Making friends with winos, hosting the perfect wine night

Let’s talk about friend groups.

band 2When I was in high school, I had a core group of friends. If we had something in common it was band. Four of us played the clarinet. What is it about clarinet players that makes fast friends? Among my friends today, many of them have revealed that they played clarinet in an earlier time. It’s got to be a personality type thing. Whatever the clarinet connection, my group of friends was all in band together, and it was that glue that initially bonded us until we eventually found other common interests like dressing in costume to go to Harry Potter book releases, watching ridiculously terrible movies, Renaissance festivals, and a general disdain for the high school social scene.

bandUnfortunately, when I went to college, many of these common interests were not enough to hold our friendships together across distance, new universities, and new relationships. I developed a new group of college friends, ironically also initially forged in the crucible of a music program. I joined college marching band on a complete whim, and it ultimately yielded me my best college friend (who was, ironically, not in the marching band, but a roommate of the first person I met…in the clarinet section!) I made friends with my clarinet section mates and the other rookie members of the band, and we remained close for the two years I was in band, after which there was a lot of drama about who was BFFs with whom…and we all had a huge falling out…and my real BFF transferred schools…and I quit marching band to become an editor of the university newspaper…and I moved into an apartment across the hall from my original clarinet section leader, who was also no longer in band, but with whom I became very close as we bonded over Harry Potter, Taylor Swift, the craziness of our roommates, and watching movies and drinking peppermint Schnapps on snowy Saturdays. Consequently, we still remain friends to this day. I’m telling you; it’s a clarinet thing!

Image may contain: Kayla Arndt, Kate Laack, Jennifer Pfeffer and Mary Iwanski, people smilingMy post college friend group became a hodgepodge of people I knew from different contexts: friends from church, friends from work, acquaintances I knew from the gym, people I casually dated, friends from college that were still in the area, friends from college that were not in the area but remained in touch. Experiences bonded us together more than anything else. And when I eventually met my husband, I also inherited his friend group, and our relationship and eventual marriage bonded me to them.

As an inherent introvert, I’ve never been particularly good at extending myself into new situations to meet new groups of friends, so it’s possible that I would have continued in perpetuity with the hodgepodge of friends I had maintained in my adult life and remained perfectly content. As is often the case, however, fate intervened, and I found myself chaperoning prom with the most unlikely of companions: my husband, the middle school principal and his wife, and the district tech guy and his girlfriend. We had encountered one another on a few random occasions prior, but never had an opportunity to really get to know each other before that night. Not that supervising 200 hundred teenagers on the “best night of their young lives” makes for the ideal adult hangout, but we actually had a pretty decent time together.

Somewhere in the conversation of the evening, we began discussing documentaries. (We are, in fact, that cool.) This turned, inadvertently to wine, as there is an excellent documentary, SOMM, about young sommeliers training for the master somm test. We were all self-professed winos, though some of us were more cultured and well versed than others. It may have been catching lightning in a bottle, but it turns out that documentaries and wine are really all you need to make friends with the right group of people. Thus, Somm Night was born.

wineYou should host a Somm Night. It’s a magical time. And even though our Somm Nights have turned into multi course dinners sometimes involving powerpoint presentations, blindfolded wine tasting, and intense Googling of tasting notes and wine scores, our very first Somm Night transpired over Papa Murphy’s pizza and a cheese board. The true star of Somm Night is the wine, and the desire of six friends to try to at least pretend that we’re doing something sort of academic that’s actually just a bunch of fun and pretty silly sometimes.

Somm Night is a blind wine taste test. We’ve held various iterations of this concept:

  • Three red wines – determine the variety
  • Three white wines – determine the variety
  • Three ports…
  • Three roses…
  • Three sparkling wines…
  • Three wines of the same variety but at different price points – determine the costs
  • Three wines of the same variety but from different regions – determine the regions

Making the taste test blind is the trickiest part of the evening. Some options. Our first variation of Somm Night included each couple bringing a different bottle of wine in the skinny paper bag that the liquor store gives you. The ladies opened the bottles, poured the wine into one of three decanters, and returned the wine to the bag, placing it behind the decanter. The men then went and labeled each decanter and the bag behind it with a colored sticker. We then drank the wine from the decanters trying to determine the varieties, and eventually revealed the wine bottle from the bags (with matching colors identifying which decanter went with which bottles). We’ve also tried taping over the labels, and using a fancy, purchased wine party set that covered the bottles. Nothing works quite as well as the three matching decanters however, and we’ve returned to this iteration often.

The process of tasting the wine can take a variety of forms as well. The conversation at the table is by far the most amusing part of the evening because, unless you have someone who REALLY knows a lot about wine, you’ll probably end up sounding really ridiculous…like you’re pretending to be on Downton Abbey or something of the like. We sometimes read aloud from a book called “Middle Class Problems” during the tasting because it just seems appropriate! We’ve now added wine notes and the aforementioned Powerpoint presentations to the mix. If you’re comparing regions or price points, these can be helpful. If you’re starting from scratch and just trying to determine a Chardonnay from a Riesling maybe skip the notes and just let the hilarity ensue.

But the real secret of hosting the perfect wine night isn’t about the wine you drink, it’s about the people you drink it with. Need proof? We’ve done the blind price taste test, and we drank the $5 bottle the same as the $100! Wine and documentaries brought us together originally, and weddings, new houses, overnight trips, costume parties, holidays, and life have solidified our bond. I’m not sure there isn’t a problem in the world we wouldn’t consider solving if we could do it over a good bottle of wine and a home cooked meal. You should host a Somm Night because it’s a fun game to try to guess wines, and it makes you feel kind of high brow for a night, but even more so, you should just make friends with some winos…because whatever bottle you end up opening, the night will wind up perfect by default!


Published by Kate

A former Wisconsinite, Kate now resides in southeast Minnesota with her husband where she teaches high school English and theater. She recently completed her master's degree in learning design and technology, and continues to study and advocate for arts integration in the classroom. A recipient of the RISE America grant for high school theater, Kate is working to innovate and expand theater opportunities for the students at PIHS. An avid distance runner, concert pianist, and want-to-be wine aficionado, Kate's blog "ink." is a passion project, embodying all the best parts of life: friends, food, wine, thoughtful conversation, style, and sass!

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