August 12, 2020
Hosting your own wine tasting can be a great excuse to gather a few good friends and a few good bottles of wine for a fun night. Whether your friends are wine-club members or curious newbies, you can host an epic gathering that’s fun for all.
Maybe you’re not a sommelier, and that’s okay. We’ve got some helpful guidelines and tips to send you in the right direction. And even if you’re not ready for a face-to-face home wine tasting, plenty of resources are available for hosting a virtual tasting. Let’s get started!
What to consider when planning your wine tasting party at home
Here’s how you can get your side career as a sommelier started and create a great wine tasting experience for your closest friends.
Decide on a theme
Themes are only as limited as your imagination. Thankfully, other people have already come up with some great ideas for fun wine tasting party themes. Here are just a few ideas for how you might theme your tasting:
Try a horizontal tasting of wines from the same year but from different producers (not necessarily from the same region). For example, compare cabernet sauvignon from different vineyards, or pinot noir from different areas to get a sense of how varying climates and winemaking traditions affect the character of the wine. Or taste vertically, comparing the same type of wine—such as chardonnay—from different years (old wine and new wine).
Taste by region. The year (in the wine world, this is called the “vintage”) doesn’t matter here, as you’re experimenting with different wines from a country or region of your choice. Try an array of wines from France, Italy or Napa Valley. Or try a variety of vino from local vineyards.
Pair your wines with food. You’ve probably heard of pairing wine and cheese or chocolate, or even matching a wine with a meal, but did you know you can have a wine tasting pairing riesling with different brunch ideas? You can even couple wines with pizza, chips, popcorn or Girl Scout cookies!
Taste the spectrum. Try red wine to rosés to white wines. Dry to semi-dry to sweet.
Blind tasting. Keep the bottles in a paper bag or cover the labels. See if the older, more expensive wines are really discernible without seeing the label and the price tag. It’ll be fun and you may be surprised at the results!
Having a guest list in mind may help determine which theme will be the biggest hit.
Keep your gathering small
Well, for one, COVID-19 is still a thing. So be sure to check and abide by CDC guidelines for gatherings. But there are other good reasons for an exclusive guest list: Groups larger than 10 to 12 people tend to split into smaller groups anyway. This rule of thumb works conveniently with the math of splitting a 24-ounce bottle of wine into a dozen or fewer 2-ounce tasting pour portions. A full glass of wine would be expensive and your guests may be staying the night if they don’t spit out most of each glass. When doing the math to decide how many people to invite, you’ll want to consider these things.
How many different wines are in a wine tasting?
This varies, but a typical wine tasting includes around 5 different wines. A blind taste test comparing wines at different price points, —for example, under $15 or $20 and higher-end vintages over $50—probably calls for a sixth bottle to even things out.
This is pretty important if you plan to have anyone attend your wine tasting. Whether you mail, email or send Facebook invitations, do this 2 to 3 weeks in advance. Ask for guests to RSVP so you know how much food and drink you’ll need.
Once you’ve calculated how much wine and food you’ll need, it’s time to get the goods. Here’s a helpful guide for figuring out how much to purchase. You may need to hit the store to pick up some items, but you can probably save yourself some time and stress by ordering what you can get delivered:
- Get your wine
- Glasses (if you’re going all-out, see why shape is important)
- Palate cleansers like crackers or other items (see below)
- Pen and paper for taking notes. Here are free templates you can print out. Here’s how to take wine tasting notes
Set the atmosphere
We recommend an outdoor tasting so proper social distancing can be maintained. Include lighting to set the mood. Heat if it gets chilly. Play your favorite music in the background—jazz or whatever suits you and your guests. Make insect repellent available, preferably as unscented as possible to avoid olfactory interference. Provide plenty of hand sanitizer, also unscented if possible. Same goes for any candles you light.
Know how to serve wine
Create description cards for each wine and the essential info (unless you’re doing a blind taste test).
Serving temperature varies by type of wine: 45 degrees for sparkling wines, 50 degrees for white wines and 65 degrees for reds. Put your reds in the fridge about 30 minutes before serving and take the white wine out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you serve it. Again, there are the best wine glasses according to style.
Start your tasting with sparkling wines. Then move from whites to reds to dessert wines, dry to sweet and younger to older.
Cleanse your palate
To make sure you’re getting the full flavor profile of each wine (and to avoid interference from previous wine samples) you’ll want to cleanse your palate. There are many foods and drinks that can help you reset:
- Coffee (ground or whole bean to smell and reset your olfactory, since aroma is an important part of wine tasting)
- Tortilla chips
- Water (room temp, or infused with lemon or cucumber)
Decide on wine and food pairings
Wine is often paired with foods to experiment with the nuances of flavor interactions. You can pair wines with a meal of several small courses or serve appetizers and hors d’oeuvres as intermissions between tastings. That way your guests aren’t drinking on an empty stomach. Here are some great wine and food pairing suggestions. Some wine connoisseurs recommend tasting the wine before eating so as to keep the residual flavors from altering how the wine tastes. Decide what suits your taste.
Talk about it
This is supposed to be a social event, right? It’s likely that your guests will have varying experience with wine tasting, so some may be able to share their knowledge. But the idea is to get everyone comfortable with sharing their thoughts and experiences. Providing a guide or glossary of wine tasting terms may help get everyone on the same page and start interesting discussions.
Not ready for gatherings yet? Host a virtual wine tasting on Zoom or gather friends to take a virtual wine tasting tour together. That’ll help share the costs, too. In the meantime, maybe have your own wine tasting while practicing some self-care, enjoying a staycation, or having a fun and romantic at-home date night. Whatever route you take, check with Gopuff to get your wine and snack essentials delivered.
Casual Wine Guides
For those of us who are not wine experts or connoisseurs, here are some accessible resources to learn more about wine:
- Vivino is an app that lets you scan labels and read reviews, which is especially helpful when you’re standing in the liquor store wondering which of the thousand bottles to buy.
- The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil is smart and entertaining, and perhaps the best book on wine.
- Wine for Dummies comes from the “for Dummies” series, of course, and includes many helpful guides, such as pronouncing wine names.
- Whitney Adams’ wine-themed YouTube channel is not to be missed.