Aperitivo Summer Italian Whites (Wine Club 2019)


The blazing heat of summer arrived well before the actual official day of the season this year and has been nonstop. Basically no rain to speak of for several weeks now, the lawns are browning and plant life sagging. Lawn sprinklers are doing their best to supply some much needed nourishment, but by the following day – everything looks parched once again.

Outdoor entertaining in Southern Louisiana is simply uncomfortable. Between the intense heat and the buzzing and biting mosquitos, unless there is a screened in patio available, outdoor entertaining is limited to several weeks in the Spring months and again in the Fall . So our summertime wine party has to be held inside.

Longing for the comforts of a cool sea breeze, and the smell of fresh salty sea air, my inspiration is drawn from the colors, traditions and flavors of the Island of Capri and the Amalfi Coast of Italy as we sip and taste cold citrus and grassy white Italian wines.

For the invitation (that was emailed) I created a text box in Word using a blue font and border with a pale yellow page color. I inserted a lemon branch (free clip art) and created the boarder with an online picture of bougainvillea, lemons and votive candles that I printed out and then measured, cut with a paper cutter and glued to frame the invitation.


The invitation, the score card, dollar store lemon salad plate.

My intention was to create a fresh, Amalfi Coast – Capri Island atmosphere. Images of bougainvillea bursting with vibrant fuchsia blossoms climbing the walls of villas, the fresh white linen fashions, cool variations of the ocean’s blue and green hues, nautical touches to represent the fishing and boating, as well as an abundance of lemons all highlighted with the romantic flicker of candlelight were all incorporated into my table decor.

I searched for an image of a lemon tree branch small enough to clip and place at the top of the wine score card (above), using the same image to make a small place card to slip into the sardine can pull-tabs. Finding one Ortiz sardinas can in my pantry that inspired the idea was used for this picture, but I ordered a lower cost version from World Market that were actually used for the party. While canned sardines actually come from Portugal they made a really cute place setting stand and favor. I have memories of eating them as a little girl with my grandpa, but I’ve never eaten them as an adult. Why does it seem so scary a thought now?


The kaleidoscope of deep Mediterranean ocean blues and greens, the jutting rocky cliffs dotted with pastel vistas, salty fresh air breezes filled with the fragrance of fish and seafood and white capped waves splashing along the rocky shoreline are all hard to capture in a dining room, but we can imagine.

I bought this lovely climbing bougainvillea for $16 a couple of months prior to my party, with high hopes that it would yield a healthy quantity of blossoms for the planned date to clip and create a center garland for my table. Another option would be to bring the plant indoors for the evening. While the plant is strong and healthy, when the day of the party arrived, it was completely void of blossoms. I’m sure it will be overflowing with blossoms by next week- when I no longer need them! So as a substitute, I clipped crepe myrtle blossoms of the same color from the trees that we have an abundance of in the South.

Of course you can’t have an Amalfi coast themed party without lemons. I’ve always wanted a beautiful, healthy lemon tree in my backyard, but one given to me years ago died once I moved it from a pot to the ground. While lemon trees can be grown successfully in Southern Louisiana, the most successful citrus here that I know if is the sweet satsuma. The satsuma peels easily and is free of seeds with its harvest being closer to Fall. One of my wine club members has successfully grown a lemon tree in her back yard for years that yields huge Meyer lemons similar in size to those found on the Amalfi coast, but our party was just before the harvesting time so I couldn’t have fresh branches dotted with lemons for my decor.

Luckily, artificial, but very realistic in appearance, lemon tree branches can be purchased in many places. So for this party, that’s what I’ll be using.


It was summer, but I struggled to find a tablecloth or table runner and napkins in the soft blues I wanted for the table. My usual resources ( Homegoods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls) were coming up short. I found blue and white striped napkins, but nothing for the table. Then I found a printed tablecloth that might work, but no napkins. The Friday after the 4th of July, I decided to browse around in World Market Cost Plus. Many of the summer items were marked down 40% to 50% and there was a 20% off coupon to add from my membership. Among those sale items I found this sardine plate with the perfect shades of ocean blues I had imagined and I knew I had found my color inspiration.

