I love trying different kinds of wines. And it’s even more fun with friends. Which is why I decided to learn how to host a wine tasting party at home. Now it’s something I do fairly often because it’s so easy to put together for a small group, or even a wine tasting for two.
A wine tasting party is a great way to get together with friends and try out some new wine varieties that you might never drink otherwise. (You never know…you might just find a new favorite!)
And the good news is…you don’t need to go to a fancy wine bar or be a wine expert to host a wine tasting in your home.
But if you haven’t been to one before, it’s hard to know where to start.
So that’s where these wine tasting party tips should come in handy.
Types Of Wine Tasting Parties
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There are many ways to host a wine tasting party at home, so the first decision you will need to make is what kind you want to have.
Blind Wine Tasting Party
A blind wine tasting party is where your friends don’t know what wine they are drinking. (This is my favorite!)
Put the bottles of wine in bags so your guests can’t see the labels.
Serve everyone a taste of the first wine. Let them talk about it, and comment on how much they love it (or hate it).
Then they can rate which ones they like the best. (I put up a chalkboard with a row for each wine and had everyone put up a A, B, C, D or F ratings).
Or they can try to guess what type of wine it is (if you haven’t told them that).
Or have them rank the wines in order from least expensive to most expensive. (In my crowd, it’s amazing how many times the most expensive bottle ends up at the inexpensive end of the list!)
After they’re done with the first one, go on to the next one. And repeat the whole process with each of the wines on your list.
When you’re finished tasting them all, find out who got the answers right. You can even give out prizes.
To keep the bottles hidden, many people recommend putting them in paper bags, wrapping them in tin foil or making a tube from construction paper.
But I like to make them look a little prettier than that by using wine gift bags.
At the end of the night, the winners get to take home a bottle of wine in one of the gift bags.
For the white wines, I use these chiller bags*.
Put them in the freezer for a couple of hours before the party…and then they keep your wine cold while you’re tasting.
I put the red wine in red velvet gift bags*.
Having two different bags makes it easy to tell the red wines from the white ones.
Of course, if you don’t want to spend a lot of time getting supplies together, ordering a blind wine tasting kit (like this one)* will get you everything you need in one shot.
Wine And Cheese Party
When I think of a wine tasting party, the first thing that comes to mind (after the wine, of course) is what type of cheese to serve.
Hosting a wine and cheese party takes that thought one step further by picking a specific cheese to serve with each wine.
And there is a science to it!
I have heard that serving creamy cheese such as goat cheese, blue cheese and brie do not go well with wine. Apparently, they coat your tongue and dull your taste buds, so the wine doesn’t taste like it should.
I like to take the easy way out but using this wine and cheese pairing wheel* to figure out what to serve.
It tells you which type of red, white or sparkling wine will go best with each type of cheese…really easy!
Wine And Chocolate Pairing Party
Similar to the wine and cheese party, for a wine and chocolate pairing party you’ll need to choose varieties of wine that taste good with different types of chocolate.
I used to think this was a weird concept…wine and chocolate just didn’t seem like they would go well together.
Until I actually went to a wine and chocolate tasting, and it was REALLY good. So now it’s on my list of wine tasting parties I want to host at home!
Food and Wine Pairing Party
If you prefer to do a little more eating and a little less drinking at your parties, a food and wine pairing party may be what you’re looking for.
This is where you serve multiple food dishes or a multi-course meal, and pair each one with a different wine.
It’s a great way to make a sit-down dinner feel extra special.
Or to host a DIY wine tasting for two.
And to make it really easy, you can purchase these really inexpensive food and wine pairing wheels* that will tell you which wines to pair with the food you’re serving.
“Learn About Wine” Party
If your friends don’t know a lot about wine, hosting a “learn about wine” party can be a fun and relaxing way to find out more.
Buy different types of wine and find out the backgrounds on them – what country they are made in, what types of grapes go into them, and the words that a wine connoisseur would use to describe them.
Then you can print up a wine menu to hand out to everyone with the descriptions, or read them out as people are trying the wines.
If you aren’t sure where to get all of the information you need, visit a wine store and talk to one of the people that works there.
Or you can hire a wine expert to come in and talk about the wines for you.
“Learn How To Taste And Rate Wine” Party
This is a slight variation of the last wine tasting party type because you’ll be focusing more on the techniques of wine tasting – swirling the glass, smelling the wine, giving it a description and a proper wine rating.
In this case, you’ll want to teach people the wine tasting steps, and give them a list of descriptive words they can use for their wines.
It’s always fun to see how everyone’s descriptions are different.
Of course, you could combine the two “learning” parties together if you really want to go all out.
Also, if you happen to have a wine store nearby, they may give wine tasting classes where they will teach you the basics that you can pass on to your friends.
What Wines To Include In The Tasting?
Now on to the most important question for a wine tasting party…how to choose the wines you’re going to taste.
There are a lot of different ways you can compare wines:
- different varieties of white wine (eg. Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Moscato).
- different varieties of red wine (eg. Pinot Noir, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon)
- different types of the same variety of wine (eg. a “champagne” party with all different kinds of bubbly)
- wine made from the same grape grown in different countries (eg. Chardonnay from France vs. Chardonnay from California)
- expensive vs inexpensive bottles of the same variety of wine. See which ones your guests prefer! (If you’re lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you can find some really inexpensive wines that are usually decent.)
