February 22, 2012

How to Host Your Own Wine Tasting

I find myself slightly envious of those who live downtown, surrounded by an endless supply of restaurants, patios, and other potential dining opportunities.  Need a glass of wine? Just text a friend and hook-up in, say 20 minutes at the bistro around the corner.   On occasion though, even these folks ask themselves: What would it take to host a wine tasting in my own home?

I’ll let you in on a little secret; it’s not that difficult.  Let me give you a few pointers, but first, some background:  I don’t live downtown.  In fact, I’m so far removed from the concrete jungle that modern amenities like fibre optic phone lines and natural gas are a figment of my imagination.  But rather than make the trek southbound to the urban sprawl for a regular dose of the wine tasting experience, I took it upon myself to recreate the same concept closer to home.  I call it North of 9 Fine Wine

Hosting a wine tasting in your own home or at a local restaurant does involve some preparation and planning. To simplify the process, I’ll break the many considerations down as a step-by-step checklist to ensure that we cover all the bases.  You needn't do everything listed below, but I do suggest a few details to maximize your tasting experience:

  • Choose a style of wine or a region that you wish to profile
  • Pick a theme: stand-up and mingle or sit-down and focused
  • How many people will attend? ____
  • 1 standard bottle will serve 12 people a 2-ounce pour
  • Food should always be available when alcohol is served (at the very least, a sliced baguette)
  • Consider the legalities and liquor laws in your area

  • Select 4 to 6 different labels to represent your theme
  • Consider food pairings to compliment your wine choices
  • If ranking the wines, provide grading sheets and pencils
  • Select your stemware (something large enough to swirl but not too cumbersome to handle).  7 oz./200ml ISO tasting glasses cost ~ $4 each
  • Consider separate glasses for each wine or one glass with a rinse station
  • Provide wine charms if using one glass per person or use a paint marker to write each person’s name on the base of their glass.
  • Labelled placemats will help keep multiple glasses organized
  • Spittoons should be made available as an option
  • Whites and sparkling wines may require ice buckets for chilling
  • Provide drinking water in a separate glass or bottle
  • Have a plan if someone has too much to drink i.e. a key bowl, taxi phone#

  • Know your material
  • As your guests arrive, consider serving a glass of sparkling wine.  The bubbly will give them something to discuss while you fine tune last minute details.
  • Consider your crowd and set the tone: fun/informative or wine snobbery (there is a place for each)
  • Reinforce the need to consume responsibly before you begin  
  • Explain the basics (not everyone will be comfortable with the concept)
  • Taste in order of dry to sweet and light to full bodied
  • Consider the use of props such as decanters, various corkscrews, maps and literature related to your subject
  • When finished, allow some social time between the last wine sample and your guests’ departure by offering tea, coffee, and a selection of baked goods.

Coordinating a wine tasting at an establishment outside of your home involves taking the concept to the next level and I recommend that you hire a BYOB licensed restaurant for the event.  Initially, the thought might seem intimidating but in actuality, much of pressure to perform is alleviated by leaving the food prep and wine service to the restaurant staff.   Consider reserving a small room for your group and rather than a large meal, prearrange several rounds of appetizers specifically chosen to pair with your wine selections.  As you conduct the tasting with the group, the staff will circulate with the food and wine which will make you look like a real hotshot! 
  • Enjoy yourself and have some fun with it!  That’s why we drink the stuff in the first place.


  1. “Food should always be available when alcohol is served” – You’re right. It is important to serve food in any wine tasting event, so that people can have something to eat before or while consuming alcohol. However, avoid serving spicy food as this can interfere with the taste of the wine.

    Jessie Henn

    1. Jessie - I agree that spicy food can tamper with the pleasures of fine wine, and at the dinner table we should certainly exercise some caution in this area. But what if you paired the wine selections at your home tasting with various food styles/tastes? I this case, you could invite your guests to try several interesting pairing combinations: one of which is the pleasant contrast between spicy food and sweet(off-dry) wine.


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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine