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One of my favorite things is sharing a good bottle of wine with friends. But there are so many different options when it comes to picking wine!! How do you learn what you like? You taste it of course!! Hosting a wine tasting can be an affordable way to try all different kinds of wine at once and can give you a new way to connect with your friends while you discover what you all enjoy.
Host a Wine Tasting?
Don’t you have to know a lot about wine to do that? Not really! There are tons of great resources out there that you can use to throw an awesome event. And there is no reason that only your guest should learn something new. Intimated? Check out our post Wine Tasting for Beginners to learn the basics.
Affordable? Sure! Tastings in a wine shop or wine bar can get pretty pricey, especially as you start adding to the number of people in the group. I’ve got some ideas to share with you that can not make it break the bank.
Pick a Theme
Now, I don’t mean themes like “Lula” or “costume party” - although you could choose those too if you really wanted. If you’ve ever been to a wine tasting, you already know the general format. Each person get as small taste of multiple wines. The intent is to try the wines sips at a time, compare and contrast them, and then decide what you like and try to figure out why you like it. The most successful comparisons are when you pick one variable about the wine to be the focus. That becomes your theme!
The choices a vast:
- Varietals from the same region:
- Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Malbec - all from one region
- The same varietal from different countries:
- Pinot Noir from Spain, Italy, Germany, Australia, Chile
- Wine Regions within one country:
- Napa, Sonoma, Long Island, Virginia
- Expensive vs. cheap:
- Do this one blind! Can anyone tell which is which??
- Same exact wine of different vintages:
- Called a vertical tasting
- Others alternatives include methods of production, old world vs. new world… so many options!
In addition to providing background for the wines you will be tasting, it can be interesting to research facts about the theme you’ve chosen. Look into cultural traditions surround wine if you have chosen a country or region within a country. Learn about what makes each grape varietal your tasting different from the others. There are some many variables that go in to the way each wine tastes.
Choose the Wine
Once you've decided on a theme, it becomes much easier to choose wine from the vast selection available. You have instantly narrowed your search parameters. Head off to the wine shop (or online wine store) and make your selections. Whichever place you choose to shop when you host a wine tasting, it’s generally pretty easy to get some assistance from the staff. Most of them love wine themselves and really enjoy sharing what they have learned with others. Be sure to ask if you have questions.
Depending on how many people you plan to invite, you might need more than one of each bottle. One great way to spread out the cost is to ask people to bring a bottle to share. Wait - didn’t you just painstakingly decide what kind of wine tasting you wanted to host? Yes, so when you ask people to bring a wine give them each parameters! If your theme is “Wine from Spain & Portugal”, ask John to bring a Crianza Rioja, and have Richard bring a red from Priorat (another region within Spain). You get the idea… We have a list of great wines under $25 to help get you started.
How Much Wine Do I Need?
One regular bottle of wine holds about 8 - 10 tasting pours of wine. A wine tasting pour is usually 2 to 3 ounces. You probably want to have a minimum of 5 different wines to taste and usually not more than 7. You may also want to think about who may want a full glass in addition to the tasting. So for a party of 8 to 10 people, you want 2 bottles of each wine.
Gather the Right Tools
Minimum 2 identical glasses per person
Why? So they can compare 2 side by side - though it is even better for each wine to have it’s own glass.
Why Identical? Believe it or not, (believe it) the same wine will taste different out of a different shaped glass. So if your trying to tell the difference between two wines in different glasses, you won’t know if it’s the wine or glass shape influencing the taste.
Whoa! That’s a lot of glasses! Yes it is, and you can rent them if you don’t own that many. Usually, you can rent glassware for $1 - $3 each and you can return them dirty. Win on the after-the-party dishes!
Though screw caps are becoming more prevalent, most bottles of wine will still come with a cork. There are a number of different kinds you could choose from, however, my favorite openers have 2 steps for you to leaver out the cork. I have had trouble with the single step version and breaking the cork. There are others that once you screw in just require muscle to pull out the cork - but why work that hard! Go for the 2 step wine opener.
Decanter or Aerator:
Some red wines really need some time to open up before you can get the full experience of the aromas and flavors they have to offer.
Aerators are useful for mixing oxygen in with the wine allowing it to begin to open or breathe.
Decanters can help with aeration too, but are also useful for older wines that may have accumulated sediment.(It's totally normal!) You would use a decanter to pour the clear wine into slowly, while leaving a little wine with most of the sediment in the bottle.
These tools are useful for preparing the wine ahead of time so your guests don’t have to wait on a just uncorked bottle to breathe before tasting. You can find some really cool looking decanters!
