A wine tasting does not have to be a professional get together at an upscale wine shop or at a vineyard. You can plan and host your very own wine tasting right in the comfort of your home. Not only do you get to invite exactly who you want to, but an at-home wine tasting is relatively stress-free and budget-friendly. Here is the lowdown on how to plan a wine-tasting party, a list of essentials, and a step-by-step guide to tasting wine like a pro.
First thing’s first: figure out what kind of wine tasting party you want to host. This really comes down to how elaborate you want to get. Will the party be wine only so guests can concentrate on tasting the wines without the distraction of food? Or will you opt for a dinner and wine gathering? If you do not want to get too involved in planning a menu, consider serving hors d’oeuvres followed by wine tasting and dessert. Or serve a light dinner before the wine starts flowing. No matter what combination you choose, remember that the wine tasting is the main event, so keep the rest as stress-free as possible.
As for how many people to invite to the wine tasting, anywhere from six to twelve are good numbers to go by. Large groups mean more space and supplies will be required, so make sure you have the means to provide for a group of more than twelve.
Whether you send out a formal invitation or make a phone call, you will want your guests to know a few things: 1) what kind of party it is (wine-tasting only, cocktail and wine, etc.), 2) date and time, 3) whether food will be served and what kind (light dinner, appetizers only, full dinner). You might also want to request that guests do not wear strong perfume or cologne, as the smells can interfere with the tasting. This also goes for decorations; if you want to create ambiance with candles, make sure they are not scented and place fresh flowers away from the wine tasting area.
A large table works best for a wine tasting, as it gives everyone enough room and provides space for the essentials, but work with what you have and make it as comfortable as possible. If you don’t have a large dinner table, set up chairs around smaller tables or have guests gather around the kitchen island or bar. Line up the wine bottles so tasters can read the labels and “get to know” the wine before they drink.
For an at-home wine tasting you’ll need a few essential supplies:
Clear, stemmed wine glasses with a deep “bowl” so that tasters can swish the wine around without spilling. One glass per person should be enough, but make sure guests know to pour out any remaining wine and give the glass a quick rinse before moving on to the next wine.
Ice water. Provide each guest with a glass of water that they can cleanse their palate with between drinks.
Palate cleansers like plain crackers and bread can accompany the ice water.
Large bowl where guests can pour out extra wine.
Small cups for anyone who doesn’t want to swallow the wine.
Corkscrews for opening bottles.
Ice bucket for white wines.
Pens and tasting grids. A tasting grid allows guests to record their thoughts on each wine’s color and intensity, aroma, flavor, body and texture, complexity, alcohol level, etc. You can find a printable tasting grid at Epicurious.
Ask yourself what the wine “theme” is to help you decide which wines to sample. For example, you could choose to serve wines from a specific region - Napa Valley or Australia perhaps. Or you could choose sweet wines, bold reds, or the top white wines. Which wines you choose can also depend on the time of year. Summer is perfect for whites and light reds, whereas winter is a better time for bold reds. Do a little research if you’re not sure where to start. Wine Folly has a great beginner’s guide to wines.
It is suggested that you choose five to six wine bottles, as anything over six can overwhelm the palate. As for how much wine you should have on hand, a good rule of thumb is ½ bottle per guest. Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly says, “A little over a half a bottle of wine per guest is ideal. For instance, if you have an 8 person party, plan on having about 5 bottles of wine (each guest will receive a half-glass of each bottle).”
Wine can be purchased online at wine.com or at your local wine store/warehouse. Establish a budget before you head to the store and create a list of the specific bottles you’re looking for. If you don’t have a list, just have a general idea of the kind of wines you want and ask the store employees to give you advice and help you select the wines. You can also inquire about case discounts and sale items to cut costs.
Once you have purchased the wines and get them home, you’ll want to chill them. White wines should be chilled two to three hours in advance and served at 45 to 50 degrees F. Red wines can go in the fridge, but should not be served cold, so take them out at least one hour before the tasting.
Introduce the wine theme and pass out the tasting grids.
Give a little information about each wine before you open it. Once you’ve opened the first bottle, guide guests through the tasting process.
Look at the wine in and through the glass. Note its color.
Set the glass on the table and give the wine a quick swirl. Then, bring it up to your nose, close your eyes, and inhale. What does the smell remind you of? Does it have hints of fruit, an herb? What kinds?
Sip the wine and swish around in your mouth. Explore the taste and texture. What are the flavors? What does it feel like? Light or heavy, thick or thin?
Swallow the wine and discuss its aftertaste. What’s the finish like? Does it linger?
Hold a general discussion about the wine that was just tasted. What did everyone like and/or dislike about the wine?
Before moving on to the next wine, cleanse the palate with a cracker/bread and small sip of water.
At the end of the tasting, have everyone discuss the wines. Which were their favorites?
Once you’ve held a wine tasting, you’ll probably want to host more, as there are so many wines to explore. If you enjoy at-home wine tastings, consider a monthly get together and choose a new wine theme each time. Happy sipping!