Brown bag wine dinner party
I have found that with "brown bag" wine tastings, less is more. I only poured two varietals (one red and one white, three bottles each) at our more successful wine parties. In my experience, it gets a little overwhelming to the palate if you add in too many more varietals. I typically serve an appetizer with each varietal. I like to compare and contrast a varietal from different wine regions (for example, serve a Sauvignon Blanc from California, New Zealand, and France). It is also fun and informative to throw in a real bagain wine (like 2 buck chuck) against more expensive wines.
I've done a few brown bag parties in the following ways. Most popular is by varietal. This helped my friends and myself appreciate the differences between the producers, regions and countries. I was able to get my hands on some real cabernet grapes when I had the cab party and that was helpful to understanding the true verietal profile. I do tell my guest that they are not allowed to buy from the supermarket because I don't want any duplication. And while I love Trader Joes, they only carry 3 pinot noirs and let's face it, I've drank all three before and want to try other stuff.
I've also had 'sparkling red' and 'rose' parties. Another way is to tell people what you are making and tell them to bring the best matching wine. Make sure your guests are chowhounds if you are doing it this way because from personal experience, some will have absolutely no clue what you are even talking about. These people (mostly young men) will put in a panicked call 30 minutes before and sweat. Have fun!
Last year, we include a suggested wine list in the invitation, various price ranges. We had 40 friends for a buffet dinner party to raise money for a local charity. Wines were paired with meals and several were raffled off with nice openers. The list we used:
Pinnacle Iced Cider
Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio
Woodbridge Mondavi Chardonnay
Kendall Jackson Chardonnay
2003 Isla Negra Merlot
2003 Neige Apple Ice Wine
2002 Fetzer Valley Oaks Zinfandel
2004 Beringer (Premier Vineyard Selection) White Zinfandel & Chardonnay Blend
2003 Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua Valley, Chile
Jumilla "Wrongo Dongo" Red
Maculan "Pinot & Toi"
Gallo of Sonoma
2002 A Mano Primitivo, Italy
2004 Trumpeter Malbec, Argentina
Zardetto Prosecco Brut, Italy
A few bottles were donated for the party.
Here's an interesting experiment for your guests. Have the wines wrapped so that you cannot easily see the shape of the bottle. Blindfold a volunteer. Pour a glass each of two different reds and a single glass of white. Have him/her take a sip of each and see if they can identify which is which. You may think this is a no-brainer. However, without visual ques, most people have a problem telling which is which. (Unless something is truely unique like a Gewurtztraminier.)