How to Arrange an at-Home Wine Tasting: Tips from the Experts


Share in your love of the grape with friends and family with our definitive guide to organising a home wine tasting.

There are few greater pleasures in life than tasting a delicious local wine amid spectacular surroundings. In many parts of Europe, wine offers an authentic taste of local life, with historic vineyards and grape varieties ingrained in the culture and traditions of people and place.

Such is the power of wine that a single sip can take you places, even if you’re stuck at home. A swig of crisp Riesling transports you straight to the Moselle Valley; a French Cabernet Sauvignon sets you cruising down the River Rhône, through the heart of Burgundy and Beaujolais.

With this in mind, hosting your very own home wine tasting suddenly sounds like a wonderful idea. But how do you do it? And what do you need to know?

To find out, we’ve put together a definitive guide to organising an at-home wine tasting, enlisting the expertise of four wine specialists to help you and yours taste your way through the world’s finest vintages. With expert knowledge and advice, you’ll be hosting a successful tasting (either in person or virtually) before you know it.

Navigation

Meet our experts

• Understanding the basics of wine-tasting

Planning and preparing an at-home tasting

• How to determine a good bottle of wine

• Wine pairings: Choose your nibbles wisely

Meet Our Experts

Getting the most from a home-hosted wine tasting can be tricky for beginners. Without the presence of an expert, it’s easy to lose focus and become muddled by the different varieties on offer. That’s why we’ve enlisted the expertise of four wine specialists to help guide your wine tasting efforts.
neil cammies

Neil Cammies 

Wine and food columnist for WalesOnline. Also runs wine education courses and tastings.

douglas blyde

Douglas Blyde

Wine columnist for the London Evening Standard and Wine List Confidential Editor.

christopher walkey

Chris Walkey 

Drinks writer for Glass of Bubbly, an online resource for news and information on Champagne and Sparkling wines, prestigious industry awards, trade tastings and online sales.

dean spencer

Dean Spencer

Director of wine retailer, Inspiring Wines.

Understanding the basics of wine tasting

wines

If you’re new to tasting wine or are used to being guided by an expert, getting to know the basics is essential to the success of your home tasting. Here, we lean on our expert panel to cover the need-to-knows of tasting wine, including what to look for and the steps involved.

How to taste wine - a step by step guide

Learning how to taste wine is no different to learning how to appreciate other things, be it art, music or food. Essentially, the more you do it and the more you explore it, the more pleasure and fulfilment you’ll gain.

That said, there is a process to tasting wine that you’ll need to work on in order to develop your palate and isolate different flavours and notes. In the visual guide below, Douglas talks us through the wine tasting process, from smelling to swirling to tasting.

Dean

“As a guideline, you should look to spend somewhere between £8-£18 a bottle (with maybe 3 to 6 wines to taste). If you consider that with a £5.99 bottle of wine only 37p is actually spent on production of the wine, it’s clear that you really need to be spending a little more. But as most of the costs in a bottle are fixed, you don’t have to step up too far to ensure much more is spent on production of the wine itself. “If your budget stretches further, then feel free to move into the £20 plus bracket but do bear in mind that as you go above £20, the nuance of taste becomes more and more refined and can sometimes require a much more experienced palate to really tell the difference. “That said, some people are very lucky and blessed with a great palate, but there is so much choice and nuance available within the £8-£18 price bracket that will keep you interested for years. Once you’ve got a handle on your flavour and aroma combinations why not splash out on something a little more expensive and see if you think it is worth the extra?”

Neil

“Good white wines should have the requisite tastes associated with a certain variety. Sauvignon Blanc should have gooseberry notes (Loire Valley) and maybe some exotic fruits (New Zealand). Riesling can carry lime zest initially and as they age, they develop some petrol notes. Good Chardonnay will show white peaches and maybe some dried apricot etc. “Good reds, again, should have the required flavours for particular varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon will have blackcurrant at its heart, Syrah will have spicy blackberry fruit, Rioja will have a combination of red fruits and some vanilla notes on the nose, if aged in good oak. Fine red wines will have different textures as the wine develops in the glass (called tertiary notes) like leather, tobacco and chocolate. One of the other things a good red will have is acidity, which stops the palate getting jaded and too 'jammy'. This will show up in white wines as freshness and is equally important.”

