Hosting a Wine Tasting

Once a month I meet up with a group of friends in Napa for an organized wine tasting. Most of us work in the wine industry and find this as both an educational and fun way to deepen our knowledge of different kinds of wine. Setting up a wine tasting is pretty simple.

I think this late summer heat definitely calls for some cold wines. While each tasting is structurally set up the same way, there is one thing that is always different: the wines that people bring.

Wine Tasting Party

Here’s what you will need:

  • wine
  • glass/stemware
  • sensory items (see below)
  • flowers, succulents, or other centerpiece for decorations
  • wine bags or foil to cover wines
  • sharpies (to number wines)
  • pens
  • sensory sheets
  • wine aroma wheel

Choosing a wine

Wine tastings typically have from four to eight wines. Any more than eight wines tends to tire the palate.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Varietal-specific (Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, or Viognier).
  • Region specific: time to try something completely new — ever tried wines from Baja, Mexico, Hungary or Chile? How about Oregon, Washington or New York?
  • Old World vs. New World (e.g., compare California Chardonnay against French Burgundian whites).

Setup

Decorate accordingly. If serving wines chilled, you’ll want to make sure the wines stay cold. Seven Colonial sells ice buckets.

Technical note: it is SO important that all wines being evaluated are being judged and served at the SAME temperature, for evaluation consistency.
 
Wine Tasting Setup

Poolside and backyard wine tastings are perfect in the summer. Ensure there is plenty of shade for the stars of the party, the wine and your participants. (See what I did there?)

Remember to serve wines “blind”. That means each bottle is assigned a number at random, and the identity is hidden. Prevent the wines from being shown by serving them in paper wine bags. If you run out of wine bags, a swift wrap of newspaper secured with a rubber band works just fine. Tin foil works too, especially if you plan on placing them in ice buckets later (because no one likes to deal with wet and soggy paper). Taste the wine in numerical order, taking notes of the wines at the tasting and rank them by preference.

I like using this wine aroma wheel for guidance and you might, too:

 

Wine Aroma Wheel

Ideally, guests should bring wines the day before the tasting to ensure that all wine labels are concealed and ready to serve at the same temperature. Serve whites around 45°F and reds between 55-65°F.

Another optional (but recommended) idea: have each guest arrive with one sensory item. This means any one item (food or non-food item) that resembles the aromas or tastes to the wines you’ll be evaluating. For instance, Sauvignon blancs are well-known for having flavors that resemble grass, gooseberry, passion fruit, limestone, mineral stone, lime, grapefruit, and lemon. The idea is to be able to have these objects at hand and become familiar with the way they smell and taste. Have fun with this, I find this is a great way to learn more about sensory aspects found in a wine.

Cheers! Have fun, chill out, and enjoy your wine tasting.

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