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How to Host a Wine Tasting

by Barrie Cleveland
California Winery Advisor

So, you’re on holiday in the wine country and you want to host a wine tasting at your vacation home. There are many possibilities for a successful and fun event from the formal sit-down, no talking, wine evaluation tasting to the more casual “brown paper bag nights”. Anyway you choose it’s a good way to enjoy and learn about wines, make friends and develop your own wine tasting palate.

The Atmosphere

Decide how seriousness you want the tasting to be. Will guests simply taste and discuss the wine, will they be encouraged to take notes, guess each type of wine in a “blind” tasting or will there be formal votes and discussion of each wine and its component colors, aromas and aftertaste?

If you and your friends are serious about wine, including elements of a more formal tasting is a good choice. If your guests are mostly wine novices, keep things light and focus more on learning the different flavor components of the wine. Do you taste and smell the melon flavors, the tobacco, orange peel or oak?

For serious oenophiles, offer tasting sheets with scoring options and taste each flight of wines without discussion. Then rank them and compare notes. When tasting “blind” distribute the list of wines being tasted after first tasting them, but before they are unveiled. See who can correctly identify the wines.

Wine Themes

If most guests are not too familiar with wine, a basic theme for the event is a good idea. Good themes include tasting one kind of wine from a particular region, or the same grape variety from different regions. Compare and discuss the wines, vote for your favorite, rank them in order and crown the favorite with suitable fanfare. Remember glassware can be an issue if you are tasting a number of wines at the same time. (Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring their own glasses if you don’t have enough.)

Other themes can include tasting wines from one vintage year from various regions, or taste a flight of wines from the same producer but different vintages. These “vertical” tastings will show the differences between older and younger wines from the same vineyard made by the same winemaker. Another popular tasting, is limiting wines under (or over) a certain price point.

Choosing the Wine and Sharing the Expense

You can host the event yourself, choosing and paying for all the wines, or ask guests to bring a particular wine type. Most regular wine groups split the responsibilities by either rotating the hosting duties or understanding that all those present will share in the cost of the wine. (Be sure to have this clearly understood ahead of time with late cancellations still on the hook for their portion.)

How Many Flights, How Many Wines?

Serve in flights of four or five wines that are similar in style, variety or body. One flight of wines may be just right for some tastings but most formal tastings may have two or more flights. Remember to consider the order in which you should taste the wines. Some experts advise starting with the lightest wine and ending with the heaviest. A good wine merchant can offer advice on the order in which you should taste your wines.

Guests and Glasses

A bottle of wine is 750 ml and can be shared successfully from 8 up to 16 people. Using a small beaker or shot glass to measure insures that there is enough for everyone. (1.5 oz is equivalent to about 44ml and is a good tasting amount.) Another tip is to remember to plan ahead for cooling white wines and making sure reds are at a proper “cellar temperature” not room temperature. Older wines may need to be decanted to insure any solids from aging don’t end up in your glass.

Glassware and Dump Buckets

Each guest should have as many glasses as wines in each flight. They should be the same style and type of glass in order to compare the different aromas and flavors equally. Also have a “spit cup” for each taster and a dump bucket or two for the table.

Accompanying the Wine

Serve food and water with the wine. This helps to clear the palate, clarifying the taste of each wine. The food can be simple, such as a variety cheese and crackers or French bread cut into cubes. Some tasting groups plan on a potluck dinner to follow. For more information on wine tasting please see www.CaliforniaWineryAdvisor.com