On a lower shelf, I found two cobalt blue glass lantern candle holders that added a bit of drama and height to the table. My luck continued and I found a table runner and solid napkins in a cool shade of blue similar to one of the sardines on the plate. Later I found a table cloth in the same shade of blue. Dollar Tree rope (found in the floral section) was cut and knotted to give a nautical touch around each napkin.




Several years ago while browsing through my local TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores, I was drawn to these beautiful cobalt blue bottles of Ty Nant water. As with wine, tasting water from different parts of the world is interesting. I chilled and drank the water, but afterwards I just couldn’t part with the beautiful bottle. There’s something elegant about it. Over time, I collected and saved both the bottles and their screw on aluminum tops (all 12 of them) and for a period of time refilled each with filtered water. I would then place the empty bottle(s)in the dishwasher to clean and refill again. I thought this was an environmentally clever way to drink bottled water, but also a very attractive vessel. Something about drinking from a glass bottle rather than plastic or a metal version is much more appealing. For the wine party, I’ll be filling my cleaned bottles with sparkling Italian San Pellegrino water at each place setting for both an additional pop of color and the water my guests need to cleanse their palates.


For the aperitif I try not to venture too far away from something with wine. I’m concerned about blowing out my guests taste buds with an alcohol or flavor too intense to afterwards enjoy the actual wine tasting. I found this cocktail “The Gentle Italian” again on Giada’s page made with Lillet, Aperol and Processo. It was light and citrusy. My guests sipped on their aperitif while I and another guest opened and labeled bottles and another poured their contents into numbered glasses.

While watching the PBS show Weekends with Yankee I saw an interview with the famous chef and good friend of Julia Child -Jacques Pepin. I learned of this beautiful book of his art created to record memories of food and fun with friends. I wish it had been available years ago when I first started my wine, book club and tea gatherings, but it was published in 2017. My friends made notes on the left and listed the food they brought for the gathering on the menu side. I chose a page that fit the theme of our wine meeting and everyone took turns making their entires while sipping their Aperitif.

While our party is about wine, it isn’t stuffy. We of course want it to be fun! So it was no surprise when one showed up with the fish bottled table wine, that wasn’t bad by the way. The bottles are lined up as they were numbered above.


I like to find new things in the culinary world for my guests and I to experience. Burrata is , kind of the “it” appetizer ingredient at the moment. It is pricey, but when I went in search of it at Whole Foods I happened to catch an Amazon Prime member discount day with 40% off. I purchased two balls of the cheese and decided it would just be a small bite sample for everyone. For an elevated way to serve it, I looked through a back issue of Wine Spectator Magazine that hasn’t failed me yet. There I found a Burrata Caprese recipe by the high respected chef Nancy Silverton. I prepared the plates about a half hour before everyone arrived and set each out on the table knowing I had to handle the wine as it arrived.

My twist on the recipe was to add fresh slices of heirloom tomato and chunks of parmesan to the plate. I couldn’t find the vine cherry tomatoes that the chef used, so I substituted the multi-colored grape and pear shaped tomatoes for a more colorful plate.

. A small bowl of warm marinated olives was set on the side as a little antipasti touch. Everyone loved the cheese and the tomatoes.



For a hot summer’s night, I wanted to serve something traditionally Italian, but refreshing and light. Inspired by the series Giada in Italy-Capri, I decided to serve small bite sized biscotti and an espresso granita that she made on her show.

I used Giada’s limoncello biscotti recipe, but made my own twist by adding chopped candied lemon (from Trader Joes) to the dough and a quartered piece to the top of each cookie before baking. This added a little more color and identifies the flavor of the cookie. I also made pistachio biscotti found @ilarysbakery. The size of the star shaped pastry tip was not provided so my shape isn’t as impressive as her’s, but they had the great pistachio flavor.

Pistachio and Limoncello biscotti.

The granita prepared the day before and scooped into the cups earlier on the day of the party saves on serving time. My freezer drawer was cleared for storing the espresso cups and each were topped with whipped cream before serving. Per Giada’s recipe if desired you can pour your shot of limoncello into the granita. After first tasting the granita on its own many of us tried it with the limoncello and found it to be surprisingly good. I also decided to pick up some cannoli’s and placed one on each plate to share.

