Whether you’re new to wine or an expert, whether you want to host a fundraiser or just have a fun night with friends, a wine tasting in your home is the perfect way to spend an evening. You don’t need to buy a kick (save that money for your wine budget) or hire an expert. Host a wine party yourself with a few friends and find your next favorite wine while you create memories to last a lifetime.
Wine tastings are a great alternative to dinner parties that are cheaper, more interactive and far less stressful. Winedom is here with everything you need to know to plan for an execute the perfect in home wine tasting.
1. Determine the Type of Tasting
There are different ways to plan for the event, some are very simple while others require much more work. Here are some different types of tasting and notes on how to plan for them.
- Region: Consider picking a region like Napa or Burgundy. You could also select a country or other large area like Argentina or California. Perhaps you will be traveling somewhere or just got back. Instead of inviting people over to look at the 600 pictures you already posted on facebook, invite them over to taste wines from where you went. This is the easiest type of tasting to plan.
- Varietal: Have a grape you like? Taste only wines made with that grape from various regions. Pinots or Chardonnays, it doesn’t matter. Just pick the varietal and then a few places.
- Vineyard or Winemaker: Maybe you visited a boutique vineyard, tasting room, or tried a great bottle at dinner recently. Showcase the winemaker or vineyard by offering only wines from the brand at your tasting.
- Horizontal: The trickiest to plan, pick a particular vintage and varietal. While this is awesome to celebrate a milestone birthday or anniversary, it can be tough and will require more research than the others – your local wine shop will be able to point you in the right direction.
2. Create and Send Invitations
No matter how informal, your wine tasting will cost a little to set up – guarantee money well spent by sending invites so that your friends take the date seriously. 8 guests should be your absolute max.
- Whether you use a Facebook event, evite or old fashioned paper invites, be clear that you are hosting a wine party and include the date, time, and location. Be sure to include an RSVP – this will help you when setting up. Be clear about whether or not +1s are welcome.
- Plan a Sunday late morning/early afternoon tasting or one for Friday or Saturday night early evening. Ask to be alerted of any food allergies with the RSVP.
3. Prepare the Space
You don’t need to rent a hall for a tasting, but you should set up a nice space in your home for your guests to truly get into the spirit and experience of your tasting.
- Table: The table you are using, be it your coffee table, kitchen table or dining table, should be covered with a white cloth OR with butcher paper. Or both. The white cloth helps tasters to examine the color of wines they’ll be tasting and butcher paper allows for swirling right on the table without the friction of seams, fabric or mosaic table tops. The table should be clear of everything except place settings (see next bullet), materials, a water jug and a bucket for dumping out extra or wines guests absolutely do not like.
- Place Settings: Each place should have four to six glasses depending on the number of wines you’re serving (more than six will kill the palette), a water glass, a coaster and the note taking materials you’ve selected. Consider using blackboard coasters and colored chalk to simply and nicely write the name of each guest. Or check out pinterest for all sorts of cool ideas on how to set up a wine tasting if you’re so inclined. The best option is to provide a glass for each taste however if you don’t have that many glasses or access to that many glasses, at least make sure to provide a different glass for each color of while your guests will try (red, white, sparkling, rose, orange). Only doing pinots? You only need one glass.
- Eliminate Olfactory Distractions: Believe it or not, you want to be very careful about distractions you wouldn’t normally think of when having guests. Namely: scents! Sure the barking dog is a distraction, as are kids or loud music. But, because taste and smell are linked, strong odors can actually detract from your tasting experience. Do not burn incense, spray anything strong or have tons of candles going. If you want to freshen up, use unscented Febreeze to neutralize the space and keep the windows open. If the weather allows: hold your tasting outdoors!
4. Prepare The Wine
You should taste no more than six wines (four to six is ideal).
- Amount: Buy TWO bottles of each and invite friends to stay for dinner so that you can enjoy the wines with food – that will change people’s opinions of the wines. Consider tapas style or a tasting menu so that you can pair each wine with an appropriate dish.
- Temperature: Wines are best when served at the appropriate temperature. Depending on your refrigeration set up times will vary but the guidelines are that you should serve whites at under 40 degrees Fahrenheit and reds between 58-62 degrees Fahrenheit. Use online guidelines and the expertise of your local wine shop to create a schedule for chilling (white) and sitting (red).
5. Decide on and Secure Note Taking Materials for your Guests +2
No matter how casual you keep it, your guests will want to remember the wines they loved and didn’t.
- Make sure you have materials for yourself, each guest, and two extras. Hopefully no one will show up with others in tow but chances are something will get misplaced, or spilled.
- You can go as simple or complex as you want but at the very least create printouts with the name of each wine you’ll be tasting and room for notes. If you are having experienced wine drinkers over feel free to select a few specific areas to have people note and discuss. There are great resources everywhere for ideas on notes, check out our wine tasting pinterest board for some more ideas.
- A beautiful touch, and one that will be appreciated by your guests, is to prepare a few handouts with common terms and the four steps to tasting. Especially if you have a mix of newbies and experts this will remind everyone that this is supposed to be a fun night.
- Review How The Tasting Will Run. You don’t have to be bossy, but make sure everyone knows what you’ll be tasting, where things are, the four steps to tasting and where you bought the wine (including this on the handouts you provide will score you host points!).
- Pour. Do not pour full glasses – instead just provide 1.5 to 2 ounces for each. Using a wine pourer is a nice touch but not a requirement.
- Go Through The Four Steps. When tasting wines be sure to go slowly enough to truly immerse yourself and your guests in this experience of each wine. One step up from listing the wine and just room for notes is to break down the notes by these four steps.
- Look: Take time to look at the wine. How is the clarity? How would you describe the color?
- Swirl: Holding the stem, swirl the wine to aerate it, maximizing flavor. Be sure to check out the “legs” the wine leaves on the side of the glass. The longer the legs, the higher the alcohol content.
- Sniff: Strange as your guests think it might look, make them comfortable getting a great sniff – get your nose in the glass and take time to savor the scent of the wine. Breathe in the scent deeply and really think about it.
- Sip: Taking the wine into the mouth allow it to hit all parts of the mouth and tongue and then chew it. This will bring out all of the flavors. Remind guests to also note how the wine feels in the mouth (or “mouthfeel”).
- Take Your Time. Don’t rush through the tasting, there are things that should happen.
- Less Is More: Tasting three wines and having amazing discussion is better than rushing through six. Consider that the more people you have the fewer wines you may want to serve.
- Talk It Out: For each wine, have guests go through the four steps and discuss both at each step and after the taste – start a dialogue around wine, that’s what tastings are all about.
Wine tastings are a fun way to enjoy time with friends, new and old, and also make a fantastic double or triple date. No matter how serious you and your guests are about wine, having a tasting that goes well is likely to leave everyone satisfied and interested more in wine than they were when they walked in.
If you’d like to know more about hosting a tasting, including some great insights that go even deeper than this article, consider The Wine Tasting Party Kit available at Amazon!