How to Host a Wine Tasting at Home

Side view of three wine glasses and papers and pencils lined up at a desk. A man's hand is seen taking notes, a carafe of red wine pouring into his glass, t

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. 

A man and woman, shown from neck down, sitting at a table with red wine in front of them; in the foreground is a third wine glass with red wine being poured into it

Gather Your Materials

A basic checklist:
Optional checklist:

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.

Glassware

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.

Food

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.

Educational support

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.

Want to brush up on your wine knowledge? See what we have happening at Wine School!

Hear From Real People!

I had the pleasure of attending the Oceania Cruise event where you conducted a wine pairing. I have to say that your wine and food pairing made a typically ho hum travel information night, spectacular! I have never done a wine pairing. I was amazed at how food interacted with the wines.
I wanted to thank you again for last night. Everyone had a great time, and I received a lot of compliments, on your behalf. You struck a great balance between being informational and entertaining. 10 out of 10.
Wow, Emily was absolutely fantastic! She was patient, explained the wines well, and was a delight to work with.

Thank you so much for everything I will definitely use your services again.
 
I wanted to thank you SO much for your tutored wine tasting! It was so much fun. You were both informative and hilarious! Each person said they would definitely recommend you to anyone looking to do a wine tasting!
Great energy, sense of humour and very knowledgeable! Thank you for making it an afternoon to remember!
Everybody had a ton of fun and we very much see this structure as a template we can use with clients and friends in the future.
You were great and hilarious, and made everyone feel comfortable. Appreciate your time with me and helping pull this event together.
You were such an awesome host and I appreciate all of the work you put into it. Thank you so much again!
The event was a huge success! Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and the group was quite engaged. The wine was also delicious! Thank you so much! I hope we can work together on another event in the future!
The Wine Sisters are professional and flexible to attend to client needs. They’re able to provide 'one stop shop for events.

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For support issues or any questions, please email us at drinkwithus@thewinesisters.com

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