How to Host a Wine Tasting Party
With a few simple basics, you can learn to swirl, sniff, and sip with the best of them.
Choose the Wine
- Have guests sample five different types of wine (more will overwhelm the palette). It's fine to mix reds and whites; just serve them in order from lightest to darkest, since darker wines tend to be heavier. For six guests, have two bottles of each: one for tasting (pour small amounts of about one ounce) and one for drinking afterward.
- For an easy theme, select vintages that all hail from a specific region: Tuscany, Napa, or your own state. Get local suggestions from your neighborhood wine shop or take a hint from one of these sites: Zachys Wine Online (zachys.com), Binny's (binnys.com), or Appellation America (wine.appelationamerica.com).
- Provide one Bordeaux glass (shown in photo) per person for the duration of the tasting. (Don't rinse the glass between servings, since even a drop or two of water can dilute the wine.)
- As a general rule, 15 to 30 minutes before guests arrive, put reds in the refrigerator. Take whites and rosés out a few minutes before pouring.
If you want to go all out, make clever invitation-coasters with a map of your featured wine region. Download and print out a map from National Geographic's MapMachine, at nationalgeographic.com/maps. Trim, then use a spray adhesive to glue it to a piece of four-inch square card stock.
Download these songs to get the party started:
- “High and Dry,” Jamie Cullum
- “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye
- “I'm Not Drinking Any #@%!$ Merlot!,” from the Sideways soundtrack, composed by Rolfe Kent
- “In the Waiting Line,” Zero 7
- “Into the Mystic,” Van Morrison
- “Lovely Day,” Bill Withers
- “Peel Me a Grape,” Diana Krall
- “Rebel Rebel,” Seu Jorge
- “Sophisticated Lady,” Thelonious Monk
- “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” Otis Redding
Head to itunes.com, where you can purchase these songs from the Real Simple-generated iMix.
Show Your Guests How to Taste
Step 1: Look at it. Is the wine bright (light-bodied) or dark (full-bodied)? Clear (drink up) or cloudy (toss it)?
Step 2: Swirl your glass gently to release the wine's aromas. Then put your nose deep into the glass (don't be shy). Is it fruity? Floral? Herbal? Earthy?
Step 3: Hold the wine in your mouth while slowly inhaling air (you'll make a slurping sound). It may feel odd, but the process aerates the wine and opens up your olfactory sense to enhance its flavors.