmas Cards for people they love.
  • Disney: I hosted a Disney movie marathon party for my 28th birthday where we watched Mulan and Aladdin back-to-back.
  • Singing: I’ve hosted many a caroling party during the holidays – and am still looking for enough people to host a vocal jazz reunion party form college
  • Photography: I’ve hosted events where I offered free headshots for people.
  • Buffalo sauce: I once had a beer tasting where I made buffalo chicken grilled cheese for everybody to make sure they avoided being completely plastered.

If there’s something you love, you should feel absolutely confident about turning it into a party, because there are definitely other people who love it too. Other things that have been on my radar for a while include: Hey Arnold, N64, cereal, nail polish, and PowerPoint. (Don’t ask.)

Consider being more abstract

There’s nothing to say that the theme of the party needs to be a physical, tangible thing. The theme of your party could be love. Or the color silver. Or your favorite song. Or photosynthesis. You really can pick anything as your basic idea.

Step 2: Brainstorm

You might think that brainstorming comes first, but really brainstorming comes second. Once you choose an idea, I recommend making a list of every possible thing that comes to mind about that topic. Google or Pinterest should be able to help you out here if you’re running into a problem.
Here are four examples I put together below:

  • The color purple: grapes, grape jelly, Barney, that book by Alice Walker, purple, eggplant, that big character from McDonalds – Grimace, Purple Rain, paint or draw with only purple, eat only purple food, wear only purple clothes
  • Recycling: environmentally friendly, planting, reusing materials, making outfits out of recycled materials, volunteering, farmers markets, gardening, clothing swap, book trade
  • Sock hop: 1950s music, jukeboxes, Buddy Holly, motown, poodle skirts, making poodle skirts, prom king and queen, Grease, the pink ladies, records, diners, red and white checkered things, malt shakes, trivia games, dance off, hula hoop competition, limbo to la bamba, make root beer floats, burgers and fries
  • Harry Potter: dress up like characters, turn your house into Hogwartz, Harry Potter trivia, watch a Harry Potter movie, act like your favorite Harry Potter character, play Quidditch, turn Harry Potter into a drinking game, have a book discussion

Once you have a bigger list of ideas related to the basic concept, you can choose just one specific theme where you want to spend your time, energy, and money.

Step 3: Reality check

Unfortunately it can’t all be fun and games, we need to start factoring in reality. You don’t need a full idea of what you’re going to do for the party yet, but you want to make sure that you think about approximately how much time, energy, and money you’re going to be spending. And remember not to get discouraged, you can always find a way to make an idea less complicated early in the game or add a little extra fun to a simple idea to pizzazz it up. For example:


Idea Start Small Add Some Pizzazz
Host an Epcot drink-around-the-world party with stations for each country. Host a tasting of a few of your favorite beers. Choose a few beers from different countries.
Host a prom-themed birthday party at an outside venue. Invite friends over to hang out in dresses and dance to music. Only play songs from the 80s.
Host a Murder Mystery Party. Play a game of Clue. Make it a drinking game.
Host a three-course meal. Host a potluck and have everybody make one of the dishes. Drink champagne.
Host a wine tasting. Pair one wine with two different cheeses. Play jazz music in the background for ambiance.

As mentioned before, there are three things you need to consider: time, energy, and money. Here is a closer look at things you should be considering when thinking about your party theme:


How much time do you have to plan the party? If it’s only a few days, you probably want to stick to something simple. If you have a few weeks and the help of a few friends, you can choose something a little more complicated. We will talk more about this later on in the New Hostess series.


While this is a similar discussion to ‘time,’ it’s slightly different because energy takes your mental brain capacity into play. If you’re someone who is already over-committed – or just even somebody with very little patience in general (like myself), you’re probably going to want to choose a relatively simple concept.


This is the biggest one. Your biggest costs are going to be venue, food, and drinks. So, if in your brainstorming you are able to keep those costs down, you will be well on your way to planning a budget-friendly party. Yet again, we will talk more about this later on in the New Hostess series.


If you’re looking for a place to start, you can check out some of the previous parties I have hosted over the years.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel
Hosting a 22-Ounce Beer Party via Chrystina Noel

That’s the basic 101 of how to choose a party theme. I’d love to hear what party themes you’re considering right now. Let me know in the comments below – or I can help you brainstorm. I’m always down for that.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

As many of you know, I turned 28 in December, and as expected there was a 28th birthday party to accompany that. The theme of that party was Disney. The agenda for the party? Watch back-to-back Disney movies while coloring, drinking, and picnicking on the floor.

It was possibly the most “Chrystina” birthday party I’ve ever had. And it was the weirdest thing to not have to host the party. Why? Because we were watching movies.

