5 Easy Steps to Hosting a Casual Wine Tasting
A group of friends, a good measure of fun and the chance to learn more about wine and compare notes is a recipe for a wonderful wine tasting at home, Cellar Maison style
Here at Cellar Maison, we’ve put together a few useful tips to make sure that your tasting is all about a good time.
(Watch out for coming posts for how to put on a more elaborate tasting for the hard-core collectors who really want to get down to the nitty-gritty!)
The emphasis this time is EASY, CASUAL, FUN!
Step 1 – Choose What Type of Tasting to Hold
This is the time your bespoke cellar comes into its own – especially if you have the space for an integrated tasting room – see the Cellar Maison gallery for details and inspiration and talk to us about tailoring to your wishes.
Decision 1 – Either you provide all the wine for the tasting or, you ask your guests to bring a bottle of whatever you specify. Of course be conscious of your guests and their budgets if you’re asking them to bring wine.
For the purpose of this, we will assume you’ve chosen to provide the wine.
Decision 2 – What sort of tasting will you do? [See Tasting Formats below]
Keep it simple – Do what you feel comfortable with and will enjoy – and what your cellar and tastes suggest.
Step 2 – Invite Your Friends
Based on the fact that a standard 750ml bottle holds about 25oz, a standard tasting is about 2oz. It is a good idea to keep to 12 or fewer people unless you want to have 2 or more bottles of each wine which you will need for more guests.
Invite – Choose your guests and invite in your preferred way – a fun e-mail – RSVP essential, phone calls around or in person – as you wish. It’s best to send out the invitations with at least two – three weeks advance notice.
If you are providing the wine for the tasting, make this clear to your guests on the invitation.
Step 3 – Prepare
Atmosphere – Make a good environment for the party with soft lighting, good background music and prepare the tasting space – near or in the cellar is the ultimate.
Food – It’s always good to make sure there is suitable food for your guests – an easy way is to have a table with a good cheese board and some good quality breads, crackers and perhaps a selection of charcuterie (cured meats). You can of course have a tasting that’s all around food and wine matching or specifically wine and cheese matching, but we’ll leave that for another topic.
Drinks – You have the wine all ready to go but make sure you also have water glasses for everyone and a choice of still and sparkling mineral water on hand.
Opening the wine – Timing is everything, you don’t want to be all flustered when the guests are arriving so apply the golden rule of party hosting and give yourself plenty of time to prepare so you’re cool, calm and ready to have fun before your friends arrive.
Opening the wine and having them all at the right temperatures is a key part of the process – as a basic rule, open red wine two hours before and ensure you keep it at a good room temperature. Decant if appropriate. For any whites you’re tasting, bring out of the fridge before the guests arrive to ensure they are good drinking temperature.
If you’re having Champagne, open when the guests arrive and pour immediately.
Clean up the preparations and get yourself ready well before the arrival of the guests so you’re cool and collected when the doorbell goes.
Step 4 – Taste and Note
Welcome everyone with a glass of Champagne perhaps and some finger food.
Let the guests know how many wines you have lined up and how you’ve planned the tasting and get going.
Give everyone pens and tasting sheets – Often the results are really fun to share and compare.
Step 5 – Enjoy, keep it light and plan the next one
This is the ideal time to decide on the future tastings – choose one of the other options below…. Of course the ideas will be flowing by then, well oiled with the enjoyment of the wines you’ve tasted!
Ideas for Tasting Formats:
Select a price point, such as wine under 20 pounds to taste and compare – blind or not, as you wish.
Select a range of price points of a certain variety, region or country and make blind or open tastings and comparisons.
This means the same wine from different vintages – for example, a 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 cabernet sauvignon from a particular producer. It allows a comparison based on season and other subtleties of the vintage.
In this we choose a single wine variety from a selection of wine producers from the same vintage – for example, a 2009 Shiraz from 6 different vineyards – from the same region, or perhaps different regions in the same country.
Country or Region
Here you can choose wine from one country of different wine varieties or regions. This is a good way to get more familiar with the tastes and hone the palates to recognize some features of each grape or region.
For example – France – Burgundy, Cotes du Rhone or Bordeaux.
Or – Australia/NZ – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot Noir.
Another option can be a combination such as Old World vs New World. For example, you can have wines of the same grape and same vintage, from a selection of countries representing Old World – perhaps France, Italy and Spain, versus the New World – such as Australia, New Zealand and North America.
Any of the above options can be done as blind tastings too. Just cover the bottles with paper and number them before the guest arrive and people can enjoy the mystery of guessing and some genial competition!
– Wine – As you’ve decided from the Tasting Night Options
– Water – Still and sparkling mineral water
– Food – Try to choose some neutral foods like bread and crackers, as well as some good cheeses and perhaps some charcuterie (cured meats). A cheese board would normally include a hard cheese, a blue, a washed rind or soft cheese. Talk to your cheese monger for good suggestions.
– Glasses – appropriate to the wine if possible but don’t panic if you’re not equipped for this. You can also borrow glasses from Waitrose so that might be a good option so you have enough for a different glass for each new wine tasted.
– Water glasses
– Platters and serving cutlery for presenting the food
– Spittoon – At least this gives the option for guests
– Pens – enough for each guest
– Tasting Note Sheets – Easy to make up or download
– Coffee, teas ready for later in the night in case anyone would like one to finish the evening