Having hosted a number of these over the years from informal small gatherings of just another couple or two to larger more formal affairs with total strangers. The one rule we try to stick to is, just keep it simple. No really. The biggest threat to your sanity is getting too many flavors or pairings and trying to juggle them all. One way to help keep things simple and tied together is to pick a theme. Again at least to start, keep it simple.
As an example of a simple theme pick a region and a type of wine. Lets say Claire Valley and Riesling in Australia as it is summer time or Cabernet and Paso Robles in the US as it is winter. Keeping in mind the wine experience of the invited group a gathering of like minded / experienced family and friends is a great start. Then are you going across the world or local? To start we would suggest local or at least relatively so for ease of procuring your wine and keeping expenses in check.
Then there will be the number of glasses needed based on the number of wines and people. Another reason to keep it simple for a while. Think about it. With 10 people you will need 10 white glasses and 10 red glasses. They do not need to be Riedel but good appropriate glassware is best.
Refrain from using water to rinse out the glasses after each taste. Instead use a small amount of the next wine. Also refrain from using water to cleanse the palate, instead use one of the cheeses or water crackers that will pair with the next wine, or if you are really serious some small cuts of un seasoned beef.
So what wine shall you choose? Up to you, but we typically like a two whites and three red kind of event using a region as a common factor. With this we like to do two of the same whites from different wineries and three reds of the same type from different wineries. This is a great way to show the difference vineyard location and winemaking style has on the same grape. A local wine shop can help out here or while at the first winery of choice where you are getting your first red and white ask where they would go to get a good contrasting version of the same wine type (this may lead to 3 whites and 3 reds).
Next up go to your local cheese shop once you have your wines selected and share the list with the cheese guy. Tell him to keep it on the conservative side but match a cheese or two to each wine color. Simple water crackers we feel are the safest but there are many choices in crackers. Don't stop at cheese and crackers though. Add some grapes, unseasoned almonds and some dried fruit. Resist the urge to get too creative with food. We can tell a story of a wonderful bruschetta that had us tasting only garlic for hours (seemed like a good idea at the time). Add some nice Italian meats for after the tasting to simply enjoy with the tastings favorite wine and cheese.
Lastly don't forget the music and decorations for that touch of class and to just relax and enjoy your party.
Happy Wine Adventures,