Wine Tastings: My 5 Favorite Ways to Do a Wine Tasting

No beverage can stir up the senses, curiosity and imagination as wine. Unlike beer or many distilled spirits, a particular wine will smell and taste different every year it's released. That's because wine is mostly an expression of soil, weather, place -- what the French refer to as terroir. It's a reflection of what happened during a particular growing season, as well as the decisions the vineyard manager and winemaker made that year.

All these factors can make tasting wine a very exciting and rewarding experience, especially in a group setting. It's always interesting to hear others' opinions on a wine: what they smelled, what they tasted, what they felt.

If you've always wanted to host a wine tasting in your home -- or maybe are just interested in finding ways to learn more about wine -- then read on. Below are six creative ways to learn more about (and enjoy!) this magical beverage with friends and loved ones.


Basic Wine Tasting


A basic wine tasting can be a unique and fun way to entertain guests. However, they are more enjoyable and rewarding when you limit the size of the group to no more than about 12 guests. Once you get much bigger than this it's difficult to manage this format. 


Keep it simple by deciding on a theme (say, Australian Shiraz, Red wines from the Rhone region of France, or whatever suits you). Set a price floor and a ceiling and have each guest bring one or two bottles that fit the theme.


Make sure to first number each bottle. That will help those taking notes keep track of what they're tasting. Pour only one wine at a time and give your guests a chance to fully appreciate each one. Before moving on to the next one, try to create some discussion about the wine and even consider handing out scoring sheets (or at least pen and paper). This will allow everyone to record their impressions, along with each wine's region, grape varietals, price and so on. Move to the next bottle only when everyone has had a chance to appreciate and discuss the previous one.


Blind Wine Tasting


This type of tasting follows the same steps as the basic tasting described above, except that the identity of each wine is not revealed until after everyone has tasted and evaluated all the wines. To do this right, you'll have to open each bottle first and also fully remove the foil cap (to prevent it from revealing its identity). Then, put each bottle inside a brown paper bag and tie it at the end with a heavy-duty rubber band.


When you're ready to start tasting, take the wines to the dinner table and number each bag clearly with a marker. Follow each step in the basic wine tasting description above -- but again, don't reveal the identity of any wine until ALL wines have been evaluated.


I find this to be the most intriguing and most challenging format -- but also the most fun! It's amazing how much our prejudices and preconceptions (including the look of a bottle's label bottle or the price paid) have on our evaluation and perception of a wine. Blind tasting is the only truly objective way to judge.


Wine Party


Again, the formats above work very well with groups of 4 - 12 people. Once your group gets much larger, a basic tasting becomes too difficult to manage. So what can you do if you'd like to have a wine tasting but have too many guests to make it work? Simple: Have a "wine party."


The best wine parties are the kind where you keep things casual and laid back, yet still ask your guests to follow certain rules. For example, you could set a theme such as "wines from Spain," and have every individual bring a wine from that country (each couple should bring 2 wines; better to have too much than not enough!). As with the other tastings, set a floor and a ceiling: $15 to $30, for example.


For those that won't know how to pick a good selection in this price range, suggest they go to a merchant and let an experienced sales clerk know what the wine is for. With this kind of guidance (country or varietal, as well as a specific price range), most merchants will do a good job recommending a wine for the occasion.


As the guests arrive, line up the bottles so that duplicate wines are together (invariably, there will be some duplicates. But that's OK; more wine for everyone!). You can provide your guest with a tasting sheet if you'd like and use the scoring suggestions outlined earlier. If you'd like to keep it even more informal, skip the score sheet.


"Around the World" Wine Party


Another variation on this theme is to host an "Around the World" wine party. This is typically the way to go if you're looking to host a party with 30 or more guests -- and a terrific idea if you're having a "house warming" party with a lot of guests (you'll see why in a moment). Follow the same guidelines recommended here, but have your guests bring a wine from any country outside of the U.S. 


Then, set up different tables around your living area, each of them "hosting" a different country and its wines. Have a stack of wine scoring sheets and pens available on each table, and as an option, number the wines with Post-it-Notes for better tracking on the scoring sheets. 


If it's a house warming party, set up a tasting area in each room. That way, your guests can check out every room in your new home. 




By opening up the theme to ANY wine from ANY country outside of the U.S., you lower your chances of having duplicate wines, which is the main reason I like to suggest this format when the guest list is large.

Wine Tasting Dinner


Another variation of the traditional wine tasting discussed earlier is to have a 3-course (or 4- or 5-course) dinner and serve a different wine with each course. 


You can ask each guest to bring a specific type of wine to match each of your courses. For example, you can ask one couple to bring a Pinot Grigio to have as an aperitif, another couple to bring a Sauvignon Blanc to pair with the first course, another to bring a wine from Rioja to have with the main course, and lastly someone to bring a dessert wine to have with, of course, dessert. 


A nice touch would be to have a final cheese course (after dessert) and provide the cheeses and wine(s) yourself.


Tasting wine with friends and family can be fun and educational. Fortunately, there's really no right or wrong way to conduct one. So whatever you do, keep things lively and relaxed. Keep some structure to the event without getting too serious and you'll be sure to create a memorable event for all your guests.






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