No surprise, an Italian themed evening ends with the digestif limoncello. Whether sipping it on its own or adding it to the granita all limoncellos are not the same. Some are very strong with a moonshine flavor or bitter and yet over the years may mellow out. Others have the perfect balance with just the right amount of everything like a cool glass of lemonade. While in Italy several years ago, I was told to store the bottle in the freezer.

While the score cards are there for making notes, they aren’t always serious as you can see. Some try to guess from the list of descriptions which bottle is which, others just note how the wine makes them feel or simply check their favorites.

Guests are provided with a list of the wines and whatever descriptions I could find on the internet to reference while tasting the wines.

The top two winning wines of the night and the trophy –
a blown glass vase made in Italy.

Another lovely evening where the conversation this time was buzzing about upcoming travel plans for myself and some of my guests from Italy to Germany, France and Switzerland. We can’t wait to get back together after our trips and share memories of our adventures.


Peek-a-Boo aka 14 Shades- Annual Wine Off

To be fair, when you are blind folded you can’t exactly pose for a photo!

Our “Decades” Wine Club was near the end of its 5th year. One steamy summer evening in July we gathered for a “blind” tasting of the top 2 bottles from prior meetings over the past year.  Our club consists of 5 couples and 2 singles, with 2 alternate couples who fill in whenever one of our original members is unable to attend. Due to limited space in my home, dishes, glasses and so on – I’ve limited the attending group per meeting to 12. The part that I did not anticipate is that both of our “alternate couples” each had 2 winning bottles of wine from meetings they attended during our past year.  This caused me to form a plan for 16 possible guests (we ended up with 14), so I simply split everyone up between two tables rather than one and it worked out fine.


I’ve learned that even when your intention is to organize a gathering for fun; when a little light competition is involved, “winning” can be tempting.  I began to observe my guests throughout the evening at past meetings and overheard couples trying to identify which wine was “theirs”, rather than voting on the wine they actually liked the most – or one spouse would vote for the same wine as the other, rather than independently voting.  As a result we often have 2 wines that tie or have nearly equal votes.  To make the finals more interesting I decided to include the top 2 wines from each meeting.  We typically have 7 bottles per meeting and with this plan we ended up having our usual 7 bottles (3 white and 4 red) for the finals that I call “The Annual Wine-off”.

So what’s with the Peek-a-Boo you ask?  Due to my little observance of “couple voting” I decided to cleverly separate everyone for the initial tastings and give everyone a blindfold.  The bottles were bagged and numbered 1 through 7. Then I discreetly wrote the same 1 through 7 under the base of the stem of each glass.   After I poured all of the wines into their matching numbered glass I placed quarter sized numbers 1 thru 3 (in front of the whites) and 1 thru 4 (in front of the reds) that I printed out.  The girls were lined up at the bar on their own with the 3 whites, 4 reds, a small bowl of bread and crackers, a glass of water and a blindfold.  The blindfolds pushed out just slightly under the nose allowing downward vision, so they could see the stems of the glasses and the numbers in front of them.  They started with the whites (that should be the coolest temperature) and each chose which of the 3 they liked most, by handing me the printed number.  

Slips of paper with numbers -after tasting the wines blind folded, the vote was cast by selecting the number each member wanted to vote for.

The winning white and red.

I then had the girls step back and remove their blindfolds for a break. while delivering their 3 white wine glasses to their partners who were sitting at the table waiting to now determine their blindfolded votes.  However, I rearranged the glasses so that they were not in the same order.  Their 1 thru 3 were different bottles now actually 3,2,1.   When the guys voted I had to get them to show me the actual glass they were choosing so I could look under the stem and write the true bottle number on their voting tab. [This would be impossible to handle all on my own. My long time friend who is a member does not drink wine. So I employ her to help me with the uncorking, bagging and numbering task at the beginning and tonight she shared the task of monitoring our blindfolded voters on this night.]

The white wine competitors and trophy for the winning white.

While the guys were tasting the whites, the girls moved on to the reds and once their votes were cast, again I delivered the reds to the guys in a different line up to make their choices.

