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This past weekend, I hosted my very first wine tasting at our new house. When I first walked through the home with my realtor, I knew it was going to be great for entertaining. While we haven’t had a proper housewarming, we started things out with a bang this weekend with a blind wine tasting party at home.
To be honest, my husband and I had a lot of fun and I think our guests did too. As someone who has gone to many wine tasting events but never an intimate wine tasting party, this was a test run for a larger event in the near future (more about that next month.) I invited some of my husband and my closest friends, only enough that could comfortably sit around our dining room table, and put together a plan.
Step One: Choose a Theme for your At Home Wine Tasting Party
While my main goal was to have friends over to our new house, my secondary goal was to find a wine my husband would like. He does not drink wine. That’s why I have investigated all the ways to save wine for later, because I’m the only one imbibing. With the warmth of summer and the lack of tannins, I decided on a simple white wine theme. Not a specific grape, not a specific country, just white wine. I didn’t give any price points, just no blends and no bubbles.
Step Two: Decant Your Reds and Chill Your Whites!
Now this is important! Some friends and I recently ordered a bottle of champagne at lunch and it had not been chilled. Big no-no! You want to make sure your guests can differentiate between the red wines, so before your guests arrive, get those red wines in decanters! The white wines can be placed in a wine fridge like the New Air Deluxe beverage fridge or a stylish beverage bucket.
Step Three: Feed Your Guests
Don’t make the mistake of providing a few small snacks for your guests. People will be tasting anywhere from 5-20 wines depending on your guest list, and they need to have full bellies. No one wants to get sick or drunk after three tastings because they did not eat enough. I serve a full dinner ahead of my wine tastings. This ensures that the alcohol doesn’t get to anyone’s head too soon. Avoid anything too spicy or heavily seasoned, or communicate with your caterer to make sure the food and wine is appropriately paired.
Step Four: Blind Tasting Supplies
When hosting a blind wine tasting party, there are kind of a lot of supplies you’ll need. The good news: they are mostly all cheap, and you only have to buy them once.
First: make sure you have enough glassware! While I registered for some wine glasses for our wedding, I also have a handful of freebies from wine events I’ve attended over the years. While these may work, I needed to find some elegant glassware that would work for the tastings and also be machine washable. Enter Grassl Glasses. You won’t find glasses like these at Crate and Barrel, or even at many restaurants. These handblown, Swiss glasses are amazing. Lightweight, elegant, dainty, sophisticated…they are all the adjectives I never knew I’d be using to describe a glass.
Need to make sure your glasses are clear of water spots or dust? A microfiber cloth is the tool that restaurants use to keep their glassware crystal clear.
Remember: You and your guests will be tasting multiple wines. Some may be good until the last drop, and some may not be to you or your guests’ liking. By providing spittoons or dump buckets for your guests to empty out glasses, not only are you allowing people to dump what they don’t like, you are also encouraging the “sip and spit,” one of my go-to habits of health.
Next, you’ll want some assistance with your pours so there are no accidental dribbles of wine. For that, I strongly recommend wine discs. You’ve probably seen them if you’ve ever been to a wine tasting. They are the little silver spouts that are placed in the bottles to make sure no wine dribbles out. If you are looking for something heartier, you can use any number of wine aerators.
Another great tool is the measured pourer. Depending on the size of your group and what you are pouring, one to two ounces is plenty for tastings. This makes sure you don’t over- or under- pour. You can get a three pack or a ten pack depending on how many wines you taste.
When you host a blind wine tasting party at home, you need to make sure that you cover the wine so no labels are seen. Collect the wine from guests right when they get to your house. Place each wine bottle in an unmarked brown bag or nondescript wine bag.
Afterwards, you’ll need to mark your bags in some way that designates one from the other, without revealing the wine inside. I bought some blank tags and numbered them one through ten. As blind wine tastings will be something that I’ll hold pretty regularly, I just leave the tags on the bags and pull them out when needed.
If nothing else, the most important part of enjoying wine with friends is to know which wine glass is yours! While many people use wine charms, I am guilty of losing track of my charm. A much better option is glass markers that allow guests to write their names on the base of their cup or wine glass.
Step Five: Participation and Scoring the Tasting
Now that you’ve got all of your tools, it’s time to actually start the tasting! Beside the covered wine, wine glasses, and spitoons, you’ll also want to provide the following:
- A pitcher of water or individual water bottles for hydration and glass rinsing
- Wine tasting scorecard (I made my own)
- Writing utensils
You’ll want to make sure that everyone has a scorecard and a pen to appropriately score each wine. Since everyone has a different level of tasting experience and scoring is so individualized, I made a quicky cheat sheet of popular wine varietals and gave it to everyone who participated. While you can buy individual scorecards, I prefer to make my own in a spreadsheet. That way, I am able to use it again and again, and I can also share it with participants (and you!)
As the person hosting, I encourage you to spit 100% of the wines you taste. You’ll still be able to enjoy the tasting, but it ensure that the group stays on track and completes the tasting. Could you imagine if you visited a tasting room or vineyard and your instructor was tipsy? You’d never get through your lesson!
Of course, if you aren’t taking things too seriously, do whatever is enjoyable for you. Just make sure someone is keeping track of the time.
Scoring the subjective “best” wine is easy. Simply tally up the votes and whichever wine got the top score is the winner. Most people want to know how their wine scored so it is important to disclose how each wine scored when revealing the wine. Leave the wines out on the table so participants can write down any favorites and if they are lucky, take second tastes!
Every blind wine tasting at home that I have been to has involved a prize for the winner. It’s typically something small, like candies, a set of fun napkins, or wine accessories.
The Blind Wine Tasting Party at Home is Done, Now What?
When your at home wine tasting is finished, most people will want to linger around for conversation and additional tastings. That is why the truly most important part of any wine tasting is having a safe way home. When inviting guests, make sure to put an end time for your party on the invitation. This way, guests are able to arrange for transportation home in advance. If anyone has a ride fall through or drinks more than they planned, it is in your best interest to pay for a livery service to take him/her home. The cost of a single ride is much less than what may happen if someone gets in an accident on the way home.
In the few days after the party, I’ll send out an email of each wine tasted and the approximate price point per bottle. This is just a way to help your guests find a wine they liked and spot a deal.
You’re All Set!
These are all the tools I used to have a successful wine tasting party! Any questions or tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment!
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