The Basics

So you’re ready to plan a wine tasting party – great!  This page summarizes the need-to-know basics for how to host a great wine tasting event, regardless of what theme you pick or what wines you serve.  If you’re hosting a wine tasting for the first time, or if you want to host a wine tasting that’s a little nicer or more formal than you’ve done in the past, here are our simple answers to your most important questions.

Wine Is So Overwhelming…Where Do I Start?

Pick a party theme!  That’s what this site is all about.  Once you’ve picked a wine tasting theme which really speaks to you, your creative juices will start flowing and you’ll be ready to dive into some of the practical stuff below.  Each wine tasting party idea on Wine Tasting Uncorked has both a Theme and an Angle.  What’s the difference?  A Theme is usually a wine region or type of wine that your tasting will focus on.  An Angle is how you explore that theme.  For example, if your Theme is “Chardonnay,” one Angle could be to host a blind taste test with wines at all prices to see if you can tell which ones are expensive and which aren’t; another Angle could be to try Chardonnay from different regions all over the world to see how the same grape tastes different in the hands of winemakers from California vs. France vs. Australia.

How Many Different Wines Do I Need?

We recommend serving between four (4) and eight (8) different wines at your event.  This will give you the chance to serve a range of different wine styles, regions and/or price points and allow your guests enough variety to pick out a favorite or two from the lineup.  The tastings on this site usually recommend seven or eight different wines for each theme, but if you want to do fewer we offer some guidelines for each theme as to which wines are most important to include.  The choice of how many wines to serve will include a few factors, including your budget and whether your guests will be driving to/from the event.  (Consider that even a one-ounce taste of eight different wines amounts to two 4-ounce alcoholic drinks).

How Much Wine Do I Pour for a “Taste”?

The perfect “tasting” pour is 1.5 ounces.  Since it’s a tasting, you don’t need or want to pour each guest a full glass of each wine!  A one-to-two-ounce pour is more than enough for your guests to taste a wine and fully appreciate it.  We recommend that whoever is in charge of pouring each wine practice this ahead of time – use a measuring cup and pour 1.5 ounces of water in the wineglasses you’re using for your party.  Notice how far it fills the bottom of each glass.  That way it’ll be easier to eyeball it during the event.  Note – if your wine tasting party is a self-serve event, you should take the lead early on in showing your guests how much to pour of each; they won’t mind if you explain that you only have so much wine to go around, and want everyone to get a taste of each.  If you don’t, you’ll almost surely have an unknowing guest or two pour a full glass of each wine!

How Many Guests Should I Invite?  Will One Bottle of Each Wine Be Enough?

If you plan to buy one bottle of each of the wines in your tasting, the right number of guests is somewhere between eight (8) and sixteen (16) people, including the host(s).  If you want to invite a bigger group, no problem – but you’ll probably need to buy two bottles of each wine!  The math on this works as follows.  One 750ml (normal-size) wine bottle includes 24 ounces of wine.  We already discussed above how every guest should get a roughly 1.5-ounce taste of each wine.  If you have sixteen guests, that’ll mean your wine will be all gone by the time the last guest gets his/her pour (which is ok!).  If you have fewer guests, some of each wine will be left over – and that’s a good thing!  Towards the end of your tasting, many guests may want to go back to their favorites for another taste.  For a bigger group, double this math – for a party of 25-35 people, two bottles of each wine will be more than enough.

How Can I Keep My Budget from Getting Out of Hand?  What are “Co-Pays”?

Wine lovers can spend as much as they want on a tasting, but we have two tips for keeping your costs to a manageable level.  First, there are a lot of great wines out there in the $10-15 price range and tons of delicious, world-class wines available for less than $50/bottle.  So even if you are a real connoisseur, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on wine to have a great event.  Here at Wine Tasting Uncorked we organize our tasting party ideas by price point: “Discovery Tastings” include $10-15 wines, and “Explorer Tastings” feature wines that are all less than $50/bottle.  Also, you might choose to serve fewer, nicer wines (say, 4-5 wines instead of 7-8). 

Second, we strongly encourage you to consider “co-pays” for your event.  What’s a co-pay?  Think of it as a “wine budget donation” for your guests; with a co-pay system you ask each guest to contribute a small amount to the cost of the wines at the party.  Now we know some of you are thinking: Not my party!  It’s not classy to ask guests for money!  We applaud your perfect-host instincts…however, trust us on this one.   We have been in two different wine clubs that used co-pays and the system works great.  Guests appreciate the time and effort you take to plan an elaborate wine tasting like those we recommend; they’ll be more than happy to chip in.  If you’re inviting ten friends over for a tasting of seven wines averaging $15/bottle, your budget could easily approach $200 once cheese, crackers, and appetizers are thrown in.  So we’d recommend suggesting a “wine budget donation” or “co-pay” of $5 or $10 per person.  For more expensive wines, the co-pays could be $20 or $25/person.  The host still bears most of the cost of the party, but this way you can host more often.  Your guests won’t feel ripped off at all; a glass of random wine at a restaurant is $5-10 anyway, or more; you’re throwing them a party with 4-8 different wines, all of which are probably way better than the house white or red at a restaurant, and they’re learning a ton along the way!     

