wine guy Wednesday
Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.
In this week's column, he shares his favorite way to win more wine. Take it away, Chris.
If you’re looking to throw a killer party — one that’s unforgettable — I have an idea for you. It doesn’t have to happen during the holidays, but it will make your holiday party more fun. Let me introduce you to Wine Club Death Match.
My friend Ellen Hur, whose classmates at graduate school first started this game, introduced Wine Club Death Match to us here in Houston a few years back. It’s a game that combines things that I love — tasting wine, talking to friends, talking about wine, and, as part of a little friendly competition, you can win the ultimate prize, more wine!
“I had heard about Wine Club Death Match and thought it sounded really fun,” Ellen explains. “I started playing with a few friends in our little New York City apartments, back in 2007 or so. We liked the idea that we could entertain ourselves without having to go out all the time. Plus, if you weren’t too discerning, which we were not, or if your friends had good taste in wine, you could grow a decent wine collection pretty quickly.”
Here's how it works:
- Every person who comes to the party is asked to bring two bottles of the same wine that fit the night’s theme (more info on that below) and the night’s price point (e.g., each bottle must be under $25).
- When each guest arrives, one bottle is immediately stored out of sight, and the second bottle is put in a paper bag and labeled A through Z (or however you want to distinguish the covered bottles from each other).
- As the party goes on, guests taste each wine (responsibly) and keep their own notes about which bottle they like the best.
- Once everyone has tasted — or the tasting portion of the party is over — everyone votes for their favorite bottle. The host takes the ballots and tallies them up for the big reveal.
- The person who brought the bottle that gets the most votes is crowned winner of Wine Club Death Match and wins the entire stash of the second bottles that have been stored away. If you have 10 people at the party participating in WCDM, the winner takes home 10 bottles of wine. Not too shabby!
- Spend the rest of the party lobbying the winner to give you your favorite bottle (or two) as a consolation prize.
We’ve played with our friends a few times, and it’s a fun, unique way to bring a little extra excitement to a party or gathering. It’s an automatic conversation starter. Plus, there’s a lot of strategy involved. If you’re fighting to the death (or, in this case, fighting for all the wine), you’ll need to have a game plan to take home all the spoils.
A few of my favorite themes:
- Region + Grape/Varietal or color + Price Point is always a good theme (Oregon Pinot Noir under $30, South American reds under $27, French rosé under $20, Spanish Cava under $25, or my least favorite option— Gewürztraminer from anywhere in the world at any price point—not my favorite varietal)
- Wine from a region you didn’t know made wine.
- Wines mentioned in music lyrics
- Wines from a vineyard named for a person
The beauty of this game is that it’s flexible. Want to pair the tasting wines with a specific dish and make it a more hearty affair? Go for it! Want to go all champagne and deal with the consequences later? Do it! Want to tell everyone to bring magnums? Why not? Want to bring the concept to more of a dinner party atmosphere? Cool. Have fun with it, and learn something.
Let me make a few suggestions to optimize your Wine Club Death March:
- For WCDM to operate most optimally, the sweet spot is 8-12 guests. If you live in a city like NYC, you must consider how you are transporting all the wine home. For example, 12 bottles on a subway is tough. Luckily, 12 bottles in a Houston Uber is much more doable.
- That being said, make WCDM yours! If you want a bigger party, go for it – you can have two winners, or be creative about how to divvy up the winnings and how to make sure everyone can taste the wines.
- Set the price point based on your guests. If your guests are bigger spenders who want to bulk up their cellars, you can have a higher price point. But I think everyone would love a solid stash of $20-$30 wines.
- Go heavy on the apps. Even small tastes of wine can add up.
- The wines for WCDM are for tasting, not imbibing during the party, so have other drinks available – especially if you have guests who aren’t participating in the competition.
- Water should be plentiful, and ride shares are a must.
Let me know how this works out for you. Invite me!
Contact our Wine Guy via email at email@example.com.
Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. He recently parted ways with Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that currently operates four Houston restaurants: Wild Oats, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Georgia James. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.