Not only did the voting spread out to give votes to every bottle, we also had an actual clear higher count winner for both white and red.  My guests also were stunned by how much better they were able to focus on the flavor of the wine when blindfolded.  In theory it has been said that if one of the senses in blocked off, the others are enhanced.  By taking away sight – more focus was distributed to the taste buds and everyone’s concentration on the nose and flavor was elevated.  

The trophy for the winning red and the red wine competitors.

When I explained to everyone they would be blindfolded the “Fifty Shades” joking began – therefore I affectionally added “AKA 14 SHADES” WINE-OFF.   

But in truth, aside from trying to get a clearer voting method, the evening was festive and fun. My group of winos are always eager participants in whatever I dream up. It keeps our meetings fresh and fun where great memories and friendships are formed.


Red Grape & red onion mustrada
Ice box blue cheese, pecan, rosemary crackers

Goat’s Milk Pavé with Cover Honey & Mango Gelée
[Black & pink peppercorn crust]



On the table: The beautiful and delicious small bites prepared by my guests: [Left] Cucumber cups filled with julienned daikon radish, carrots, bean sprouts, baby tender lettuce, a large boiled shrimp, thinly sliced red jalapeno -topped with black sesame seeds, a dot of Siracha and sweet chili sauce; Asparagus Au Gratin; Grilled chicken skewers; [Right] Mini lamb pies and caramelized onion quiche. [Far right] It was National Chocolate day and one guest brought artesian chocolate truffles.



For photos of other small bites and wine club meetings go to

Blindfolds can be found on


Derby Wine Club – Bourbon Barrel Aged Reds -The party!

The Wine Club wreath for my entrance door (see Wine Club Wreath Themes Post) was also dressed up for the Derby theme , with a bow tie, a little hat,
gold horse and red silk roses.


A beautiful much more professional version of this fascinator was the inspiration for this homemade version. It began with a red, white and blue felt hat with headband. I couldn’t find the large blue and white gingham fabric used in the original, so I recovered the hat with white paper dollies (first layer) to hide the bright red, and then large blue and white checked gingham tissue paper left over from the grillin’ party. A silk hydrangea and white roses, white feathers (in the kid’s craft section a bag at the craft store) ; silver trim from the sewing section of Hobby Lobby, and a bag of plastic horses purchased online, sprayed silver (others in gold for the table decor) all used to create this little jewel.

Here’s a fascinator tip:

These fascinators are top heavy and keep moving around on your head. I hot glued ribbon from the top of the head band (centered) leaving equal amounts on each side to tie under the back of my hair. The edges were folded over to the backside of the headband and glued again. I made little single knots at the end for a finished look. This provided a more secure fit and balance on the head.

After all of the planning -our big derby day finally arrived. The ladies all entered one by one. each with their own hand made fascinators, while the guys (a little less enthusiastically) looked like dashing Southern gentlemen in their bow ties. One by one as they arrived, I quickly had each couple stand in front of the beautiful painting of racing horses (borrowed from my neighbor) for a photo.

My neighbor had this beautiful painting in her dining room and graciously
let me borrow it for the night. It was the perfect backdrop for photos!
All of the ladies made their fascinators –
I bought a pack of 6 bow ties (very nicely made by the way)

online for the guys for about $2 each.

At each meeting I create a little gift basket of some kind for the winner(s) whose wine received the most votes for the night. I’ve tried to create a way for everyone to get a chance to win over the years. For this wine party, I purchased a blue ribbon and added a little gold horse- on the number 1 (that was a surprise taped to my shipping invoice when I received the embossed brass race horses that from Etsy – used to create my gold rimmed aperitif glasses.) I also purchased a bag of wine charms (not the kind you put on stemware – these are just regular charms), and threaded a cork screw and bottle of wine on thin twine that easily wrapped behind the large button to create a Derby wine blue ribbon.

My aperitif (a rose sangria) was served by one of my guests, while two of us uncorked, bagged and poured the bottles of wine for our tasting. As the cheese course (pimento cheese soufflés ) baked in the oven, my guests gathered in the living room to watch the Belmont Stakes race unfold with the winning horse -Sr. Winston securing his victory.

