I know this may make me sound like a bit of a booze hag right now but honestly the best way to learn about wine is by tasting it. Tasting different styles, different grape varieties, different vintages (years) and wines from different countries and regions will help you understand the world of wine. You’ll teach your palate and senses about what makes a wine.
I love holding wine tasting parties at home for friends and family so I thought I would put a little how-to guide together so you get a general idea of what it takes and perhaps give you some ideas for holding your own at-home wine tasting.
Planning Your Wine Tasting
When: The beauty of wine is that it’s made to be enjoyed all year round. However I would highly suggest to hold your wine tasting during the day when you have a lot of natural light to help you analyse the colour of the wines. It’s also wise to remember that you don’t really want to be eating during the tasting (unless it’s plain crackers or bread) to not taint your palate. So perhaps mid-afternoon would work best and then you can follow it up with dinner.
Where: As mentioned above, somewhere with lots of natural light is best. If you having something very aromatic cooking in the kitchen, try to be as far away from this as possible, otherwise suddenly everyone will be smelling butter chicken in their Sauvignon Blanc.
Who: Personally smaller groups are better in my opinion as you can have a good discussion. Ideally you want everyone to be sitting around a table so they can write notes if they wish, so perhaps the best way to decide the number of people is how many seats you have around your table!
What: The wine tasting theme is the fun part of the planning phase. Here are some suggestions of what you can do:
- Tasting wines from a specific region. I.e. Wines only from the Swan Valley or only from Bordeaux in France
- Tasting one style of wine from a specific or various regions. I.e. Sparkling Wines from the Swan Valley or dessert wines
- One grape varietal and one vintage. I.e. All 2015 Sauvignon Blancs or 2013 Chardonnays
- Wines at a certain price point. I.e. Wine under $15
What You’ll Need For Your Tasting
For your own curated wine tasting to go smoothly it’s important you have all the proper tools. Here’s a good check-list:
- Wine – naturally this has to be the first on the list, a good way to do it is for all guests to bring a bottle
- Water – this is very important, make sure you have plenty of water
- Wine glasses – if you have enough glasses and a dishwasher then feel free to go crazy with 5 or 6 glasses per person however if you live in a dishwasher-free house like myself then perhaps stick to one glass per person
- Corkscrew – with so many screw-caps around you may not need a wine opener, but it’s always good to have one on hand just in case!
- Wine glass markers – if you’re doing the one glass per guest it’s good to know whose glass is whose
- Spittoons – not everyone will spit but it’s good to give people the option. I simply use those big red plastic cups you can get from Dan’s – just make sure no one accidentally tries to drink it though!
- Snacks – during the tasting you don’t want anything that’ll impact your taste buds too much so plain crackers and/or bread is a good option
- Paper bags/tin foil – this is good if you’re planning to do a blind tasting
- Bottle stoppers – particularly if you’re doing a bubbles tasting, you’ll want to recap the bottles so those precious bubbles don’t fade away
- Printouts which may help with tasting wine or educating on your chosen bottles (see suggestions below)
- Pens & papers – not everyone will want to write notes but it’s good to give people the option, I have created a wine tasting mat you can download for free here
How to be the best wine tasting party host
Firstly – if you’re tasting whites or anything that needs to be chilled, make sure you pop it in the fridge with plenty of time to spare.
If you’re planning to really learn about wine and educate your guests then the host plays a very important role. If you don’t ‘keep everyone on task’ it’s easy for people just to get into the swing of a general wine piss-up. I’m speaking from experience here! That’s why a small group is more ideal for a tasting party.
It’s important as the host you direct the wine tasting. Once the wine is poured, ask everyone what they think of the colour, followed by the smell and then the taste. For those learning about tasting wines, it can be daunting to try to find a particular smell or taste, so prior to the tasting do a bit of research and have some printouts like this wine descriptors one by Wine Folly. Guests can then sniff and sip the wine while looking at the printout to better determine what they find in the wine. You’ll find everyone will get more comfortable and freer with their words as the tasting progresses.
If you do have party animals at your tasting just explain to them that you’re going to go through, taste all the wines (remember a tasting size is around 30ml) and then once that’s done they can go crazy with the leftovers. Or if you want them to go crazy in their own home, send everyone home with a leftover bottle!
Pre-Packaged Wine Tasting Boxes
I have recently noticed that more and more online wine retailers are creating wine case deals which are intended to help you hold your own at-home wine tasting. For instance Naked Wines has their ‘The Ultimate Wine Tasting Pack‘ which includes 6 different red and white wines, a tasting pack for your guests to take home, tasting mats to write notes on and even vouchers for your guests – your friends will love you!
On a final note, enjoy learning more about the world of the wine and well I couldn’t help including this image…