5 Tips for Hosting a Great Wine Tasting at Home

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It’s winter, at least in the northeast, and that means if you’re not hitting the slopes it’s time to entertain ourselves inside. Sure, there are plenty of Netflix originals to binge, but if you're craving something a bit more interactive here's an idea: host a wine tasting!

It isn't rocket science, but hosting a well-executed tasting isn't as simple as pulling the corks on a few random bottles either—it requires some forethought and organization. Here are 5 tips for hosting a great wine tasting at home:

1. Choose a theme 

A theme is integral to a wine tasting, it provides structure and sets the tone for the event.  It can be as broad or specific as you would like, but be sure to consider your guests level of wine expertise and/or interest. For example, "A Barolo Retrospective 1990-2000" might be an amazing tasting for seasoned wine geeks and collectors, but it would likely be too specific for those just starting to appreciate wine. Themes that will include tasting a variety of wine types and styles are best for groups with varying levels of wine knowledge.

As you choose your theme, also consider how you will be sourcing the wines. If you are buying all the wines, this isn't really a factor. However, if you are asking your guests to bring a bottle, it is best to have a more specific theme (i.e. a theme of "reds" doesn't give enough guidance), but not one so specific that guests will have a hard time finding an appropriate wine (i.e. if only a handful of wines available locally fit your criteria, you risk everyone showing up with the same wine or something that doesn't fit the theme at all). Also, don't forget to set a price range for the wines if your guests are buying.

2. Select a format 

Formal or casual? Your theme and/or space may steer you in a particular direction, but there are two primary formats for executing a tasting at home:

In a formal seated tasting, guests taste the wines in a specific order and often have multiple glasses of wine in front of them at once. This allows guests to easily compare and contrast the wines, and taking notes is common. Each wine is usually introduced briefly either by the host or whoever brought that particular wine and then discussed by the group. Seated tastings are great for more educationally focused tastings and for tastings rare or expensive wines (because you have better control over pour-sizes, ensuring that all guests have the opportunity to taste all the wines).

In a more casual walk-around tasting, all wines are often made available to be tasted in any order a guest desires and there is usually no group discussion about the wines. While you may suggest a specific order for tasting, and even provide materials for taking notes, it is largely left up to each guest to decide their own level of engagement.

With any format, I recommend welcoming your guests with some bubbly! If your guests are bringing the wines, bubbly will keep your guest occupied until everyone arrives and allow you time to prepare wines for serving.

3. Use proper glassware

There are countless types of wine glasses on the market—glasses of all shapes and sizes, glasses with built in aerators, and glasses with or without stems. There are even glasses that fit an entire bottle of wine (definitely a 'no' for a tasting).  There's also a lot of conflicting advice about how much your choice of vessel matters when drinking wine. Some wine experts say you should use varietal-specific glasses. Others say it doesn’t matter at all and you might as well use a coffee mug. So, what sort of glasses should you use?

All you need is a glass with a bowl shape that will allow you to swirl wine (without spilling) and collect the aromas released by swirling. Stems or stemless? That really depends on personal preference (and how clumsy you/your guests are). Stems are the traditional choice, but if you're using stemless glasses just remember not to hold the glass in the palm of your hand as that will increase the temperature of the wine.

4. Serve your wines at the correct temperature

Serving temperature has a much greater impact on your perception of a wine's characteristics than what you drink it out of. Serve a wine too cold and you'll get nothing from it (why do you think they serve lite beer ice cold?). Serve a wine too warm and all you'll notice is alcohol.

Pros recommend serving red wines between 62° - 68° F and white wines between 49° - 55°. Don't have a thermometer handy? No worries, you don't really need one.  Food refrigerators are usually kept at 38°, so simply take your white wines and bubbly out approximately 15-20 minutes before serving. Rosé should be served slightly warmer, so take them out slightly earlier (about 25-30 minutes). Red wines at room temperature (generally around 72°) are slightly too warm to taste their best, so pop them in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes prior to opening and serving.

If your wines are stored in a wine refrigerator (typically 55°), the whites should be ready to pour, but allow reds to warm up for 10-15 min before serving.

5. Don't forget the snacks!

Unless you're spitting, it's easy to become tipsy quickly when tasting numerous wines, so it is important to offer your guests some food.  A simple cheese and charcuterie spread is a great choice as the accompanying bread and crackers are good palate cleansers. Avoid serving foods that are particularly sweet or spicy as this will change how your guests perceive the wines.

Ready to start tasting?

Choose your theme and format, gather your glassware, secure some snacks and prepare to pour some fun for your wine loving friends. Now you're ready to host a killer wine tasting at home and soon your friends will be toasting you as the wine-tasting host with the most!