I slightly altered the table decor from t he original plan (see “Derby Wine Party – The Plan” post), with black and white diamond patterned ribbon that resembles jockey silks and added a great touch to the black linen napkins. A small knotted tie of the same ribbon was added to the top of the score card to match.

MY CHEESE COURSE: This was my first run of this Pimento Cheese Soufflé (meaning no test bake) and it was delicious. The recipe says it yields 4-6 servings (depending on the size of your dish), but I made 12 individual ramekins from the ingredients of just the one recipe. I also brought one to my neighbor who let me borrow her painting and cut some of her Black Eyed Susans for the party.

Once everyone was finished tasting the wines, we voted to determine a winner before moving on to the food. The comments were that all of these wines were very rich and screaming for a luscious red meat or red sauce. We always vote on the wine prior to eating, so that the vote is purely based on the taste of the wine, unencumbered by other flavors added to the palate.


Once the cheese course had been consumed, we moved on to the small bites that my guests and I provided. A week before the party I emailed “inspiration” from a Pinterest search of traditional Derby foods and everyone provided feedback on what they would bring to avoid duplications. As always, the food was beautiful and delicious.


THE GRAND FINALE -DESSERT COURSE. A trio of favorites from different races. The Derby Pie (chocolate pecan pie) from Kentucky; the Lady Baltimore Cake & Smith Island Cake (called Doberge in Louisiana) from the Preakness Stakes each a hit in their own way. While the actual Smith Island cake is 10 layers, I purchased a short Doberge cake at the bakery and cut it into rounds since I home baked the Derby pies and Lady Baltimore cake. One plate like the one below was served per couple.

Bellies full and heads maybe a little tipsy – I commented that one of my guests’ fascinator looked very 1920’s Art Deco, to which another guest replied, “Do I hear a Great Gatsby Theme coming to mind?” Hmmm – hang on to your hats, you never know…..

While not every meeting is as elaborate as this one, I do try to come up with one that has a little more costume and fun once per year. Last year it was our “Hauntingly Elegant” party near Halloween and the year prior it was our “Murder Mystery Nite”. [Blog posts for both are available in the Wine Club category]. For now we will toast this evening goodnight, and look forward to when we “meet” again!


A Symphony of Whites…..

Aperitif: White Port, Q Tonic and slice of orange.


Port and Tonic makes 1 drink

4 ounces good-quality tonic water, such as Fevertree or Q Tonic
2 ounces white port
Orange slice, to garnish

Pack a highball glass with ice. Pour in the tonic, then the port. Stir lightly. Squeeze the orange slice a bit into the drink. Sip and enjoy!

I decided to do a little research about the wines of each country that we would be tasting, and found an article about a Portuguese aperitif made with white port and tonic water that I decided to greet my guests with.


A watermark of a wine glass being filled with musical notes
to create my email invitation.

I searched the internet for free clip art and found the perfect wine glass with musical notes pouring in like wine. I inserted it as a watermark into my emailed invitation.

My wine club has been meeting at least three times a year for five years now. I feel it’s important to continue to create new experiences, so that everyone remains entertained. My group prefers red wines, but in the summer they have been open to tasting white wines. The theme for this wine party was termed “Symphony of Whites” an idea inspired by an old Victoria Magazine article with the same title. The symphony of whites article was composed of white garden flowers, but it sparked an idea for this white wine night, music and simple elegance. As always it began with the invitation, made from free clip of musical notes pouring into a wine glass that was used as a watermark for this invite.


Playing on the “Symphony” I found a roll of music sheet wrapping paper that I used as a table runner down the center of the table. I like having a clean simple table due to all of the glassware and tight spacing. With assigned wines coming from parts of Germany and Austria where some of the best symphonies were composed or celebrated, I played symphony music on Pandora in the background. In fact, I play theme music for all of my parties on Pandora. For the Carnival Rio de Janeiro (see the past post) I played the Brazilian station, French music for the French wine night, and so on. Don’t forget the score cards. I used the same watermark from the invitation for the two column scorecard that is cut into two.


