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Host a Winning Wine Tasting Event

If your mouth waters when you hear the words "thief," "bung" or "bouquet," you're not strange: you're a wine aficionado! And you're not alone: across the nation, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy a good glass of wine. Some invest in cellars stocked with spectacular wines, others join wine clubs and yet others travel to famous wine regions to taste some of the world's best wines right at the vineyard. In fact, there are even travel organizations that cater entirely to this type of vacation.

Wine tasting.

Fortunately, you don't have to spend tons of money and time to have a great wine tasting experience: you can host one at home! Read on for some tips on how to host a wine tasting event your friends won't forget.

  • Make a guest list. Wine critic Stephen Tanzer recommends not inviting more than eight people. That way, you'll have enough guests to allow for varying opinions and discussions without making the tasting a drawn-out process.
  • Decide what kind of tasting it will be:
    • If it's a blind tasting, the labels on the wine bottles are hidden so guests aren't influenced by preconceptions such as price, vintage or winery. If it's not a blind tasting, the labels can be read by all.
    • It's often a good idea to establish a theme. A vertical theme means you only taste the same type of wine from the same winery, but of different vintages. For example, a 2009, 2010 and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Winery X in Graves, France. Horizontal theme means you taste the same type and vintage wines, but from a variety of wineries, for example 2012 Sangiovese from four different regions.
  • Choose how many wines to sample. Estimate how much time you want to spend on sampling and discussing each wine, and choose an appropriate number of wines accordingly.

Now you have the structure of your evening down, here's how to prepare for the evening itself.

  • Avoid scented candles or other scents. The air in the room should be as neutral as possible. Strong or overwhelming scents can interfere with your ability to taste the wine.
  • Set the wines on a white tablecloth. By providing a clear, white background, your guests will be able to examine each wine's color.
  • Wine temperature. Wines should be served at appropriate temperatures for maximum appreciation. Make sure white wines are chilled to between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and reds to between 60 and 65 degrees.
  • Mask the labels. If you're hosting a blind tasting, remove the capsule from the top of each bottle and wrap the bottles in foil. Give each a letter or a number so tasters can identify it during the tasting.
  • Set the glasses. Choose wine glasses that are wider in the middle of the bowl than at the rim. This allows you to swish the wine around to enjoy the bouquet without any liquid sloshing over the rim. It's best to provide each guest with a glass for each wine.
  • Provide spittoons. Spittoons are wine tasting receptacles tasters can use to spit wine into. By not swallowing the wine, you preserve your ability to discern different scents and flavors. If you don't have real spittoons, you can use mugs, glasses or cups. Just make sure to choose receptacles that are weighted and won't easily tip over.
  • Set out small plates of crackers, bread or mild cheese. Small, mild snacks will allow your guests to clear their palates between wines.
  • Provide tasting sheets. Many wineries provide downloadable tasting sheets that can be used to score each wine before comparing notes. Make sure each guest has one.

When all guests are present, start with the first wine. Pour glasses between one and a half and two ounces of wine for each guest. Encourage discussion of the wines and ask guests to score each wine on their tasting sheets. At the end of the evening, calculate which wine ranked highest overall and share it with your guests.

Hosting a wine tasting event is a fun way to spend time with friends while learning something new about your favorite drink. And who knows? You might enjoy it so much that you start your own wine club. Salute!

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