Not everyone will like each wine. Also, if you’re tasting a lot of different wines, people might not want to get too drunk. Especially, if they will be driving home soon after the tasting. Drink responsibly!! It’s very common in even the most formal of wine tastings to spit out the wine after your tasted it without swallowing. So provide a place for everyone, usually a separate cup will do. (Red solo cup = fewer dishes)
This is similar to a personal spittoon, but for any remaining wine in the glass that your guest may not want to drink. This is especially useful if you only have 2 glasses per guest. It’s also a good reason to stick to a tasting pour of about 2 ounces… don’t waste the wine by giving too much to someone that doesn’t know if they like it yet. Also, you might be tempted to rinse the glass with water before pouring the next glass. However, the experts say this is a no-no and can reduce the flavor of the next wine. It’s more traditional to do a quick swish with a tiny bit of the next wine, pour it out, and then pour the tasting serving.
Wine bags for blind tasting
Choosing a blind tasting can be so much fun! To do it effectively, you will need to ensure that others can’t tell the wine by the part of the bottle that is showing. Brown paper lunch sacks can sometimes be too small to cover the bottle well, so make sure you test it out before the party. Plan to host blind tastings frequently? You can find (or DIY) some cute blind tasting bag for wine. Just make sure they are not see through, have a number (so people can keep their notes organized), and will stay on the bottle. Price point on the same varietal and guess the varietal are both fun to debate with friends!
Accessorize the Party
There are some amazing printables out there to add some flair when you host a wine tasting. Invitations are a must - whether printed or digital - not only to inform guests of the date, time, and location, but to explain the theme. You can also remind them of the wine they should be bringing with them if you chose to do that. Don’t forget to remind them not to wear perfume or cologne! No strong scents!
Items like placemats and tasting cards for each guest help them keep track of the wine, organize their thoughts, and remember things about their experience later. Another idea would be to have some info cards. These could be used to teach about the wine varietals, the regions or countries, or a cultural significance surround the wine. Make it a more well rounded learning experience
Prep Your Space
There are a couple of key factors to remember when setting up your space to host a wine tasting. If you are familiar with the steps of tasting wine, you know that the color and the aroma of the wine will tell you something about the wine. If you don’t know about the steps of tasting wine, learn about them here.
Make sure that your space is well lit and that everyone has a white backdrop to analyze the color of their wine. This can be a full white table cloth or just a napkin, but it is important to gathering some information about the wine. There is even a spot on the tasting card to record it!
Keeping the area free of odors is also important. Aromas in the air can completely change what a wine tastes like. So, clean the litter box, take out the trash, and don’t serve appetizers that are too fragrant! If the wine tasting is the focus, make sure you can really smell it.
Host the Wine Tasting! (Party Time!)
Serve Wines in Order
Generally when tasting wine you want to try to work from lighter wines to more bold flavors. Tasting in this order helps each taster to be able to process the lighter, more subtle flavors better because their taste buds have not been overwhelmed by a powerful wine. If you are tasting both red and white wines, start with the white first then move to the red.
Serve Wine a the Right Temperature
You may have learned that white wine should be refrigerated and red wine should be served at room temperature. While this is not a bad rule of thumb, it’s not entirely complete. We live in Florida, so room temperature to us may not be to someone who lives in say, Minnesota. A better guideline would be to serve red wine between 62 - 68 degrees Fahrenheit (way different from my 74 degree room temperature!) and white wine between 49 - 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are a few ways, some involving tools, to get your wine to the correct temperature. Some newer refrigerators have drawers that allow you to set a custom temperature. Wine chillers/heaters are also useful to set a specific temp or choose a type of wine that can bring one bottle to a more precise temperature. If you’re a real wine enthusiast and have the space, I highly recommend investing in a wine refrigerator. You can find those with two sections - one for red and one for white if that is your preference. If you’re not ready to invest in any of that fancy stuff, just pop your bottles of red in the fridge about 30 min prior to serving. Remember that once you pour the wine in the glass it will only get warmer, so it’s better to serve it a bit on the cooler side.
It is still technically a party right? Take pictures of your friends, the wine you taste, the whole setup! If you plan to host a wine tasting again, these photos can be useful tools. What did you learn that you want to do differently? What went well? Use the pictures on your next invitation to entice more people!
Plan the Next Tasting or Form a Club
Hopefully, you all enjoyed yourselves and learned more about wine in the process. There are so many different aspects of wine to compare, you really can host a wine tasting regularly! Rotate houses, choose new themes, invite new people, the choices are endless!
Don’t feel like choosing multiple themes for a wine club on your own? There are multiple resources you can use as a guide when you host a wine tasting. We currently have the DVD lecture series The Everyday Guide to Wine. While it’s a bit old, the lessons it teaches about the basics of wine are still relevant. The course is set up as a 24 short lessons with a list of wine types you purchase for each session. There are even some wine board games on the market now that incorporate tasting!
It has only been recently that we started making wine tasting an activity of our get-togethers. And while we have not held a formal tasting, it is certainly something I am beginning to plan for in the near future.