How to Throw a Blind Wine Tasting Party at Home
It’s a given that entertaining should involve wine. Maybe there’s a special bottle that you’ve planned your menu around, or perhaps some easy-drinking wine to serve as a backdrop for conversation.
But if you want to make wine the guest of honor, why not host a blind tasting? This structured set up allows guests to geek out about what’s in their glasses.
Here’s how the wine tasting works: Everyone tastes through a flight of mystery wines, one at a time. Guests are encouraged to discuss each wine as they go. If your guests are relatively knowledgeable, they can make educated guesses about the identity of each pour, which can add a competitive element. If it’s the first blind tasting for most attendees, it’s fine to keep talk to things like appearance, aroma and structure. At the end of the tasting, reveal the bottles and further the discussion.
The following pages will illustrate how to set up your tasting party, which includes a few bites to savor and flights to serve.
Tools of the Trade
Here are the ingredients you need to get your party started. Just add wine.
These ensure that labels and producers don’t sway tasters. Paper bags are fine; just number them to keep track of what’s what. If you plan to throw blind tastings often, you might want to invest in a set of number- or letter-embroidered cloth bags.
Everyone should have a fresh glass for each wine. They don’t have to match, but ideally, serve reds in red glasses and whites in white glasses.
At a house party, people might want to finish each pour, and that’s fine. But you should have large, opaque vessels and smaller personal ones for those who want to spit.
Before guests arrive, ensure that your wines are at the appropriate temperature (41˚–45˚F for sparkling; 45˚–55˚ for whites; 56˚–65˚F for reds). Also, taste each one to make sure they’re not tainted, damaged, cooked or corked.
Paper and Pens (or Pencils)
These allow tasters to take notes. If you want to be really organized, you can print out numbered sheets. However, small notebooks or index cards will do just fine.
A Fact Sheet
When you do the big reveal about which wines have been tasted, you’ll also want to provide a little information, like the geography/soils of the vineyards, what the wine is aged in and for how long.
Water Pitcher and Glasses
You want to keep guests hydrated.
If your guests are not spitting, you want something in their stomachs to absorb all that wine.
The flights you pour should guide the snacks you serve, but finger foods are the order of the day. Avoid anything very hot, cold or The flights you pour should guide the snacks you serve, but finger foods are the order of the day. Avoid anything very hot, cold or aromatic. Use this as a guide:
Something starchy: Bread or crackers are a must. Their blandness cleans everyone’s palate, and they’re filling, to stave off drunkenness.
Something cheesy: Why? Its creaminess is a good foil for acidity in wines. If your wines are lighter and brighter, go for mild cheeses like triple-crèmes and fresh chèvres. Big, bold reds can stand up to funky cheeses, like those that are aged, blues and stinky, bloomy-rind cheeses.
Something meaty: The fattiness of meat can work with wine in two ways: either tame tannins or contrast acidity. Pâtés and rillettes are a good match for bubbles, while cured meats like salumi or prosciutto can go with more powerful wines.
Something fresh: Have sliced fruit or a crudité platter to add brightness and a bit of texture. It’s also fun to take bites of different fruits or vegetables and then take sips and see how wine’s taste differs with assorted food.
Something special: Most of this menu is about cutting up food and arranging it on platters, but it’s nice to have one element that you actually made special for the occasion. Some suggestions include crostini, flatbreads, blini and flavored nuts or popcorn.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Wine
The following prompts will guide your guests through tasting.
How does it look? Note the wine’s color, clarity, opacity and viscosity. Hold the glass up to the light and at a 45-degree angle against a white backdrop.
How does it smell? Encourage guests to stick their noses in the glass right away, and then again after swirling, to see what aromas present themselves as the wine opens up.
How does it taste? Advise tasters to take a sip of wine and swirl it around a bit. They can also try to suck in some air in through their teeth (this is called trilling). Guests should note how the wine feels in their mouths; how long the flavor remains after spitting or swallowing; flavor notes that present themselves upfront, midpalate and on the finish; and the balance or harmony of tannins and acidity.
Set the Scene
The ambiance of a tasting is a bit different than your typical party. Here are some do’s and don’ts to guide you.
Do have a well-lit space, so people can see what’s in their glasses and take legible notes.
Don’t burn scented candles or incense, or cook fragrant foods while guests are tasting. You want the smell to be as neutral as possible.
Don’t play loud music. Quiet, mellow background tunes are fine, but you don’t want to distract people.
