How to Host a Wine Tasting at Home
Learn about wine, from the comfort of your couch.
by Erin Henderson
During the lockdown, we pivoted our Wine School to online lessons. They were very popular – both as an option for something to do while everyone was stuck at home, and more likely as a way to get a Tuesday night buzz under the guise of learning. We don't judge – in fact we applaud.
Now that quaratines have lifted, and life is slowly getting back to (the new) normal in Toronto, we're back to offering in-person classes, but keeping the still-in-demand virtual tastings.
We're not really in the business of giving away business, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to join us at Wine School or bring us in to lead a private tasting for your group, but should you be tempted to host your own wine tasting, here are some tips on how to to get started.
Gather Your Materials
A basic checklist:
- Glassware (at least one per person)
- Table and chairs in a place with good lighting
- Spittoons (this can be as basic as a Solo cup)
- White paper
- Scent-free environment (snuff out that "fresh linen" candle!)
- Water and water glasses
- Large bucket for dumping wine
- Crackers or breadsticks
- Wine region maps
- Tech sheets about each wine (available for download on the winery's website)
Here's how you do it:
Pick your theme
This is the the first question we ask all our clients requesting a wine tasting because everything else flows from here.
A Taste Tour of Italy? Comparison of Cabernet? Pick your theme and stick to it.
Keep it small
For home-based hosts, I recommend keeping your guest list to an absolute maximum of 12, but preferably no more people than you have dining room chairs.
The more voices there are, the tougher it is to accomplish on the task at hand. That prolongs the tasting, causes people to lose focus, and while it may be a fun party, it mutes the point of having a wine tasting at all.
Be exclusive. Very exclusive.
Look, as much as we love wine and think everyone else should as well, some weirdos just don't.
Not long ago, we were hired by a lovely woman wanting to throw a wine tasting at home for her husband's 40th birthday. She invited their closest 40 friends (see Tip #1) and was paying for the whole thing. We warned her that that size of a group may have varying interests in wine, but she was sure they would all love it.
Sure enough, a significant number of them arrived 30 minutes late. A couple of bros (who perhaps have attention-seeking issues, but that's not for me to judge) decided to loudly crack one-liners throughout the whole wine tasting, turning it into their show. A few ladies chatted with each other about kids and the latest Bachelor drama, ignoring the wine tasting going on around them.
I'm sure the host's friends didn't mean to be rude, but it certainly wasn't the outcome she was looking for.
If you are hoping to host a home wine tasting, be sure to be very clear in your invitation the intention of the evening. If there are some that aren't into it, they can always join the after party.
Decide on the setting
We've hosted wine tastings everywhere from boardrooms to back decks.
What you will need is a place for everyone to sit, a tabletop surface for guests to place their wine and perhaps write notes, and good lighting.
Where that is in your home is up to you.
You can get away with one wine glass per person. However, if you are hoping for a comparison tasting, ideally you will have as many glasses as wines.
The glasses should be clear and plain (no etched crystal or "Welcome to Florida" logos). Our preference is for stemmed wine glasses.
Pro tip: consider renting your wine glasses or even asking everyone to bring their own if you don't have enough.
How much wine
At The Wine Sisters, we estimate two-ounces per person, per wine. This allows enough for a proper taste, but it isn't so much that we have to dump out and waste the wine, or wait for 15 minutes for someone to finish their eight-ounce pour.
As for how many wines should be tasted, we keep it to a maximum of six wines for a mixed tasting, eight wines for comparison tastings. Anymore, and you risk fatiguing your palate or simply losing interest.
Keep it tight, keep it bright, keep it moving. Guests can always return to their favourite wines after the "official' wine tasting ends.
Unless this is a specific wine and cheese tasting, I'm not a big fan of having food at a proper tasting. The aromatics of the Limburger can detract from the notes of the wine. The flavours of the shrimp cocktail can interfere with your palate. Leave the food until afterwards.
If you really, really want to include a cheese plate, I suggest you try the wine first with a clean palate, then see how the wine changes when paired to a cheese.
If you want to get fancy and have some water crackers or bread sticks to "cleanse your palate," go for it.
To make your wine tasting as informative and interesting as possible, you should have some helpful talking points.
Talk to your local wine shop about how you are planning to host a wine tasting at home. Gather some basic notes on how, where and when the wine was made. Maybe learn a little bit about the wine region, or the grape. Three or four talking points is all you need, as most people won't retain much more than that.
Similarly, if you are assigning a wine to each of your guests, have them bring research their bottle and bring supporting materials.