When planning a wine tasting party, some obvious questions about parameters arise. How many people should you invite? What types and how many wines should you pour?
It is my opinion that an informal gathering should be kept to 12 people or less. This ensures that conversation and dialogue will be much more conducive than with a larger group.
Blind tasting is the most fun and informative. Wrapping bottles in bags will negate past preferences and prejudices. You may be surprised what you "like" without access to the wine label.
Focus on a relatively specific style of wine. Within this framework, some variations should be considered. I recently hosted a wine tasting party where we tasted Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.
To make it more interesting, we tasted two wines from Rutherford, (valley floor) two from Stags Leap, (east hills) and two from Mount Veeder (west hills). This was a pleasant and educational mix: a consistant varietal, but different styles from different regions. Another option is to taste the same varietal from the same region, but in different price ranges.
For the initial tasting, pour a small amount in each guest's glass. Refrain from pouring full glasses until every wine has been tasted to avoid the cloud of inebriation on the senses.
Provide some neutral flavored foods for your guests. Make sure this does not interfere or clash with the wine tasting. Don't serve blue cheese if you are tasting Pinot Blancs. Try bread or crackers and a mild, white cheddar or brie.
Paper and pencils are necessary for your guests to write notes and preferences. If you regularly taste with the same group, you may want to use a designated notebook as well as articulate some additional guidelines and procedures for the tasting notes. This will create and ongoing reference point and perspective as your tastes develop.
Benjamin Bicais lives in the Napa Valley and is the webmaster of