Six steps to hosting a home wine tasting
Word on the street is that you're hosting a wine tasting. First off, well played. Hosting a wine tasting is easily one of the top three greatest ideas for a social gathering to ever exist. You get to impress everyone with how classy/smart you are, and test five (or more) bottles of wine at a time under the guise of “education." It's genius. And here's how you do it.
1. Keep it cozy
Keep it cozy.
Less than 12 people is the ideal number here for a few reasons:
Small groups encourage conversation. Large groups encourage side conversations. Small groups are easier to plan for and easier to host. 3+ people is a lot of cheese worth of people.
Let's talk wine math. Since a bottle of wine is typically 24 ounces, you can pour 12 two-ounce tastings per bottle. So once you're over the 12 person line, things start to get more complex. Keeping to these numbers will help identify how many back up bottles to account for of each wine for re-tasting, or for those who want more than two ounces.
2. Choose a theme
There's a lot of wines out there, so choosing a theme can help everyone focus and allow you to more easily compare one wine to another. Here are a few themes to get you started:
Taste through a country: Tasting from a specific country is like taking a vacation, only better. A trip to Italy? That's gonna set you back like $3,000. A bottle of Italian wine and a fancy parmesan? $30. Just put on some Pavarotti and close your eyes while tasting and you're basically there. The same goes for other wine havens like California and France.
Old world v. new world: Our sommelier Andrew is all about time traveling during his wine tastings. “Do 'old world' vs 'new world,'" he says, “and compare varietals made in old world countries like France, Italy and Spain and comparing them to their new world counterparts like California, Australia or Chile."
Cost: Does the price of your wine really matter? There's only one way to find out. Pick a category and origin (say, California Chardonnay) and get a few bottles with differing price points to see if cost really does matter. Our advice is to stay within one variety, and keep your price range to $10 increments.
Style: What do 'natural wines' tastes like? Why is a 'dessert wine' desserty? Taste through a series of styles that you're curious about and find out what makes each wine unique from the others.
Potluck style: Is sticking to a theme making you feel boxed in? We're always down for some random twists. Have a potluck. Ask your guests bring a few bottles and see where it takes you. The limit does not exist. Best of all, having each person bring a bottle spruces up the variety and saves the host (you) some bills on buying wine. Overall a win, right?
Optional: Looking to host a blind tasting? Once you've covered the theme, make sure to wrap the bottles in tin foil or a brown paper bag to keep the labels hidden, and splash a two-ounce tasting pour into each person's glass. If you're feeling super nerdy, writing down observations will help everyone articulate their thoughts better, and will come in handy for remembering details.
3. Servin' it up (correctly)
To make sure you can smell and taste the right stuff in your wine, here's some tips on serving it best. Though this can vary dependent on the exact style, generally speaking, sparkling wines should be served at around 45 degrees, whites around 50 degrees and reds 65 degrees. A helpful tip is to put your reds in the fridge 30 minutes before you serve them and to take out your whites 30 minutes before you serve them.
Even if you just blew your budget at Home Goods on candles, wait to light them until after the tasting. You want to try to keep outside smells from really influencing the aromas and flavors you're tasting in the wine.
4. Palate cleansers
Cleansing between tastes is important to get the full flavor of the wine you're drinking. Things like water (three cheers for hydration) or bland crackers are perfect between tastings. And while this time may seem perfect to try that go-to cheese pairing, it's actually recommended to save the sultry pairings for after the tasting. They can significantly alter the wine's flavor profile, so hold off. All good things come in time.
5. Hold the snacks
So the wine is covered, but what about food? Note that mixing food into the equation will affect the taste of your wines. You can either wait to eat after the tasting or find foods that pair well with the wines you're tasting. We've got a few pairing guides to steer you in the right direction, but in the meantime, keep these bullet points in mind:
Keep it balanced. You don't want one thing overpowering the other. Try not to buy wine that is super high in acidity and food that is super high in acidity.
Some of those expert people say "what grows together, goes together." If you're trying a bunch of Italian reds, consider extending that theme over to your food. Generally the flavors and compounds in the foods from a region are a perfect match for its wine.
Andrew is all about the cheese, “We all hear that cheese pairs with wine, but why? These two miracles of fermentation are a great pairing because they counterbalance each other. The creaminess of cheese counterbalances well with the acidity of wine. Generally lighter and less intense flavored cheese will pair well with lighter and crisper whites, while bolder cheeses pair better with more tannic reds."
6. Talk it out
Talk through each of the wines as you go to hear any opinions from your fellow now officially unofficial sommelier friends. Compare your tasting notes, thoughts and opinions on each bottle tasted and you'll be surprised at just how much discussion stems (oh god, wine puns) from it. If you went the blind tasting route, after everyone has said their piece, remove the foils from each bottle for the big reveal. Andrew suggests storytelling with your wine tasting as well, “People enjoy a good story, and each wine has a story to tell. Share your stories with the wines you select and get people excited to drink them!"
And the best part of it all (besides the whole learning thing, obviously)? Sharing the rest of those bottles. Nothing tastes as good as a glass of post-study vino, so break out the charcuterie, cheese board and get the party started. Go on, you deserve it.
Of course, if you just want to ignore all of these rules and do your own thing, that's cool too. Wine tastings are all about exploration and there's no “right way" to do that.