That said, I still haven’t quite figured out how to talk about the party yet.

There’s that question everybody asks, “so, how did the party go?” That’s the hard one to answer.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

I don’t know. It was fun. It was pretty. The movies were excellent as per usual. But there were a heck of a lot of things I would have changed. So I’m going to give it to you straight and tell you the good and the bad.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

So if you’re one of those people that just wants to hear what went well and thinks it’s ridiculous that I’m complaining about a fabulous birthday party, just read the first half of the post and stop there. K thanks.

10 things I would do again at my 28th Disney-themed birthday party

  1. I had people vote on the movies ahead of time. There was a doodle poll. I put 10 movies on there that I would be happy to watch and I let everyone pick their favorites. At the end of the day Mulan and Aladdin were the winners, with Hercules as a very close runner up.
  2. I told people to bring a picnic lunch. It was kind of fun and it was a cost saver on money. I gave gift cards out to the people who brought the best picnics.
  3. I chose colors for the party. As Ben and I were walking around The Christmas Tree Shoppe I realized that I was going to have to decide on colors for the decor if I was going to get anything done. I decided to keep it classy with black and white. Black and white both (a) reminds me of movies, and (b) is a good way to make a kids-themed party more adult-like.
  4. I bought cake stands to use on the food table. This gave me the opportunity to vary the heights of the things on the table creating a very nice visual.
  5. I bought one coloring book and let people rip pages out of it to color. One was all we needed since everybody only had time to color one (maybe two) pictures from the book.
  6. I chose a venue that already had a projector, sound system, and DVD player. This made it really easy to bring the movies in.
  7. I borrowed the Aladdin DVD from a lovely lady in a Buy Nothing / Sell Nothing group on Facebook. I posted that I needed to borrow the DVD for a party and she volunteered her copy. This saved me a lot of money since I think Aladdin is currently in the vault.
  8. I bought balloons to decorate with. They definitely added some great height. I also splurged on a $9 Disney balloon. Way better than a bouquet of flowers since it’s still floating 2 weeks later. (And I will probably tape it to the wall when the air is finally out of it.)
  9. I made a paper chain for decoration. Paper chains are my favorite way to decorate. They’re easy and meditative to make, they look really classy, and you can always keep them for the next party.
  10. I liked that it was a kid-friendly party. No kids actually ended up coming, but as I’m getting older and I have more friends who have kids it’s nice to find a balance that works for both. (Please note: We drank the juice boxes I bought for said children anyway.)

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

5 things I should have done differently for my 28th Disney-themed birthday party

  1. I would spend more time on the guest list. For some reason I decided to make a guest list really quickly and send out all the invites. ROOKIE mistake. There are so many more people I would have loved to see. There are so many more people I was having one-on-one outings with in between the time I sent the invite and the party that I had to awkwardly be like, “hey, so you totally should have been on this list.” I’m not letting this happen again. If I’m planning a go-big-or-go-home party in the future I will definitely definitely spend more time on the guest list.
  2. I wish I hadn’t spent money on a venue. The venue was beautiful. But at the end of the day the party turned out to be 25 people total. We almost could have done that in my living room. And I could have saved a heck of a lot of money.
  3. I bought far too much alcohol. This is a common theme in my life. Ben tried to stop me. It just seems so embarrassing to run out. That said, I think I brought 4 cases and left with 3.5 cases. If not more. I also left with 3 cases of La Croix, half a dozen juice boxes, 1.5 cases of water, and at least 6 bottles of wine. Oops?
  4. I would have told people to bring slippers or a change of shoes. There’s no way I could have known this ahead of time. It was really really cold and crummy weather that day. And you pretty much walk straight from outside into a hallway into the venue. So we asked people to take their shoes off when they came in so that people weren’t picnicking in water on the ground. This made us all pretty cold (and left us with wet feet).
  5. I got the suggestion that I should have had more time for people to mingle. Essentially the party was 4 hours. That was 30 minutes at the beginning, a 90 minute movie, a 30 minute break, and a 90 minute movie. That wasn’t really time for anybody to see anybody. We also could have played some kind of game. (They suggested mafia, I was thinking Disney song lyric games. Same difference.) I don’t know if the answer to this should have been only watch one movie or have a longer party, but I felt I should pass it along.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

Usually I would write “I would have taken more photos” in the things I should have done differently category (because I genuinely didn’t take any photos), but I’ve pretty much accepted this is a way of life at this point. It’s just not humanly possible to remember to take photos during your own party. This is why people hire photographers.

All of the photographs in my post were taken by my friend Mary. Thanks, Mary.