Chris

“Depending on the styles of wine you wish to have at your tasting, average prices can vary tremendously. What I would say is that if you want to show the qualities of wines then try not to go for the cheapest options, and instead look at specialist wine sellers either via the high street merchants or dedicated online wine shops. You are not likely to get a great idea of wine quality by purchasing the cheapest options from the supermarkets. I would say £15 to £30 a bottle will be the ideal price range for most style of wines you should be aiming for.”

Douglas

“I really enjoy comparing wines made from the same grape across a few territories, such as the often petrol-scents of light-in-alcohol German Riesling, reaped from vines tugging into the vertigo-inducingly steep slopes of the Moselle River Valley, with a Riesling from Australia’s generally warmer Barossa valley; those wines can often be more about lime flavours – sometimes stingingly so. You can do the same with a slightly tart strawberry-like Pinot Noir from Kent, believe-it-or-not, versus a creamy, raspberry ripple-like version from Sonoma in the United States. Or a bone dry, unoaked Chablis versus a really big – almost splintery – oaky Chardonnay from South Africa.”

Planning and preparing an at-home tasting

friends drinking wine

Organising a wine event at home is a fun way to share your love of the grape with friends and family. The beauty of tasting wine is that it can be done either in person or by video link, so you can easily gather your nearest and dearest for a celebration of your favourite vintages.

Before you launch into a wine event, however, there are a few things you’ll need to prepare. This section is dedicated to the ins and outs of organising a wine event at home.

Choosing a theme or topic for your at home wine tasting

In order to steer your wine tasting effectively, it can be useful to follow a theme so that everyone stays on the same page. Dean, who regularly hosts tastings, believes that choosing a theme adds more fun and variety to a tasting event, and shares some ideas on how to choose a suitable one below:

• Compare similar grapes from different regions – taste a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc alongside a Chilean or French Sauvignon; French Malbec vs Argentinian; or maybe a Pinot Gris vs Pinot Grigio. Grapes respond in very different ways according to the conditions in which they’re grown, and this becomes apparent when you compare the same grape that has been grown in two very different climates, in different soils or sometimes even on different sides of the same valley.

• Challenge tasters with some less well-known grapes – try some wines you might not be aware of, something a little less well-known. Catarratto, Viognier, Macabeo, Torrontes or Furmint, for example. Wines from Portugal are always a good choice as they grow a wealth of indigenous grapes.

• Concentrate on a specific country or region – for the larger wine-producing countries, we recommended sticking to a region or a specific grape if it is grown all over that country. Argentinian Malbec is always a good one and easy to get a hold of, or maybe wines from Alsace in France. Try a session on Hungarian wines for something a bit different.

• Theme it around a specific future event – great barbecue wines, for example, in summer, or a selection of Christmas wines in Autumn.

• Try a blind tasting – challenge everyone coming to bring something along and try tasting blind, always great fun and it really doesn’t matter who gets what right.

Serving and preparing wine

How wine is served, both in terms of its temperature and glassware, can affect the overall tasting experience – so it pays to get it right. Here, Chris shares his essential top tips on serving and preparing wine for a tasting.
wine and apperetifs

• Make sure that the wine is chilled and ready to be served at the recommended temperature. Once poured, tell those who are tasting to experience the aromas and by allowing the wine time in the glass to breath it will develop different qualities and, in many cases, significantly improve.

• Serve wines in quality glassware and certainly do not use flutes for sparkling wines. White wine glasses will generally have a decent size bowl in order for the wine to be studied visually and for it to breathe to maximise its aroma and tasting qualities.

• Have a glass for each wine being tasted. Provide spittoons and also water. Have a sheet of plain white A4 paper so people can easily look at the colour qualities of the wine. It is also nice to have prepared a list of the wines that are being tasted along with their details such as grapes used, vintage etc.

 

How to determine a good bottle of wine

With your tasting organised and a theme set, you’re ready to source the wines for the tasting. Perhaps the trickiest stage of hosting a tasting, finding the right wines can be challenging – with thousands of varieties to choose from, all at different price points.

