A wine tasting party at home is a great way to learn more about wine while catching up with friends. At DiVino, private wine tasting events are one of our specialties. Here are some tips on how to create a memorable and educational wine tasting. Check out our food and wine pairing guide for wine tasting party menu ideas. You can even watch a video!
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Step 1: Choose a Wine Tasting Theme
This can be as generic as California Chardonnay or as specific as Left Bank Bordeaux from the 1982 vintage. The idea is to create a selection of wines that you can compare and contrast. Your wine budget also matters. Some themes are more expensive than others, but you can find great wines for under $25 and create afantastic wine tasting experience. The options are endless. Here are a few of our time-tested favorites.
Old World Versus New World
For example, Malbec from Mendoza Argentina and Cahors Malbec from France or Bordeaux versus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Same Grape Variety, Different Name (or Region)
For example, Sauvignon Blanc from different countries like New Zealand, France, and Italy, or Sauvignon Blanc Versus Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, or Chardonnay from France (Chablis) versus California Chardonnay.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Taste your way through all different kinds of sparkling wines made in different ways, from Prosecco and Lambrusco to Cava, Crémant, and Champagne. Need some instant inspiration? Here are four Champagne-style wines from around the world.
Shades of Rosé
Compare different rosé wines made in different methods, like Saignée or blending. Choose pale, salmon-colored Rosé de Provence, a dark pink Rosato from Puglia in Southern Italy, and a Bandol from France or an American rosé for contrast.
Vertical Wine Tasting
Choose wines from the same appellation or even the same winery, from different vintages. Or do a Horizontal Wine Tasting with wines from the same vintage and appellation but different wineries.
Blind Wine Tasting
Test your skills and you experience by trying to tell the difference between grape varieties, for example Cabernet Sauvignon versus Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay versus Sauvignon Blanc. You can do a blind tasting with any wines! It all depends on what you feel most curious about or more comfortable with. Prosecco versus Champagne for beginners, and Champagne versus Classic Method wines from the around world for more experienced wine drinkers.
Step 2: Supplies
Make sure you have everything you need before you pop the corks and get started. Here’s a short list and a few recommended wine tasting tools.
The sommelier’s choice, the barman’s choice, and definitely my choice is a classic double-hinge corkscrew with a wire cutter. Once you’ve learned to open a bottle with the double lever it’s hard to go back. These come in all iterations from the simple ergonomic ridged one, which is easy to grip, to gilded and shiny versions or even a rustic wooden handle.
Some people are partial to the butterfly, or the winged corkscrew. It’s handy for parties because it usually has a bottle opener on top. These are easy to use, but they can take a few tries and it’s easy to over-stab and possibly damage the cork.
If you’re opening very old bottles at your tasting, you night need the two-prong cork puller. These aren’t the easiest to use, but if you’re a collector of old vintage wines, keep this in your arsenal. Wine-soaked, old corks can easily crumble. Spend your time thoughtfully decanting rather than fishing out pieces of cork. Wedge the prongs along the edges of old, wine-softened corks and slowly twist to extract it. You’ll get it with practice.
Depending on what you’re tasting and how serious you about the multisensory wine analysis, you’ll need different types of glasses. Otherwise use a standard international tasting glass that works for red, white, rosé and sparkling wine. We like this one for a set of 12, or this one for a set of six.
You can absolutely use stemless wine glasses, just don’t let the wine heat up in your hand.
What about Plastic Glasses?
Plastic is a far cry from glass or crystal, especially when it comes to evaluating the color and consistency of your wine. Plastic is more porous, and it also contains chemicals that will interfere with delicate wine notes.
You can still get a lot of aroma, and flavor of course, but for a more authentic experience stick with a real glass.
Carafe or Decanter
If you are tasting very old wines you’ll need a wide-bottomed decanter, not only to aerate the wine, but also to keep sediment out of your glass. Try to get one with a bit of a lip or an angled opening at the top. These are harder to pour from than you might think! For medium-bodied wines that aren’t super old but still need to breathe, try something like this. It’s attractive and classic and doubles as a lovely flower vase when not in use.
Pitcher for Spitting (or pouring out)
Spit or swallow? Depending on how many wines you plan to taste you want to take slow. You may not enough glasses to taste every single wine side by side, so keep something on the table to pour out or spit into. Ideally something opaque. No one wants to see that. I’ve used everything from a ceramic flower pot to a classic stainless steel spittoon.
Water and Palate-Cleansing Snacks
Keep plenty of water for sipping between wines. When it comes to rinsing your glass use the next wine, NOT water. As for snacks, keep it simple. I like basic grissini breadsticks or water crackers.
Foil or Fancy Wine Bags
For a blind wine tasting you will need to hide the labels. Try these wine bags for something classy. You can also use a tube sock. It isn’t the most elegant but it gets the job done.
Paper and Pens for Tasting Notes
Keep it as formal or as casual as you like, but taking notes will help you remember what you smelled and tasted and lock in the knowledge. Download and print these DiVino placemats for your next party!
Step 3: Set the Mood
Clear the Air
Remember that scent is suggestive, so clear the air of cooking smells or scented candles. The goal is to discover the floral notes in the highly aromatic Gewürztraminer, and those traces of smoky bacon in your Côte-Rôtie, a Syrah-based wine from the Northern Rhône Valley. That said, if you’re tasting wines in a more casual way, for example, sparkling wines under $25, by all means, bust out those pigs in a blanket. They are excellent with a sparkling rosé!
Turn On the Lights
Wine is romantic, but if you plan to follow all four steps to the wine tasting process, keep the lights on so that you can evaluate the color and consistency or effervescence in your glass. You can always lower them again once you get to the next steps. If you’re interested in learning more about the wine tasting process, check out our free web series, 21 Days to Wine for a more in-depth look at every step of the process.
Step 4: Have fun!
Wine tasting is all about using your senses. It’s a pleasure and it’s definitely better in company. Don’t be shy! Encourage your guests to express themselves and ask questions.