It can vary so widely...
One way to do it. Pick a theme (say 'high end -- whatever that means to you' or '2000 Barolor' or whatever if you want you can chose a general price range, but you don't have to) and tell everyone to bring 1 bottle per person from the theme plus an appetizer-like dish to share. Maybe one that they think will go well with the wines. Then, people sit around and can do flights of wines while eating the food and can discuss each wine. You can do the tasting blind or not.
OR you can provide all the wine but ask people to chip in to dfray the costs.
OR If you're feeling generous, you can provide all the wine and tell people just to bring appetizers to share.
OR If you're feeling very generous and have lots of time on your hands, you can make various dishes for everyone and provide all the wine.
We hold wine tastings with a group of friends every 6 weeks or so. It's about 12 people which we've found to be a good number, not too big so the number remains managable but too small where you get no feedback or interaction.
The person 'hosting' the event rotates throughout the group and the host decides on what the theme or focus should be. We've done champaigne vs sparklings, merlot and chardonnay (this was the first one), favorite under $20.00, British Columbia vs Ontario, wines from Greece (a very surprising night!) and some unknowns.
Each person attending chips in $10.00 so there's a bit of a kitty. You can always buy above that if you feel like it. Then once you decide on the theme, just go and buy stuff.
We also do a cheese plate with crackers halfway through the night and there's always a pitcher of water, bread, crackers available. Each of us have our own notebooks for notes etc.
I do a quick intro to each new wine that we pour and then the night just goes whatever way the night goes. Make sure that you keep it just between friends, avoid inviting just anyone - wine depends greatly on the company that you drink it with....
The key is to match the food with the wine...
A wine party can be either "food oriented" or "wine oriented"... So, for example, you might have a "Seafood Focus Party" with wines that match the seafood. OR you might have a party focusing on 4 or 5 different wine varietals with food to match those varietals.
Lastly you can do a "mix and match" party... this is often done with cheeses where you have a number of different cheeses and, say, 6 wine varietals. And each taster keeps a "scoresheet" and rates how well they like the matchups of each wine with each cheese. Then all your scores are tallied to identify the best matches. This can be done with almost any kind of food, with a self-serve buffet bar and a separate glass for each wine that you're tasting in combination with the food.
I haven't "thrown a wine party" in years, possibly decades, but then I'm not a good example to follow in that regard. We have wine tastings at home all the time, and we have parties where some excellent wines are served, but . . .
How to do this ALL DEPENDS UPON YOU, your level of experience (and that of your friends), your objectives for the evening, and your long-term goals in the word of wine***. Clearly it's to try a bunch of different wines and to have fun with friends, but I mean more than that. If you (and your friends) have never (ever!) had a sip of wine before, then a wide variety of different wines is probably a better bet than an in-depth exploration of the latest vintage of Marcheal Foch from Ontario, Cananda -- to move from one extreme to another.
You are going to want decent glasses (no plastic cups!). You are going to want to have several different wines, either all of one kind (say one particular type) or a couple of different kinds (say a red and a white). You are going to want food that will compliment the wine, yet play a background role to it -- in other words, bread, cheeses, perhaps some pate, cold roast beef from the deli/butcher, etc. -- but unless you're sitting down to dinner, I'd avoid a Beef Wellington.
To defray costs, you can always tell your friends something like "Bring Chardonnay, under $25." You may get some duplicates; you may not. Alternatively, you can agree to a cap on the wine cost in advance, agree to split the costs evenly at the end, and then you can go out and buy all the wine (thus no duplicates), getting reimbursed prior to the end of the evening.
*** More information in this regard will make it easier to give you some more specific suggestions/ideas.
I’ve done dozens, ranging from simple tastings to full dinners. All have been excellent, IMHO.
For many of the dinners (1 per Quarter for about four years), we had a group of 8-10, who attended and the host (rotated through the group) set the theme did the entreé and wine, plus a welcome wine. All of guests were informed of the “theme,” and the dishes that they could furnish, i.e. salad, starters, dessert, etc. and they would also bring the wines, with notes on it and some comments on why they had selected this particular wine. Themes ranged from “The Varietal That Nobody Has Heard Of,” to “Varietals of the Rhône Region,” with every possible variation, in between. Each was great fun with interesting food and wine.
A recent event was for the International Wine & Food Society, and was a comparative tasting of “Meritage vs Bordeaux.” This was set up as a blind-tasting, with all of the wines poured while the guests were all in another room. The event featured an extensive list of food (small portions) to pair with Cab/Merlot-based wines and twelve wines to taste, rate and then use to answer questions in several contests. We did not have any true “Meritage” wines, but did have six US Bdx-style wines, i.e. Ridge Montbello, Joseph Phelps Insignia, Dominus Estates, Ch. St. Jean Cinque Cepages, etc. These were tasted against Bdx. that reflected the general vintages of the Meritage wines, some from the late 70's to early 80's, as well as more recent vintages. While we did not have an 1er Cru Bdx., we had two “Super-Seconds,” and several other “classified growth” wines. General discussion on the wines, without names, etc. was given, along with a brochure on both Meritage and Bordeaux. After the initial tasting, the guests filled in a card, picking the Old-World and the New-World wines - prizes for correct answers, which they got to use for the other contests. Next, they had to state the Regions, i.e. Napa, Sonoma, Pomerol, Pauillac, etc. Then they got prizes and the answers to use for the next contest. It culminated with a contest to tell the wines, with the tie-break being the vintage. Prize for this was a mag. of Plumpjack Reserve Cab, signed by the winemaker. Unfortunately, that “prize” is still in my cellar.
For a tasting party, I’d suggest that you contact Ann C. Nobel at the UC Davis Bookstore: http://bookstore.ucdavis.edu/Display..... It is a worthwhile item to have in your tasting kit.
Others have talked about wine glasses, and that should be stressed - get good ones! If your group is large, or the wines abundant, talk to a good event-rental facility in your city.
I’ve had great fun at themed events, blind-tastings, horizontal-tastings and vertical-tastings. The big tip that I can give is to have fun.
PS Sorry, this Reply should have been to the OP, and not to Zin1953's post.