Have you ever thought of hosting your own wine tasting, but don't know where to start?
Wine tastings are a great idea for getting a group of friends together and have a good time. It offers something different than your usual dinner party. Train your palate and learn more about specific wine regions and styles with your friends. Bringing your very own wine tasting to your doorstep lets you decide on what you want to taste and ultimately learn about.
There are so many different types of tastings you can choose from. The good thing about hosting your own is that you can customize the tasting. It can be as elaborate or simple as you want. Invite an intimate group or a larger gathering. Organising your own tasting is easier than you think.
Here are some ideas and tips for how to set up your own wine tasting party.
Supplies you will need
With a few simple supplies you can have your very own wine tasting at home. Most of these items, you may already have.
- Wines: The serving size for wine tastings are 75-90mLs, this is about half the size of a regular serving. Use this guideline to organize how many bottles of wine you will need for your party.
- Glasses: Make sure that you have enough glasses for everyone. Keep the glasses clear and uniform in size.
- Water and plain crackers: Palate cleansers are especially useful when you have many bottles of wine to go through.
- Pen and paper: For you and your guests to scribble your tasting notes on.
- Corkscrew: Unless all your wines are screw cap, don't forget the wine opener.
- Spittoon or dump bucket: For those who choose to spit whilst tasting. These can be individual plastic/paper cups or an ice bucket.
- White tablecloth: A plain white surface will help you assess the colour of the wines. Alternatively, you can easily print out your own wine tasting placemats, or white craft paper will work just as well.
Food and Snacks
It’s a good idea to serve some snacks at a wine tasting. You can keep it simple or go all out to impress your company. Here are some ideas for food and snacks you can serve.
- Crusty bread or water crackers: Minimal and does the trick. Plain carbohydrates that will act as palate cleansers and help soak up some of that alcohol.
- Dips, chutney and pickled goods: A simple, store bought option that is super easy as well as tasty. Hummus, olives and cornichons are always crowd favourites.
- Charcuterie platter: Offers a selection of flavours and textures to go with your wines. Cured meats pair especially well with reds.
- Appetisers: Make or order in some bite-sized morsels that will go nicely with the wines. Some suggestions; bruschetta, meatballs, baked cheeses, Spanish-inspired tapas and so much more.
- Wine and cheese pairing: Let your guests bring their own cheese and/or wines and decide which wine and cheese combination makes the best pairing.
Tip: bold wines go with bold cheeses, whites and sparkling wines pair with soft, creamy cheeses.
If you are worried that eating will disrupt the wine tasting and affect how to objectively taste and assess. You can choose to serve the food after your guests have tried all the wines. Otherwise, you can keep it casual and eat, as you taste.
Stick to what you feel comfortable with, whether it’s a simple cheese board or an array of appetisers. A stress-free host will more likely lead to a stress-free wine tasting.
Atmosphere and service
There are a few guidelines when it comes to the wine tasting environment. Try to follow them to optimise the wine tasting experience.
White tablecloth not mandatory, these guidelines can be adapted to the theme of your tasting.
- No scents: Make sure there are no scented candles or flowers in the room. This goes for perfume, scented lotions and cologne. Any strong smell will detract from the wines and make it difficult to distinguish different aromas and flavours of the wines. You are aiming for an odour neutral environment.
- A well-lit room should be used so that you and your guests can easily examine the colour of the wines.
- Temperature: Serving the wines at the right temperature makes a huge difference. Sparkling wines should be served well chilled (5-10°C), whites chilled (7-14°C), light reds (12-17°C) and heavy reds (17-21°C).
- Serving the wines in the correct order is also important. Serving heavy reds before whites would impact on how you will be able to taste. The order in which you should serve should be; sparkling, whites, rosé, reds (light to heavy) and finally dessert wines.
Choosing a theme
This is the most important part of organising your wine tasting. It will determine what types of wine will be open for your tasting. There are many different types of themes to choose from. You should select your theme depending on what you want to learn. Tasting wines side-by-side lets you analyse the differences between each wine and why they taste different.