For the cheese course I had a very large spread representing several of the countries; broiled feta with tomatoes and garlic roasted in Greek olive oil, stuffed grape leaves, various cheeses from the countries of our wines and a beer cheese fondue with baked pretzels. (See previous post on cheese courses). While I had a large spread, one of these would have been sufficient.


When my wine club first met I would create little conversation games that encouraged everyone to share a little about themselves and offer topics of conversation that included and allowed everyone a chance to speak. With each new meeting plan, I tried to create fun exercises to make the evening interesting. For this party, once I had the list of wines in hand I looked up each on the internet. I found descriptions of the aromas of each and prepared slips of paper with the information. The description of each guests’ wine was set at their place at the table along with small plates containing items with some of the aromas described. The wines in the glasses were numbered, but it’s a blind tasting so no one knew which wine was theirs. The exercise was for each couple to use the description and fragrance items to try to identify which wine was theirs. [Two of the wines had pine scent – hence the sprigs of pine you see at the table.] White wines have a variety of interesting aromas and flavors that made this exercise fun.

This idea was formed after reading the “Cork Dork” by Bianca Bosker. She explained how sommeliers practice smelling various ingredients in order to master their scents. If you love wine I highly recommend this book. I’m happy to say that two of my guests identified their wines and those same two wines were also voted the top two of the night.

Aromas of ripe honeydew and nectarine with gingery note top. Vibrant, open-textured and crisply balanced, with pear, peach and rock melon fruit flavours.  Round, fleshy and smooth in texture with good clarity to its ripe melon and citrus flavors. Honeyed peach, pear tart, almond powder with a touch of orange bloom. Light yellow gold. – Australia

The scent is pure pine forest, cool and refreshing; the flavor is pure, fresh fruit—pears and cold green grapes—the pine notes floating over them as if carried on a breeze, A clean and refreshing zip of mint and eucalyptus explode from the glass. –Greece

Somehow, we completely forgot to take any pictures of the small bites for this party. It’s sometimes hard to host and also be photographer. Over time I’ve put sticky notes on the table to ensure either I or someone else takes a picture once everything arrives.


Mini black forest cake dressed in a chocolate tuxedo cup & Viennese coffee with chocolate musical staff.

I had a lot of fun with the dessert course for this one. The most fun I’ve had since our Vino Italia night. I found chocolate tuxedo cups before I had the plan and stored them in the pantry for a future date. I used an “authentic” black forest cake recipe from Pinterest (which by the way is not as sweet as the usual American bakery version -and better for it). Bing cherries were in season, making the dessert the perfect choice. I deconstructed the cake into small chocolate tuxedo cups (perfect for the symphony) and a mini cake on the side for each couple to share. A Viennese coffee was also served with a chocolate music note I made with bittersweet chocolate a few days ahead.

Greece, South Africa, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Australia, Spain

When you want to experiment with different types of wine, it helps to make the evening interesting and entertaining. It also helps when the food is delicious! Try your own tasting with a night at the Symphony!

The top two wines and the two wines that were identified during the challenge.

A Summer Grillin’ Themed Wine Party

A 4th of July themed invite.

When the distinct aroma of fired up grills begin to permeate the neighborhood, you know summer has arrived. Our tastebuds begin to salivate over images of charred poultry, meats and vegetables. These amazing aromas and flavors inspired my grillin’ wine party in search of great wines to pair with the tasty offerings.

The Theme & The Invite:

The summer months open up multiple ways to create a theme, from Memorial Day to Independence Day or a simple summer day. As always once the theme is decided, we need an invitation. I’m very old school and love using old stationary, 3-dimensional stickers and a printer to create snail mail invites. My guests enjoy being invited with a written and mailed invite that they proudly display on their refrigerator or a bulletin board. In current times a simple text or email is sent as an invite without much creativity or energy to stir up interest. In my opinion a text is not taken as seriously as a true written invitation. I understand that it’s also a more affordable method and I’m all about low cost, but how about creating a nice invitation to email? Play with different fonts and colors, use a little free clip art and press send! Now we’re got everyone in the mood for a party!

My old school invite – stationary, 3-D sunflowers.

