How to host a wine tasting at home
While huddling under a flimsy gazebo on a blustery evening has its (admittedly limited) charms, there’s nothing like being able to host larger numbers of friends and family in our home. With restrictions lifting, our thoughts are turning to guest lists and finding an excuse to gather once again with our nearest and dearest.
But that raises its own issues - dinner parties have their place, but in 2022, after two years of upheaval, it feels like social gatherings should be more about experiences and making memories. With that in mind, hosting a wine tasting at home is a chance to learn a new skill, discover favourite wines, and spend time doing something different with friends.
We’ve hosted our fair share of wine tastings for Barbury Hill so thought we’d share our tips on how to host a wine tasting at home.
What will I need for my wine tasting?
- Enough wine. It sounds pretty obvious, but there’s nothing worse than discovering a wine you love at a tasting and then not being able to enjoy a full glass. You’ll start off with pours of around 75-90ml for the tasting, but as the evening progresses you’ll want to have enough for people to have a glass of their favourite.
- Consider glass hire if needed, depending on the size of your gathering. It’s a good idea to have more than one glass per person to save washing up between each tasting!
- Jugs of water and water glasses. It’s important to cleanse the palette between tasting to get the full spectrum of flavour and aroma from each one.
- A spittoon or dump bucket. Important for drivers and for those who prefer to taste and spit.
- Accompaniments – we often offer cheese & crackers. It may be a wine tasting but offering food alongside the wine is key to a good evening. And water crackers help to cleanse the palette, so it’s a win, win!
- Napkins and small plates for accompaniments.
- Tasting cards and pens. There are many options online or you can make your own with space for notes on the flavour, aroma and mouthfeel.
- Kitchen foil. Sounds odd, but this can be used to cover a bottle or label should you decide to blind taste any wines.
- Opening accessories. You’ll need a foil cutter and bottle opener. A pourer can be a good addition, though not strictly necessary.
- A decanter for bold reds.
What type of wine tasting should I plan?
Social wine tastings should be light, fun and socially engaging. But to host a wine tasting you should also have a clear plan in mind so your guests find it informative as well as entertaining.
If not cost prohibitive, we recommend buying the wine for the tasting yourself. If guests bring a bottle, you don’t know what they’ll bring and may end up with multiple bottles of popular varieties. If you want friends to contribute, why not suggest they bring the appetisers, accompaniments or drinks to enjoy after the wine tasting?
We’d recommend a selection of five to seven bottles of wine. While it might be tempting to have more, the wine tasting would be likely to drag on - it shouldn’t take all evening but instead form part of it. Wine tastings will typically start with fizz, a couple of white wines, a red or two, and finish with dessert wine. You might even decide to finish with a spirit or cocktail. We started a recent tasting with a non-alcoholic aperitif and it went down particularly well. Adding in an element of surprise in that way makes for a memorable evening.
What to taste?
There are many options here. Consider Old World vs New World, wines from the same producer but different vintages, or mix things up with a blind tasting to test your guests’, and your own, knowledge!
Why not try:
- A single wine from two different regions, for example Chardonnay from France vs. Australia
- A blind comparison of English wine vs. wine from a more established region
- A single type of wine from different vintages but from the same producer
- A single type wine from the same region by different producers, for example New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough but from two different producers
How to taste wine
When it comes to tasting wine, there are steps that should be followed to ensure the most accurate experience. The basic method is look, smell, taste and conclusion.
We put together a comprehensive guide to how to taste wine which may help. Whatever process you follow, we’d suggest your guests follow the same steps each time. Make notes as you smell and taste the wine, jotting down any prominent aromas and notes. By the end you should have built up a picture of the wine that you and your guests can discuss.
Engage by telling stories
At Barbury Hill tastings, we’ll often taste blind and offer our guests three plausible stories behind the wine they’re tasting. This is a great twist on a traditional tasting and a way to get your guests chatting as they debate which of the three is the truth.
If this feels like too much planning or a little daunting, simply ask your friends to discuss each wine they have blindly tasted. Can they pick out the type of wine? Can they tell their New World from their Old World? Can they pick out the region?
Trust us when we say that presentations, PowerPoints or 45-minute lectures on the process of disgorging should be left in the boardroom. You might enjoy the limelight, but your guests just want to taste the wine.
To keep things moving, plan on pouring a tasting measure every 20 minutes or so. This will keep your guests’ attention while allowing sufficient time to chat and appreciate the wine. This should mean your tasting will last a couple of hours. It’s a social occasion as well as an informative evening so people will get distracted by conversations or need to pop out occasionally. This is fine, just gently keep things going by pouring the next wine and prompting your guests to jot down their thoughts on each one.
While the measures may be small, you and your guests are likely to consume more wine than you realise. To avoid a sore head the next day, be sure to offer food alongside the tasting.
Small plates or sharing platters are ideal and easier to manage with a glass of wine in hand. Don’t forget to check dietary requirements in advance so that all guests are catered for.
Cheese is a good option and good vegetarian options are available too. Lay out a platter of cheese and crackers - our recent Story on the perfect cheese board could come in useful here. Lots of nibbles and foods that guests can pick at throughout the evening will allow them to eat when they please.
There are endless cheese options but the most basic of cheese boards, in our view, should consist of a hard, soft and a blue. You can read more about creating the perfect cheese board here or visit our artisan cheese category, to ensure your cheese is as much a star of the evening as the wine.
No scented candles. While you may want to create a warm, inviting environment in your home, scented candles will only interfere with the tasting. If your room sells of cinnamon, the wine will too.
Dimmed lighting can create atmosphere but the room should be well-lit for the tasting so guests can comment on the colour and depth of the wine, as well as noting the legs. Dim the lights when you’ve finished the tasting and moved into the convivial part of the evening.
Music. We prefer the sounds of chatter at our tastings but a relaxed play list can help people ease into the evening, particularly if you are hosting in smaller numbers. But keep it relaxed and save ACDC for when you’ve sent everyone home and you’re cracking on with the washing up!
Be prepared on the day
As with any social event, it pays to be prepared. Make sure all the wines are stored at the right temperature, with reds at room temperature and whites and fizz chilled. Remember to open any red wine in advance and decant bold reds.
Wash the glasses so they are clean, smear and odour-free to make sure your guests can appreciate the wine’s look and smell.
If you can, plan to host an arrival drink in one room and then move through to another room for the tasting. This means you can set everything up for the tasting beforehand, while the change in room or environment will subtly let friends know that the evening is much more than a few glasses of wine and a chat.
Get in touch
We hope our advice makes for a memorable evening and would love to hear your suggestions or tips for how to host a wine tasting at home. If you’re planning a wine tasting, why not tag us in your photos @barburyhill on Instagram.
If this guide has whetted your appetite but you lack the time to plan your own wine tasting, get in touch. Barbury Hill can arrange hosted tastings for your friends or colleagues, just give us a call to find out more.
by Dan Smith, Barbury Hill Founder
Dan founded Barbury Hill and he is the man behind our mission to shine a light on the best of British food and drink. He loves wine, cider and small batch cheese. And every producer on Barbury Hill.