Wine Club: Derby Wine Tasting Party Planning

Featuring Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wines

My next wine club meeting is scheduled for early June. Every year I’ve considered a Kentucky Derby theme, but the derby date is usually the day I host my Mothers Tea. After placing the theme on hold for the past two years, I noticed more and more options of bourbon aged wines in the stores, and decided this would be the year to move forward with a derby theme. Instead of hosting the party on Kentucky Derby day, we are meeting on the date of the U.S. Triple Crown -Belmont Stakes race while still borrowing some of the traditions from the Kentucky Derby.

STEP 1: THEME: Derby Wine Club- Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine & Invite

I emailed by guests with the theme, the date to save and requested everyone search for and select a bourbon barrel aged red wine for the meeting. To avoid duplications, I always ask everyone to send me a photo of their labels along the way, so everyone knows when a label has been eliminated for selection. I’ve learned that most of these wines are aged for 3 months in bourbon barrels. The wine I purchased [The Federalist -Red Blend] was aged for 6 months with the expectation of a little more bourbon flavor. While my Derby party is for wines, this same party plan could easily be followed for a bourbon tasting party.

Clip art inserted into an email to guests. [Zapfino font]
The location and time of the event should also be provided.


When hosting my wine club, I may have 12 to 16 guests attending. My dining room table can seat 10 comfortably, but it depends on the doubles and singles in attendance. Six to seven wine glasses (depending on the number of bottles coming) are set in front of each couple to share. Singles receive their own glasses. This of course fills up the table space very quickly. If more than 10 are expected to attend, I break up the group over two tables, using my breakfast room table (usually the location for all of the small bites) for additional seating.


Oversized trophy to be at the center of horse & jockey
bagged wines in line for the race.
Sketched plan for “The Wine Race Line Up Table”

Based on my expected attendance, I should only need my dining room for the seated tasting, while my breakfast table with be used for the food and a rectangle folding table against the wall in my kitchen will be used for “The Wines in the Race” shown further below.

I searched for “trophy” and horse decor items, hoping to borrow some items. In keeping with a low budget, I searched Good Will Stores and asked friends if they had anything I could borrower. When visiting my brother, I noticed a large silver-pewter trophy vase in the corner of his office that he agreed to let me borrower. I then sketched the plan above for the wine line up table.

BLIND TASTING WINE BAGS: Our wine tasting is blind and usually I simply write numbers on grocery store wine bags with a Sharpie, and tie the bag with twine. But for this theme, I printed clip art jockeys on race horses and side saddle numbers from Pinterest and the internet and using a glue stick attached one jockey and horse and numbers 1-6 to bags representative of a derby race.

Always have unscented candles for a wine tasting.
I found these cork wrapped unscented candles at Homegoods.
While my party isn’t until the Triple Crown Race in early June –
here’s a peek at what “The Wines in the Race” will look like.

Knock out roses from the garden added to the faux vine above.


Every event planner knows that the center table decor where guests will be dining and in this case wine tasting, should be low so that everyone can see one another for free flowing conversation. Due to the number of wine glasses on the table, there is very little space (on my table) for anything large anyway. I try to keep the decor pretty, but simple. On the sketch below I’m planning to create small rose bouquets in square glass containers that I have, possibly add some small containers of wheat grass in between, use two cork wrapped unscented pillar candles and line the center with sheet moss. If my knock out rose bushes are full of blooms at the time of the party, I hope to use many of those for the decorations.

Red Spray roses used to create small and low center table decor.


Everything used for these place cards, were in my craft items.
Card stock, ribbon, small moss sheet (Dollar Tree), clipped feathers from a red boa, sheet of pearl dots and printed clip art -hot clue.

I always use place cards for this party to intentionally move my guests around so that for each meeting they are seated next to and across from different guests. Originally I organized the seating for guests to be grouped that have things in common. I typically try to introduce some kind of discussion activity, so that everyone has a chance to be involved in the conversation.

The image of the place card came to me in a dream and I couldn’t wait to put them together the following day. I searched of a free clip art image of a Kentucky Derby hat. While there were colorful versions, I liked the simplicity of the image used, wanting to embellish it with a feather and pearls. There is also a small Kentucky Derby bow tie printed, but it wasn’t really necessary, because the ribbon formed bow tie covered it up. I used 5/8th inch (15 mm) black and white polka dot ribbon and simply folded it into a loop and cinched the center with double thread that I wrapped around the center four or five times and then knotted in the back. The completed bow tie is 1 1/2 inches wide.

Green sheet moss from the Dollar Tree was cut to the same size as the folded card stock. It was then hot glued to the card. The printed clip art with names was cut to size and the top right and bottom left corners cut on an angle to allow some of the green moss to be visible.

Scorecards: I searched Pinterest and other sites for inspiration for my table setting, decor and small bites. I found this antique Kentucky Derby program cover (I have no idea if it is authentic) that I used to create my scorecards for rating the wines.

Water is always provided for cleansing the palate between tasting the various wines. I simply replaced the label on a water bottle with printed clip art.

The Candles: Candles should always be fragrance free and I found these cork wrapped pillars from Thailand at Homegoods.

The Flowers – here I initially thought of the square glass candle holders I have and that I arranged red knock out roses from my bushes in. Then i remembered my silver mint julep cups that I feel is more appropriate. If you don’t have mint julep cups, any vessel works. I used some wooden ice cream spoons (the pattern printed on the handles looks similar to a jockey’s uniform) and created a glittered horseshoe to stick into the arrangement.

The final result matches my original sketched plan.
Overhead view to match the sketch.

The third table is where the small bites brought by my guests will be displayed for buffet style serving. The decor plan is complete, but I hope to borrower some horse figurines or other items to further represent the derby theme prior to the actual party.

As the hostess, I always provide the cheese and dessert courses, while my guests will bring derby themed small bites. For my cheese course I’ve deceived to make a Pimento Cheese Soufflé I found on this link to Garden and Gun Magazine For dessert this mint julep shake below (link appears at the bottom of the image) looks like a great way to end a hot summer day. I typically take a recipe and apply my own unique twist , but I have yet to experiment with these. For instance, I may use vanilla ice cream and press the oil from mint leaves in a mortar and pestle to flavor the ice cream. I’ve seen creme de mint used also. I will include my versions of these ideas on the food post following my party.

I will create another post after the party to share the food and fun! As for now – I hope these ideas instill inspiration for your Derby themed party and that your horse wins! See the Post Derby Wine Party

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