To help you sort the good from the bad when it comes to selecting wines, here our experts each offer their essential tips when it comes to selecting the perfect vintages for your home tasting.

woman comparing wine

Dean

“As a guideline, you should look to spend somewhere between £8-£18 a bottle (with maybe 3 to 6 wines to taste). If you consider that with a £5.99 bottle of wine only 37p is actually spent on production of the wine, it’s clear that you really need to be spending a little more. But as most of the costs in a bottle are fixed, you don’t have to step up too far to ensure much more is spent on production of the wine itself. “If your budget stretches further, then feel free to move into the £20 plus bracket but do bear in mind that as you go above £20, the nuance of taste becomes more and more refined and can sometimes require a much more experienced palate to really tell the difference. “That said, some people are very lucky and blessed with a great palate, but there is so much choice and nuance available within the £8-£18 price bracket that will keep you interested for years. Once you’ve got a handle on your flavour and aroma combinations why not splash out on something a little more expensive and see if you think it is worth the extra?”

Neil

“Good white wines should have the requisite tastes associated with a certain variety. Sauvignon Blanc should have gooseberry notes (Loire Valley) and maybe some exotic fruits (New Zealand). Riesling can carry lime zest initially and as they age, they develop some petrol notes. Good Chardonnay will show white peaches and maybe some dried apricot etc. “Good reds, again, should have the required flavours for particular varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon will have blackcurrant at its heart, Syrah will have spicy blackberry fruit, Rioja will have a combination of red fruits and some vanilla notes on the nose, if aged in good oak. Fine red wines will have different textures as the wine develops in the glass (called tertiary notes) like leather, tobacco and chocolate. One of the other things a good red will have is acidity, which stops the palate getting jaded and too 'jammy'. This will show up in white wines as freshness and is equally important.”

Chris

“Depending on the styles of wine you wish to have at your tasting, average prices can vary tremendously. What I would say is that if you want to show the qualities of wines then try not to go for the cheapest options, and instead look at specialist wine sellers either via the high street merchants or dedicated online wine shops. You are not likely to get a great idea of wine quality by purchasing the cheapest options from the supermarkets. I would say £15 to £30 a bottle will be the ideal price range for most style of wines you should be aiming for.”

Douglas

“I really enjoy comparing wines made from the same grape across a few territories, such as the often petrol-scents of light-in-alcohol German Riesling, reaped from vines tugging into the vertigo-inducingly steep slopes of the Moselle River Valley, with a Riesling from Australia’s generally warmer Barossa valley; those wines can often be more about lime flavours – sometimes stingingly so. You can do the same with a slightly tart strawberry-like Pinot Noir from Kent, believe-it-or-not, versus a creamy, raspberry ripple-like version from Sonoma in the United States. Or a bone dry, unoaked Chablis versus a really big – almost splintery – oaky Chardonnay from South Africa.”

Wine Pairings: Choose your nibbles wisely

charcuterie

While some wine buffs might tell you that you should focus on wine and wine alone during a tasting, others would say that a good glass is lost without a delicious foodie pairing. If you’re keen to keep your home wine tasting relaxed and informal, offering complementary snacks and nibbles can enhance the whole experience, as Chris enthuses below:

“I'm just about to write an article on the topic of wine and food pairings. Nibbles such as cheese and dried meats are great for wine tasting events and especially if they have been selected to pair with the wine in question. Wine tasting can be quite thirsty work and it can be good to break up a tasting with some foods. Note that not all foods pair with wines and each wine will usually have a recommended food type to pair with it. To be safe, many cheese varieties pair very well with wines from red sparkling to dry still whites, though try not to have smelly cheese, as this will affect the ability to appreciate the wine aromas!”

Whether you’re hosting at home or virtually, a wine tasting is a wonderful way to share your love of the grape with friends, family and loved ones. Learning to taste wine and understand the many varieties on offer is a rewarding, immersive pursuit in these challenging times, and will give you the experience and understanding to put what you’ve learnt into practice on your next overseas adventure.

 

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