The Table Decor:

The term “Barbecue” evokes images of smoke rising from charcoal or gas grills under large oak trees at local parks; family and friends gathered around picnic tables with checkered tablecloths, nibbling on charred chicken, burgers, and corn. Grilling also makes me think of diners serving up grilled burgers and sandwiches in plastic baskets lined with paper. Combine all of this with the sunflower that turns to face the blazing sun with its bright and cheerful face and I have found the recipe for my table decor. I used the same stationary that came with note cards to hand write names for place cards and added a 3-D daisy.

Checkered table cloth and napkins; lunch baskets (all white purchased online)
lined with checkered tissue paper. The lunch baskets
were used to serve my grilled cheese course.
Place cards on dressed up stationary note cards printed with fern leaves.

The Cheese Course

Grilled brie, grilled walnut bread, roasted red grapes and salami.

If you have followed and read my past posts about planning my wine parties, you know that as the hostess, I usually provide an aperitif, the cheese course and the dessert. For this wine party I asked my guests to bring a variety of wines – rose’, white and red that would pair well with grilled foods. I served a Cote des roses -rose’ as the aperitif. For the cheese course I served grilled brie with oven roasted red grapes (licked with olive oil); salami and grilled fresh baked walnut bread. One basket was shared by each couple.

The winesthe Sin Zin was the winner.

The Small Bites:

Grilled corn, fresh red & yellow cherry tomatoes, black beans and basil
with a white balsamic vinaigrette.

Guests are asked to send notice of what their small bites will be. This serves two purposes, for one I can watch for duplications and secondly I make sure we have a fairly balanced menu. If I see something is lacking, I will take up the slack and add something to the table. In this case I made a grilled corn salad to add some veggies and freshness.

Below I also served grilled salmon with cantaloupe and grilled chicken with pineapple kabobs.

The Dessert

The dessert was also grilled – what’s better than grilled fresh summer peaches? I prefer the white peaches that were halved (and maybe a little over grilled), served with grilled sliced pound cake, mascarpone and a reduced balsamic drizzle – sprinkled with toasted granola and fresh basil.

The top 3 wines Red, Rose’ & White.

Summer is the best time to enjoy some deliciously grilled food paired with a variety of rose’, white and red wines regardless of what summertime theme you choose. This party would be even better outside if weather permits. So before those temps get to blazing – host your own grillin’ summer wine party! It’s really very simple!


Dress to Kill: Murder Mystery Wine Club

Fresh rosemary & lavender from my garden tied
with twine on the napkins; magnifying glass &
note pads with “inspector” hat & mustache.
(Both from the Dollar Tree)

I’m often asked where my ideas for my gatherings come from.  The truth is, I see something that inspires me and literally can’t sleep well for a few days. My mind races with a creative adrenaline induced frenzy, causing me to get up several times throughout the night to write down the avalanche of ideas that attack my thoughts so I can be freed to go back to sleep. The idea can be inspired by a magazine article, something I read in a novel, an item I see in a store, or something I see on a morning talk, news or cooking show. Once one of our wine meetings has ended, I’m immediately seeking out inspiration for the theme of the next.

This wine club meeting was inspired earlier in the year when I was listening to the Rachel Ray Show. A segment with two ladies from The Skimm discussed a wine pairing bookclub in their office, that has become a whole new point of interest for their newsletter.

My interest peaked (originally for my bookclub) so I listened more closely as four book and wine pairing examples were discussed.  One of the books, a historical crime fiction  ‘The Alienist’ by Caleb Carr was paired with a bottle from the “19 Crimes” living wine labels collection (Australia) by Ms. Ray.  She demonstrated how the Living Wine Labels APP can be downloaded to a smart phone and when held over the label (with the use of the phone camera) the criminal comes to life and tells you a little of their story.  I immediately knew I had to do something with this wine and started looking for a Murder Mystery dinner script. As luck would have it, I found a free script on Pinterest about a murder on a vineyard (Sour Grapes of Wrath) and a plan began to form. Invitation:


I typically send an email a month or two prior to the next anticipated meeting, with a couple of date options, requesting feedback on which date works best for the majority. I also include the theme for that meeting and request everyone save the date.

