Choosing the right wines and the format of the tasting are fundamental to your event’s success.

The first decision to make is how much to spend on the wine. Having wines that cost roughly the same is recommended. For a big crowd, three wines are plenty for a lively tasting; for small groups, consider tasting no more than five wines. Figure one bottle of each wine per 10 guests, which is usually more than enough.

While some people think it’s fun, especially in a blind tasting, to have inexpensive and expensive wines going head-to-head, that’s usually designed as a kind of “gotcha” that makes wine into an obnoxious, adolescent parlor game instead of a pleasant, unintimidating adult adventure. In any event, if it is not a blind tasting and the tasters have a sense that one wine cost far more than the others, darn if that expensive one won’t be their favorite every time.

It can be interesting to taste wines blind, but the process of covering the wines in bags and keeping the labels hidden can be daunting with a large group.

The wines for your tasting need to have much in common and yet possess distinctive qualities, so they’re similar yet different. Ideally, the wines will be distinctive enough that even neophytes who are sure they can’t tell wines apart will have, while seasoned wine-lovers will find enough subtlety in the differences to be fascinated.

It’s a good idea to say a few words at the beginning of the event so everyone understands the concept of the tasting and knows how to proceed. Offer everyone a single glass in a tasting and buckets so they can pour out any excess. Some hosts of tasting events provide pitchers of water so participants can rinse their glasses, rinsing with water between wines of the same type is less effective than simply pouring out the wine; water might dilute the next taste.

Food at a tasting is not necessary, but if you’d like some, keep it simple — bread and cheese are always fine, but be sure the cheese is not very full-flavored. Having water to drink is a good idea, since staying hydrated is important.

When choosing the wines, it’s important that you really do like all of them equally because it’s likely that your guests will ask at some point, “So, what is your favorite?” Be prepared to say that you liked all of them, though in different ways. Also, be prepared to answer, “So, what should I be looking for?” The best answer is simply which is tastiest. But it is a good idea to have an answer for that question depending on the kind of wine you’re serving. Be sure to have a “take-away card” with the names and prices of the wine.

When conducting blind tastings, consider asking everyone to vote on their favorite. When a tasting is not blind, it’s still easy to see the winner: Look at the empties.

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Filed under: Wine Tasting