What Kind of Wine Glasses Do I Need?

Don’t over-think this; any wine glass will do, provided you have enough for each of the guests at the party!  We do recommend glasses, though (at the risk of stating the obvious); events like the one you’re hosting are too classy for clear plastic cups.  Ideally, the glass will have a bit of a bowl-shape, meaning the widest part of the glass isn’t the top.  This is helpful when your guests want to “swirl” the wine to open up its aromas; the bowl keeps the wine from spilling out when you swirl.  Otherwise, though, keep it simple.  Each guest can keep their wine glass for the duration of the tasting and use it for each of their wines (just make sure they finish or pour out one before you are served the next, so you don’t mix!).  If you want to use one glass for whites and one for reds, that’s fine too – and classy! – but it adds to your dishwashing later. 

We actually think if you’re planning on making this event the first of many wine tastings in your future, it’s a great idea to buy a bunch of cheap, functional wine glasses that can be stored in a box after use.  Ikea, Bed Bath & Beyond and other retailers sell boxes of 6, 8 or 12 simple identical wine glasses for $1-2 a stem, and they’re perfect for an event like this.  Note – this is particularly true for champagne flutes; we bought 24 cheap identical champagne glasses at Bed Bath & Beyond earlier this year and have found them a terrific investment.  But one benefit of this is that you won’t be upset when someone breaks a glass – which will happen if you host enough tastings.  Even the most perfect host might get upset when someone accidentally breaks one of Aunt Mabel’s crystal stems, but with cheap glasses you can laugh it off and put your sheepish glass-breaking guest at ease.

What Kind of Cheese Should I Serve?

It depends – but don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it!   Not every wine pairs well with every cheese; this is a little-known fact to many wine-and-cheese party hosts.  For each of the wine tasting party ideas you’ll find here at Wine Tasting Uncorked, we recommend specific cheeses that pair perfectly with the wines you’ll be serving.  Your guests will be super-impressed when (for example) you casually mention that you’ve chosen that Manchego and Drunken Goat cheese because they’re Spanish and pair beautifully with the Rioja and Ribera they’re tasting.  A+ for effort!  There are several good websites out there that specialize in wine-and-cheese-pairing advice, and you can have great fun exploring on your own.  With that said, don’t sweat it too much.  We have friends that prepare the same four-cheese spread of Brie, Chevre, Cheddar and Gouda every time; at least one of those will pair brilliantly with whatever wine you’re serving.  We’ve never been at a tasting (and we’ve hosted a lot of them!) where a guest complained that their experience or palate had been ruined by a cheese-wine match that was less than ideal.  And if a guest ever did tell us that…we probably wouldn’t invite them next time.

Do I Need Other Kinds of Food Besides Cheese?  What Kind?

You don’t need to serve food at your wine tasting party – it’s totally up to you.  The focus of a wine tasting, of course, is on the wines themselves, and the fun time you’re having with your friends as you explore the wines together at the party.  If you serve a lot of food, particularly if it has nothing to do with the wines or your theme, it might steal attention from all the hard work you’ve done to carefully select the perfect wines for your event.  Well-chosen cheeses can be all the food you need, along with some crackers or bread.  We also recommend putting out some simple fruit, such as grapes, strawberries, or dried apricots.  One more thing – serve water!  You want to keep your guests hydrated given that they’re drinking alcohol, and water can help provide a break for your taste buds between wines.  For extra class, serve sparkling water with a lime wedge.

With that said, if you want to serve some heavier appetizers, go for it!  Thoughtful food pairings can reinforce the theme of your party and in many cases can actually make the wine taste better.  Here at Wine Tasting Uncorked, all of our wine tasting party ideas come with specific ideas for foods that will pair well with the type of wine you’re serving that will complement your theme.  Think bruschetta with your Chianti, “slider” mini-burgers with your Cabernet, Spanish “tapas” with your Rioja, and you’re starting to get the idea.  Again, we’ll walk you through it, but feel free to go nuts with your own creative ideas, and please let us know when you come up with great food ideas or recipes of your own that happen to pair perfectly with one of our tasting party ideas!

Do I Need to Decant My Wines?

Ok, here’s the deal with decanters.  They look great – really beautiful & classy.  But do you need to pre-pour any or all of your wines into a decanter before your wine tasting party?  Generally, we’d say no – don’t worry about it.  So what’s the fuss?  For young, tannic red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux, pouring the wine into a decanter first and letting it aerate for one or more hours actually helps “soften” the wine and brings out some of the complex flavors.   If you’re tasting an expensive, high-quality Cab or Bordeaux, it’s probably worth it to decant it.  But for your wine tasting party, it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth.  The exception might be if you’re doing a tasting specifically of high-end Bordeaux (like our “Must-Know Bordeaux” tasting).  If you are – and you’ve got a lot of extra time on your hands! – by all means go ahead and pour each wine in a decanter for 20-30 minutes before your event, to let the wine get some air before pouring each back into its original bottle.  Use a funnel to avoid spilling; you can get special wine funnels that also have a filter for the sediment that often accumulates in the bottom of an older wine bottle.

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