How to Host Your Own Wine Tasting Party

What you need and words of advice for a fun gathering with friends

Looking for a fun way to mix up your dine out or pot-luck themed weekly get-together? If you like wine, why not host a wine tasting party? Whether you're a seasoned wine drinker or can’t figure out the nuances between a Merlot and a Malbec, there is no better way to find out than by tasting with friends. Hosting a tasting is a great way to relax and literally un-wined after a long week; it's also a fun activity that will fill a rainy weekend afternoon. It’s social, but you also will (likely) learn something about wine and which varietals you prefer.

 

Choose Your Tasting

Here, you have a couple of options, starting with basic vertical (tasting wines from one producer/vineyard over many years) and horizontal tastings (one grape, one year, many producers). You can also compare new vs. old world wines or choose a theme, like six wines all under $20. First time hosting a tasting party? Jason Haas, general manager at Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, Calif. (and son of co-founder Robert Haas) recommends starting with a vertical tasting to explore how terroir — or "sense of place" — affects the wine. It's easy to set up and you're sure to learn something new.

Invite Guests

Now that you've determined the kind of tasting you’re hosting, it’s time to invite your friends — a group of six to ten people is advisable. When sending out invitations, be sure to let your friends know it’s a tasting, not a cocktail party, and give them an idea of what they’ll be tasting (you can keep the specifics under wraps if you want to do it blind).

 

Set the Menu

Once you've determined the size of your party, it’s time to pick your wines and set the menu. With a group of ten, you’ll want at least eight bottles of wine: Six for tasting, as you'll need one two-ounce pour per person, per wine, and two to enjoy after (optional). While you could choose six 2008 Pinot Noirs, you can also opt for three 2009 Chardonnays and three 2008 Pinot Noirs for more variety. Be sure to have a package of water crackers on hand for people to snack on between tastings to clear their palate; a loaf of ciabatta or a baguette cut into slices also works well.

After the tasting, offer your guests a light yet satisfying meal over which you can continue to talk wine. For something simple, stick with something light like a cheese plate with fruit. For something more substantial, prep some burgers or a pasta dish in advance so only a little effort is needed for assembly and service. Alternatively, go potluck. Ask each guest to each bring their choice of an appetizer or spread, like spinach and artichoke dip or these prosciutto crostini.

 

What You Need

What you need for a wine tasting depends on how complex you want to make the gathering. Here are the essentials to have:

• At least one wine glass per person, and ideally one glass per wine for a total of six

• Water glasses and pitcher of water

• Ice bucket, for keeping whites chilled

• Corkscrews

• White tablecloth, placemats, or pieces of construction paper (so you accurately judge the color of each wine) for each taster's place

• A tasting sheet (if your guests aren't bringing notebooks). Create your own by enterting the grape varietal, year of production, producer and vineyard, and the description of the wine as found on bottle or online for each bottle you will be tasting. Then add blank fields where tasters can record perceived aromas, flavors, color, tasting notes, and give their own rating for each bottle.

• Pens or pencils

• Bread and/or water crackers for cleansing palate

• Spitting bucket (optional)

 

The Party Itself

Before your guests arrive, be sure to set out the wine glasses, fill water glasses, and ensure your whites are chilled and reds are ready to go. Crackers/bread and the spit bucket should be in the middle of the table while a tasting card and writing utensil should be at each place. When it comes time to start the tasting, begin with the lightest-bodied whites then move towards those that are fuller bodied. Then do the same with the reds, finishing with sweet, dessert wines (if you’re including any). New to tasting? Read through these tips so you can be sure to explore all the sensory qualities a glass of wine has to offer — then have fun!

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