- a vertical tasting – different years of the same wine made by the same producer. (eg. a 2005, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2015 of the Château Pichon-Longueville Cabernet Sauvignon)
- horizontal tasting – same variety made in the same year from different producers, usually in the same area (eg. 2015 Chardonnays from the Napa Valley)
- have each of your guests bring their favorite bottle of wine, and find out which one is everyone’s favorite. This also helps to keep your costs down since everyone will be chipping in. If you’re doing a blind tasting, ask them to bring their bottles in a bag so no-one else knows what it is.
Unless you are tasting the difference between more and less expensive wines, it helps to set a price point so that the wines are all about the same quality (eg. all wines between $15 and $20).
If you’re really at a loss for what wines to serve, ask someone at a local wine shop. They’re usually happy to help!
Or you can log onto a wine store website (I like Total Wine). Look up the popular wine varieties and then pick their most popular brands. They also tell you where they’re from and give you some descriptions in case you want more information.
What Order To Serve The Wines In
If you are serving different types of wines, there is an order that they should be served in.
White wine should be served before red, and lighter wines served before heavier ones.
The following are some common types of white and red wines listed in the proper serving order:
- Champagne or Sparkling Wine
- Dry Riesling
- Pinot Grigio
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Chenin Blanc
- Sweet Riesling
- Pinot Noir
- Sangiovese (Chianti)
- Zinfandel (Red)
- Shiraz / Syrah
- Cabernet Sauvignon
Provide A Take-Home Wine Menu
Regardless of what type of wine tasting party I’m hosting, I always provide a printed list of all the wines, where I bought them and how much they cost. (For blind tastings, I don’t give it to them until we’re done).
That way your guests can remember the wines they tried…and circle the ones that they want to try again.
Plus, it saves me from having to answer a bunch of questions about what the name of the third white wine we tried was and where I got it from.
How Many People Should You Invite?
A wine tasting party at home usually works best for smaller groups of 8 to 12 people.
You’ll need to buy enough wine for everyone to try some of each one (which can get expensive).
And you need enough time to pour a glass for each guest, while still enjoying the party yourself.
So having too many people can make it feel crowded and rushed.
How Much Wine Will You Need?
Generally, 5 to 8 wines are all that people can taste during one party.
After that, your taste buds can’t really tell the difference any more.
Each tasting serving should be about 2 ounces (not a full glass of wine), and each 750 ml bottle of wine contains about 25 ounces.
So you get about 12 tasting servings out of one bottle.
Which is another reason that 8 – 12 guests works well…you can get away with buying 1 bottle of each wine. (Although you may want to get extras, because some people will want more of their favorites).
Make sure to have plenty of water available so that guests can clear their palates (and their wine glasses) between tastings if they wish to.
How About A Wine Tasting For Two?
Wine tastings are a fun way to celebrate even if it’s just the two of you.
The same basic principles apply.
But since there’s only two people drinking, you might want to buy half bottles, limit yourself to 3 wine selections, and/or plan to save some of the wine for another day.
Wine Tasting Party Supplies
First, make sure you have enough wine glasses for everyone.
For most of us, re-using the same glass for multiple tastings is fine as long as you can rinse it out in between.
However, if you want to be a real wine “snob”, you will need to provide a new glass for each type of wine.
Although my friends are fine with rinsing and re-using their glass, I do provide a new one if we are switching from white to red wines.
That’s because I read somewhere that getting the right shape of glass for the right type of wine enhances the flavor of the wine. I have actually tried this…and it really does make a difference!
So I bought a couple sets of these wine glasses* to use for all of my wine tasting parties.
If you want to make sure that your wine tastes its best, pouring it into a wine decanter is the way to go (except for sparkling wine or champagne, which will lose their bubbles).
Wine decanters* are beautiful to look at…and serve the purpose of aerating your wine.
Aerating helps to bring out the aroma and flavor of wines (especially red wine) and can help improve the taste of it.
Wine Charms Or Markers
If people are re-using their wine glasses, having wine charms* on each of their glasses will help them remember which one was theirs.
Or you can use a wine glass marker* to write their names on the glass.
Wine Tasting Kits
As I mentioned above there are a few wine tasting kits and pairing wheels that help to make organizing your party easier:
Wine Tasting Party Menu
Since this is a wine tasting party obviously involves drinking alcohol, it is a good idea to serve enough food that people will not be drinking on an empty stomach.
Cheese, crackers, bread and fine chocolate are standard pairings when serving the wine itself.
Here’s the list of other appetizers to try (and I hate to say it, but I usually buy these frozen at Costco and stick them in the oven just before guests arrive).
The common theme with all of these is that they are bite-sized and easy to eat with one hand (since the other hand will be carrying a wine glass).
- Mini crab cakes
- Mini quiches
- Bite size tacos
- Meatballs (served with toothpicks).
Wine Tasting Party Music
Like with pretty much any party, music is a must for helping to create the right atmosphere.
You can choose any type of music that your guests prefer…but since you usually want people to mingle and talk during a wine tasting party, keeping the volume at a level where people can still hear each other helps.
I also like to use a music app like Pandora for parties…set it to the type of music you want it to play and you don’t have to worry about it.
My favorite for wine tasting parties is the “Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong” channel…it just seems to have the right “vibe” for this type of event.
Well that’s it for my wine tasting party ideas. Hopefully, you’ve found some inspiration to host your own wine tasting party at home!