Wine tastings are incredibly fun, and they allow you to try different types of wines that you may have never otherwise come across. Unfortunately, wine tastings at wineries can be expensive, and you usually get really small pours.
So, why not host a wine tasting at home? It requires some research and some investment in materials, but an at-home wine tasting can be an enjoyable, rewarding experience. We guarantee it’s an event your friends will talk about for years to come.
Step One: planning
The key to any great party is planning. Planning is essential to hosting a good wine tasting. The best way to go about planning a wine tasting is to be specific with the theme. There are so many incredible types of wines out there; it’s difficult to narrow down which to include in your tasting. Selecting a theme helps you narrow it down. Themes we love are:
- Wine and Cheese
- Wines of Italy
- Wines of France
- Red Wines vs. White Wines
- Local Wines
- Sparkling Wines
- Vintage Wines
- Surprise: Have each guest bring a bottle
In addition to planning your theme, you need to cultivate a guest list. We recommend keeping it intimate, as this allows you to discuss the wine with everyone. However, a wine tasting should be a party, and it’s fun to hear a variety of different opinions. Hey, one of the key parts of becoming a master sommelier is having good people skills. Eight to ten people is a great number to aim for.
Step Two: shopping
Now, it’s time to gather all your materials. The most important thing you need to purchase is wine. The wines you select should depend on your theme. For instance, if your theme is Wine and Cheese, do some research on wines that pair particularly well with certain cheeses (Pinot Noir is fabulous with Gruyere). If you have trouble choosing, the staff at your local wine shop should be able to provide you with great recommendations.
The number of bottles you purchase will depend on the number of guests you have. At a tasting, you’re usually serving small pours, less than a full glass. There are five glasses in a standard bottle of wine, with each glass size being five ounces. Since you’re pouring smaller glasses, usually two to three ounces, one bottle should be enough for six to eight guests.
How many different wines should you prepare to try? You want to select a variety of wines to try and compare. However, tasting too many gets confusing, and it’s more difficult to tell the differences between them. Five to eight bottles is a good range to stay in, with around six being the sweet spot. This can get expensive, so don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring bottles or to help pitch in for the cost.
In addition to the actual wine, some other things you’ll need include:
- Wine glasses (if you don’t have enough, ask guests to bring extras, or wash between tasting rounds)
- Ice buckets
- Snacks that go with your theme and pair well with your selected wines
- Water crackers or another palate cleanser
- Plates, forks, and napkins for the food
- Personal spittoons for guests to spit wine into (these are a good idea, considering it only takes the average person two to three drinks to begin feeling intoxicated. You want your guests to enjoy the tasting, not get hammered.)
- Tasting sheets (these can be downloaded from the internet or made by you. Include simple questions, and include sections that allow guests to rate different characteristics of the wine on a scale of one to ten)
- Pens and pencils
Step Three: hosting the event
Once you’ve selected your theme, purchased your wines, and invited your guests, you’re ready to host your wine tasting. There are many “rules” to hosting a proper wine tasting, but the ones you choose to follow at home are totally up to you.
- We encourage you to provide your guests with a simple, fun tasting sheet. If you aren’t an expert, tasting wine can be intimidating. There are so many aromas, flavors, and textural elements to every wine that it can be hard to parse what you’re experiencing. Tasting sheets encourage guests to slow down and focus on one element at a time and help them remember which wines they loved and why.
- Focus on fun. Wine tastings don’t have to be snobby, especially not when they’re hosted at home. Tasting sheets and other components of wine tastings are designed to help your guests explore different wines and have fun. Don’t feel pressured to stick to strict wine tasting rules.
- In general, begin with bubbly wines, then move onto the sweeter wines, which are usually whites. Then, work from sweet to dry, and finish with your driest reds. Working from bubbly and light to full-bodied and dry is what professional sommeliers recommend.
- Plan to spend a little bit of time with each wine, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let your guests sip slowly and linger on the flavors and aromas.
- You don’t have to sip in silence. Encourage your guests to discuss what they’re tasting.
- Provide water and crackers to cleanse the palate between tasting rounds.
The five S’s of wine tasting
If you’re struggling with how to guide your guests through the various rounds of wine tasting, remember the five S’s of wine tasting: see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor.
- See and Swirl: See and swirl are usually paired together. For this step, ask your guests to take some time to really look at the wine. If they can, place it against a white background, like a white sheet of paper. Ask your guests to take note of the color of the wine and the legs. Legs typically indicate sweetness and increased alcohol content.
- Sniff: Ask your guests to smell their wine before they taste it. You’ll usually be able to identify unique aromas, which are often different from the notes you’ll find upon sipping.
- Sip and Savor: Ask your guests to take a big sip of their wine and hold it in their mouths for a few moments. Drink slowly, so the wine coats your tastebuds and the aromas slowly reach your nose. Ask them to notice how the wine tasted when they first sipped it, how it tasted as they swallowed, and the flavor left in their mouth afterward. Ask them to note the finish, and note long they taste the alcohol and feel the remnants on their tongues.
Example wine tasting
If you feel stuck in the wine tasting planning stages, don’t worry, it can be intimidating. We’ve created a sample wine tasting flight following the “Wine and Cheese” theme below. You can copy these wine selections exactly or just use them to inspire you.
The wines we selected for our example event, in tasting order, are:
- Taittinger Brut Champagne: The Taittinger Brut Champagne is a fairly expensive bottle, but it’s so worth it. It is made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and it’s perfectly bubbly and dry. We recommend pairing your Champagne with a creamy Brie, as the sharp acidity of the wine perfectly cuts through the cheese’s thick creaminess.
- Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc: Hailing from New Zealand, Oyster Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc is elegant and bursting with fruit flavors. The tasting notes include red berry, gooseberry, exotic spices, and french oak. This wine pairs wonderfully with goat cheese, as the wonderful mineral and citrus notes in the wine, bring out the nutty, herbal flavors in the goat cheese.
- Decoy Sonoma County Pinot Noir: On the nose, you’ll notice aromas of strawberry, raspberry, and rose petal, which lead into a soft, silky palate with supple tannins and ripe berry flavors. Pinot Noirs pair wonderfully with Gruyere, as the ripe berry flavors of the wine is a perfect match for the nutty flavors in the cheese.
- Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine offers incredible flavors of dark cherry and ripe plum, with hints of vanilla and cocoa. Guests will also be able to appreciate the gorgeously long finish. We recommend pairing this wine with aged cheddar, as the boldness and the high-fat content match up wonderfully to the wine’s mouth-drying tannins.
- Antigal Malbec: This Argentinian Malbec is full-bodied, with big flavors of blackberry, boysenberry, cocoa, fig, and cassis. This Malbec pairs incredibly well with Gouda cheese, as the combination of the nutty flavors in the cheese and the wine’s velvety fruit notes is a wonderful treat.
Hosting a wine tasting at home can be a fun, rewarding experience. While it does require some planning and research, it allows you and your friends to be exposed to a variety of different wines that you ordinarily may not have tried.
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