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How to Host a Wine Tasting at Home

Mary Ross
Posted by Mary Ross on Jun 21, 2024


A wine tasting at home is a fun and unique way to entertain. It requires some organization and some ground rules, but you may be surprised by the benefits!

Know Your Audience

If your guests include aspiring sommeliers in the throes of an exam, skip to Seated Tasting. If they’re casual drinkers looking for fun, drinks and conversation, read on.

Stand-Up, Walk-Around

For a casual tasting, devise three to six stations, each with its own wine and complementary nosh. In general, avoid white decorating schemes, like your white couch. Depending on your interest (mine lean French), stations might include:

  • Sauvignon Blanc (or French Sancerre) with goat’s milk cheese
  • Chardonnay (or French Macon-Villages) with cow’s milk cheese
  • Pinot Noir (or - since French Pinot Noir is prohibitively expensive - Beaujolais) with cured meat or rich poultry, like turkey
  • Malbec (or French Chinon) with blue cheese or red meat
  • A sweet (er) wine. You may opt for delicate sweetness, such as Riesling or Chenin Blanc. In this case, serve with cured meat, such as ham or prosciutto, after Chardonnay. For sticky-sweet like Moscato d’Asti, serve last with a sweet, such as cannoli.

Wine over cheeseFull Service or BYO

You may opt to provide everything, but a casual tasting allows for guests to BYO, including glassware, wine and nosh. Be painfully clear, i.e.: “Please bring 1 to 2 wine glasses per person; Sauvignon Blanc from the U.S., New Zealand or Chile, under $20; goat’s milk cheese with grapes and crackers.” I find that guests get excited about their contributions. General supplies include:

  • Wine: 1 to 2 ounces per person for tasting. (For after tasting, the host/ess can supply 1 wine, about 5 ounces per person.)
  • 1 to 2 glasses person
  • A place to dump wine, i.e. a bucket or sink
  • Cloth for spills
  • Plastic white tablecloths to cover stations
  • Water
  • Ice buckets for whites and sticky
  • Corkscrew (or opt for all twist-offs)
  • Possibly an easy, post-tasting meal, such as pizza or chili.

wine tasting at homeGround Rule

The main ground rule is that the tasting is just that, a taste of 1 to 2 ounces per wine. Give guests a time frame, such as “We’ll taste for about an hour, then dinner is served!”

Seated Tasting

For certified corks dorks only, a seated tasting asks more of your guests and of you. Each guest is seated with: a glass for each wine; simple noshes such as crackers, Brie and grapes; a spit cup.

Wines are served ‘blind’, i.e. dropped into bottle bags or wrapped in tin foil. Number each bottle. (Be certain to remove capsules and to hide corks from sneaky tasters.) Pour all wine before tasting begins. Designate a time frame for silent tasting, note-taking and maybe scoring, at least five minutes per wine. Discussion follows, including wine qualities and any guesses on the wine identities, (see Themes below). Then comes the big reveal, either in order of service or “Miss America”-style, i.e. from lowest scorer to the winner! The host/ess may opt to serve a meal but keep aromas away from the tasting area.

Blind Wine Tasting Home BoxGround Rules

While wine geeks are initiated, you may want to remind guests to avoid perfume or other odiferous substances, as well as the time frame of silent tasting. If several ounces of wine loosens lips, a “Shh!” is acceptable.


Serious tastings generally involve a theme of five to six wines. A selection of one style or producer in various vintages is a ‘vertical tasting’, such as “Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 2018 – 2023”. A ‘horizontal tasting’ is one vintage, i.e. “Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 2023”. Themes can be simple, such as “Italian Wine” or intricate, such as “Pio Cesare “Briccolina” Barolo, 2010 – 2016”. Experienced tasters will try to wiggle the theme out of you but keep mum until the big reveal.

Check with Your Merchant

Your best asset in an at-home tasting is a wine merchant, who will help develop themes, assist in wine selection and food pairing.

Retail wine

The Chopping Block's wine and spirits selection

Thanks for the Memories

As a young sommelier in the 1980’s, I joined a tasting group, dubbed by the industry at large as “the women’s tasting group.” It wasn’t meant as a compliment.

Grand Award CeremonyCan you tell which one is me? 

I knew next to nothing about wine, but I’d been invited because:

  1. I’d snagged the (literally) highest profile wine gig in town - Sommelier for The 95th Restaurant and
  2. At the time, there were about five gals in the local wine biz. These included the wine buyer for Chicago’s top wine chain, a top-selling sales rep, an importer of prestigious French wine, a member of Chicago’s most historic wine families, and me.

We tasted together monthly, for about ten years. I count these hours as the most influential experience in my understanding wine, the wine business and the conviviality that is wine. I hope you have a similar experience with your at-home tasting!

If you prefer to let us do the work for you, join me for an upcoming wine class. We even have availability for tonight's Get to Know your Grapes class at 6:30pm at Lincoln Square. 

See all of our Wine Classes

Topics: wine classes, Wine, wine tasting, wine glasses, wine label, wine pairing, wine and food pairing

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