About a month prior to the saved date, I send an email selecting free clip art that represents our theme with an actual to create an actual invitation, detailing the date, time and any other special instructions. In this particular case, I purchased all of the wine, so there was no request for wine, but as usual guests were asked to bring a small bite and to R.S.V.P. by a deadline. Once I knew who was able to attend, I assigned the six characters from the script to the guests that I thought would best match those attending, three woman and three men. Separately I emailed the author’s suggested costuming of each character and WOW… did them come dressed to kill! They stayed in character throughout the evening and I can’t remember when we all laughed so much.


The scene of this Murder Mystery took place at a vineyard. Therefore I wanted to create a table with the same vibe. While an outdoor alfresco setting would have been amazing, here in Southern Louisiana the heat and mosquitos make outdoor dining impossible unless you have a large screened room of which I do not. A faux leafy olive garland purchased at a craft store was used in the center of my table (live olive tree branches would be even better). Dollar store magnifying glasses, small flip up wire rimmed notepads decorated with mustache and bowler hat stickers were placed by each couple for noting mystery “clues”. Place cards were made with chalkboard paper tags with picks. I used a white marker to write the names and then tied the pick to a wine cork with twine. For an earthy look and fresh fragrance, neutral colored linen napkins were cinched with fresh lavender and rosemary in twine from my garden. Wicker lined glasses added a “picnic/alfresco” touch with votive candlelight along with the candelabra that added some drama to the table. Copies of the script were placed in front of each of the characters (specific with only information they should know) and a general script for the others. If you the weather and bugs are not an issue where you live, an outdoor setting with a lot of candlelight would create a mystic yet romantic atmosphere for the evening.

A bottle of wine was placed on the table in front of each couple’s assigned seat and two wine glasses per guest. There were six rounds in the script and we had six bottles of wine to coincide with each round. This gave each guest an opportunity to activate a label on their phone and we would take a short break from the script to evaluate the bottle of wine we were tasting.

Place cards were tied with twine to corks and a faux olive vine with wicker votives went down the center of the table to create a vineyard look. [ If weather permits, this would be lovely to do outdoors.]


When my guests arrived I had everyone download the Living Wines APP on their phones and demonstrated how the label came to life on the first bottle, which was the only white wine with the only female criminal. Her narrative explained how she was banished from her country and family for stealing bacon. While I read the rules to the mystery game (as the hostess), the bottle of Chardonnay was passed around and my guests each poured some of its contents into their glass for sipping during our first round of the mystery, as scripts were read and the cheese course was savored. The wine was fresh and crisp and paired perfectly with my cheese course.

The interrogation began over my cheese course of oven roasted grapes & blackberries
on fresh baked toasted Italian braided bread with goat cheese;
parmesan pine nut crisps; Manchego slices and roasted asparagus tips upon a fig leaf.
Above is one plate shared by each couple.

At the end of each round the wines gradually circled the table, with each bottle’s label held up to the “Living Wine Labels” APP as we all listened to the narrative of each criminal starting with the lighter reds and moving toward the heavier reds. As we passed the bottle everyone poured a little in their glass, sipping while taking in the script’s clues read by the characters of our Murder Mystery.

I think it’s safe to say that all of the wines were quite good. Some a little better than others, but overall good drinking wines.  One was a little heavier and we agreed it would probably be better with food, but we had eaten all of our food by the time we got to that particular bottle.  The most expensive of the wines ($18) was ‘The Warden’ and it was very smooth and rich.

For dessert, I made death my chocolate cake. Layers of cake and brownie with salted caramel filling.  A blackberry mango compote to balance out the richness of the cake and a bloody red wine reduction.

The script and author’s instructions were well written.  In fact, so well written, that no one guessed who the true murderer was!

If you’re looking for a fun night and entertaining evening, get together about 8 friends and have a Murder Mystery Dinner Party.  For now my groups’ acting debuts have come to an end. Their final words… “We have to do this again!”  Cue lights out….

The 19 Crimes wine can be found in just about any grocery store, but to find all of the bottles you may have to go to your local wine store. They are all inexpensive and all were good. For this meeting I purchased six bottles of the wine, but another method would be request each couple bring an assigned bottle to avoid duplications.


A Derby Wine Club – 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!