The theme of the tasting can also set the vibe for your event. Do you want it cool and casual or a strict sensory analysis? You could also let your guests know the theme and ask them to bring a bottle. This will help you save money and make the tasting more interactive.
Common types of wine tastings
Wine tastings are social learning experiences, don't forget to compare your notes with others.
- Vertical: A comparison of vintages from the same producer and the same wine. What you can learn from a vertical tasting is how the wine can change with ageing. Taste the aroma profile as it moves from fruit driven primary characters to tertiary bottle aged characters. This can be a tricky tasting to organise, simply because it can be difficult to find chronological vintages of the same wine.
- Horizontal: Much easier to set up than a vertical tasting as it offers more flexibility. Choose wines from the same vintage, varying in producer. It is best to stick to one varietal to analyse how climate can play a role in the wine, or make it region specific to taste winemaking styles of different producers.
- Varietal: Pick your favourite varietal, or one that you want to learn more about. This type of tasting is easy and casual. You can learn a lot about the different styles in which the same varietal can be made.
- Price: Do a price comparison of the same varietal. Select wines from varying price points and see if you and your guests can tell the difference between cheap and expensive bottles.
- New World Vs. Old World: Taste the styles between Old World and New World wines. Great varietals to choose from would be; Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Syrah.
- Region/Country: If you want to explore native varietals of a country or taste the winemaking climate of a particular cool or warm winemaking region, this is the theme for you.
Tasting themes perfect for summer
- Sparkling: Have a bubbles party! Nothing like a glass of bubbles to lift your spirits. Have a selection of Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Sekt or any other sparkling wines from the New World. Discover how different sparkling wines can taste. Compare a creamy and nutty vintage Champagne with a fruity Prosecco from Veneto.
- Aromatics: Have a go at distinguishing the differences between aromatic wines. You have a lot to choose from; Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño, Torrentés and Viognier just to name a few. Compare tasting notes with your friends to see if they come up with the same fruit and floral descriptors.
- Rosé: Cap off a beautiful spring or summer evening with a few bottles of rosé. Rosé can be made in so many different styles. Have your guests bring their own bottle and have a casual tasting party. Try and have rosés that are made from different grapes, that way you can taste the full spectrum of rosé wines.
Other wine tasting themes
Let the fun begin! Themes that are outside of the norm and challenge your wine tasting skills.
- Organic: What used to be regarded as Hippie wine, now is gaining a lot of popularity. Have a go at organic and biodynamic wines and see how they stack up against your usual favourites. Decide if wines produced without the aid of chemicals like herbicides and fungicides match up to your palate. Start your research here, read our article about buying organic, biodynamic or natural wines.
- Unique varietals: Have you ever heard of Xinomavro, Furmint, Saperavi, Koshu or Merwah? These are all grape varietals. Delve into wines that you have never heard of before and have fun trying to guess their country of origin. A lot of countries have their own indigenous varietals. With a little of bit of research you can host your own weird and unique varietal wine tasting.
- The big and the bold: If you are not a fan of white wine, or if it's leading up to those cooler months? Have a selection of reds instead. They don't all have to be super heavy reds, work your way up to them. Start with Pinot Noir, Grenache or Carignan. Slowly progress to medium bodied wines like Sangiovese, Merlot and Zinfandel. Finally finish off with some big and powerful wines; Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Bordeaux blends, Pinotage and Touriga Nacional would be some suggestions. This is a great way to learn how to distinguish tannins and body between different red wines.
- Blind: These are fun and engaging. Blind tastings can be conducted with any of the themes listed above. Decant the wines in jugs, put the wines into wine bags or good-old tin foil will work just fine. Have your guests guess the price, varietal, region or vintage. This theme also gives your wine tasting a bit of competitive edge.
Hosting your own wine tasting can be incredibly simple. With a few supplies and some awesome company you are all set for a great time. Choosing the theme is probably the hardest part.
Now that you have grasped all the basics to hosting your own wine tasting, get organized and invite some friends over. It's a fun way to bring people together and learn more about wine. You learn better with others, comparing tasting notes and discussing your favourite wines are very much encouraged.
The best thing about hosting your own wine tasting is that you can set the tone and the guest list.
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