Do provide comfortable seating. One of the nice things about a home tasting is that guests can sit on couches or easy chairs. Comfortable dining chairs are a good option, too.
Don’t make guests sit in a crowded space. Tasters should to be able to reach and swirl all of their glasses without bumping into anyone else’s.
Do keep the tasting on track. When you’re with friends, it’s easy to get sidetracked. A little of that is fine—this is a party, after all. However, it’s your job as host to steer things back to the flight at hand.
With these themed parties, your guests are in charge of the wine.
If providing the wine for a tasting in addition to food and space feels like a burden, have guests bring the bottles. Here are two ways to guide their picks.
Throw a vintage party: Pick a year, and have everyone bring a bottle from that vintage, regardless of variety or location.
Make it a variety party: Choose a specific variety, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, and have guests bring a bottle of their choice.
If you’ve done winery-hosted tastings, you may have had a vertical flight, where the same bottling is sampled from multiple years. This is a great way to see what changes based on conditions. It’s also a hard thing to pull off if you rely on your local wine shop, so we haven’t included one here. If you have access to back vintages, by all means, set up your own vertical. The rest of these tips will still work.
We know certain regions for certain grapes (looking at you, Napa Cab), so it’s fun to try other offerings from a favorite place.
“Many wine-producing regions are actually suitable to working with a variety of wine grapes, especially in the New World,” says Lauren Buzzeo, Wine Enthusiast’s tasting director, who also selected the flights. “Using a region—or even country—as a tasting theme, guests are able to better immerse themselves in the wide range of offerings that any given area has to offer, emphasizing the point that, more often than not, it’s hard to pigeonhole a country based on a small set of samplings.”
This flight is reds from South Africa’s Western Cape, but for this type of tasting, you can mix reds and whites.
Rosemary Roasted Almonds Recipe
Crunchy, salty and glossy, it’s really the herbs that make these nuts special. This is a rich-enough snack to stand up to these reds. Feel free to substitute hazelnuts or pecans, or do a mix, but avoid nuts that are already salted.
Heat the oven to 375˚F. In a bowl or on a baking sheet, toss 2 cups almonds with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and ½ teaspoon crunchy or flaky sea salt like Maldon. Place in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and arrange 3 sprigs fresh rosemary among nuts. Bake 20 minutes, tossing halfway through, until they’re darkened. Scrape some rosemary leaves off stems and add to nuts for serving.
Do you like sparkling wine? Rosé? Sparkling rosé? Plan your tasting around a style and experience the variety within the category.
“Sparkling wines are produced in many prominent or exciting regions, using different techniques as well as a range of grapes or blends,” says Buzzeo. “This is a fun and easy way to offer an underlying theme while tasting around the globe.” Here, we’re doing a sparkling flight.
Lemon-Pepper Cheese Fricos Recipe
These lacy crisps couldn’t be easier to make, and they combine the cheese and cracker into one bite. The nuttiness of a hard, aged cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano provides an appealing richness that the bubbles will cut right through.
To make them, combine 1 cup grated hard, aged cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, aged Gouda or a mix with ½ tablespoon finely grated lemon zest and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Place tablespoon-sized mounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in 350˚F oven until flat and golden, about 5 minutes.
This one really lets you drill down and get geeky. Here, you can explore subregions, or even single vineyards, of types of wines you know you like. The suggested flight allows you to compare producers within the same vineyard.
“It allows tasters to really focus on the individual expressions and what makes each bottling unique, as well as to better discern your own personal preference,” says Buzzeo. “Solid options include a flight of Cornas from Northern Rhône, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand, Napa Cabernet Sauvignons from various subregions, or a study in Chablis.”
Here, we’re going with Riesling from the Himmelreich (“heaven”) vineyard in Graach, on Germany’s Mosel River.
Lavender-Ricotta Crostini Recipe
A little sweet, a bit floral and delicate overall, these will reset palates between sips of the acidic wines. They can be an appetizer, dessert or snack, so serve them at any point.
Slice 1 baguette and lightly toast under broiler. Mix 1 cup ricotta with ¼ teaspoon very finely crushed dried lavender. Spread 1 tablespoon of this mixture on each piece of baguette. Drizzle ½ teaspoon honey over each crostini. Top with a sprinkle of salt, preferably a colored one like black volcanic.
- 1On the Menu
- 2Same Region, Different Varieties
- 3Different Variety and Region, Same Style
- 4Same Region, Same Variety