Hosting a Wine Tasting Party is a Perfect Small-Group Activity

This article originally appeared, in part, in the July/August, 2020 issue of Bellingham Alive Magazine

Looking for a little social activity that’s low-cost, informative, and fun? Consider hosting a wine tasting party for a small group of friends; it’s a great way to stimulate conversation and lift your spirits while getting a fresh perspective on wines you might not ordinarily buy.

Set your tasting party in motion by selecting a theme. You can choose wines to taste from the same winery, or the same part of the world – Napa, Spain, Bordeaux, or Walla Walla, for example – and have each guest or couple bring a bottle to share.

My favorite theme is the blind tasting. Start by making sure everyone brings the same varietal; all Chardonnays, all Merlots, etc. This “levels the playing field” so to speak, by comparing wines with similar characteristics and flavor profiles.

Have your guests bring their wine in a bag to conceal its identity and remove the corks and upper foil labels. You can then either number the bags and pour from there, or tape the name of the wine to the bottom of identical decanters, pour the wine into the decanter, and number the bottle prior to serving.

Provide score sheets with rating scales and room for notes so tasters can record their preferences. And have fun with your scoring system! Instead of a boring 1 to 10 rating scale, I use descriptors for each level such as, “I thought this was supposed to be wine,” to “This could replace one of the basic food groups,” to “Perfection!”

Keep your pours at about 1-1/2 to two ounces each to allow tasters the opportunity to revisit each wine. This gives them a chance to change their order of preference and makes for better comparisons with wines that were sampled earlier in the tasting.

When everyone has completed their scoring, designate someone to compile and announce the results – preferable in reverse order to add a bit of suspense – while revealing each wine that corresponds to its number on the scoresheet. The top point-getting wine is considered the “winner” of the tasting.

A couple of other helpful suggestions: First, try to limit your blind tasting to no more than six to eight people total, which usually results in a “competition” of about four to six wines. If your invite list exceeds much more than eight, simply take into consideration that two bottles each of the same wine will likely need to be provided.

Second, be sure to have palate cleansers on hand during the tasting such as bread or crackers, along with plenty of bottled water. Encouraging your guests to bring appetizers is another great way of cost-sharing for the event, but consider serving these either before or after the blind tasting, as certain foods might interfere with the flavors and tastes of the wines you pour.

I’ve been hosting and attending blind tastings for years and there are plenty of great takeaways to be had. Invariably, there’s a pleasant surprise when a lower-priced wine outperforms something twice the cost. I also find that I learn more about specific wines from different regions…and that gives me a great reference point for future purchases because I’ve had a chance to sample the wine in advance.

Finally, group participation insures that everyone has a hand in the party’s success. Share your wine tastings in the company of good friends, and you’ll be practically guaranteed a fun and memorable experience.

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