Here at VinePair, there’s one question we get asked more than any other: What’s the best way to learn about wine? While we’re certainly advocates for books, classes, and the internet (hello, VinePair.com!), believe it or not, one of the best ways to learn about wine is to actually taste it.
Understanding how our palates work and why wines produced from certain regions taste the way they do is essential to any wine connoisseur’s knowledge. However, tasting wine on a regular basis can become an expensive habit very quickly. That’s why we recommend starting your own tasting group!
Hosting an at-home wine tasting is the best way for you, along with some of your friends, to get the best bang (and knowledge) for your buck. Starting a tasting group that meets once a week and alternating who hosts is the fastest track to success.
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What exactly do you need to host the perfect at-home wine tasting? Here is VinePair’s guide to hosting the perfect in-home wine tasting:
Keep it Intimate
As with any event, having too large a group can make it hard to stay focused. However, not having enough people runs the risk of not having enough wine. We recommend hosting a group between five and 10 people. For a group smaller than five, have each person bring two bottles of wine instead of one.
Keep it Themed
Whether it’s by varietal or region, keep a theme for your tasting to hold the focus. Start with something simple — a grape like Pinot Noir or a region like Tuscany — and work toward more intricate, niche themes as your group progresses.
Set the Table
Having a table fully equipped with all the necessities makes hosting the night go much smoother. Make sure to use a white tablecloth so tasters can see the color of their wines. Keep a spit bucket and water carafe in the center of the table, as well as a few bowls of bland crackers. Save any real or flavorful food for after the tasting! Fats and flavors in foods can greatly alter a wine’s taste.
Set Each Place
Ideally, each guest should have two to three glasses set in front of them to compare and contrast colors, aromas, and flavors against at least one other wine. Set each station with a water glass and small pad/pen for note-taking.
Just because the hosting is on you doesn’t mean the wine cost should be. Make sure to inform your guests of the theme you’ve chosen a few days in advance, then ask them to each bring a bottle. Setting a price range or price cap (less than $25 or $15-$20, for example) is a great way to make sure everyone stays on the same page.
Blind Tasting is Best Tasting
The best way to learn about our palates and understand the similarities/differences in wines is to blind taste them. As the host, that job is on you. Collect everyone’s bottles upon their arrival and place them in paper bags (wrapping them in tin foil works as well.) Pour each guest a tasting pour (approx. two ounces) of each wine in the same order and get started.
Notes and Discussion
Have everyone taste individually, making their own guesses and observations and noting them on the paper provided. After a few minutes, have everyone reconvene and discuss preliminary comments and deductions. Once everyone has spoken, reveal the bottles of that particular flight to your guests, then repeat with a second flight until all the wines have been tasted.
Finish With a Meal
After such palate stimulation, everyone’s bound to be hungry. Place all the bottles on the table and let everyone enjoy their favorites. Serve up a small meal or simple appetizers and chat about your final observations.