A Beginner’s Guide to Hosting a Wine Tasting at Home

Staying social and engaged in midlife doesn’t have to be difficult. This beginner’s guide to hosting a wine tasting at home is the first in an ongoing series highlighting fun activities to do with friends and family. We all get bored doing the same thing day in and day out. Why not try something new? Each post in the series will provide you with all the information you need to be the hostess-with-the-mostest and put on a top notch – yet easy – themed event!

Whether you’re brand new to wine or have been a connoisseur for years, you could never possibly try every wine out there. Attempting to do so would quickly become overwhelming and expensive. A great way to try a lot of wines is to go to wine tastings or, better yet, host a wine tasting at home. Here is a beginner’s guide to hosting a wine tasting at home to help you get started.

Refresh this page to sign up for our free at home wine tasking kit which includes tasting sheets, pairing sheets for chocolate and cheese, a decorative ‘Wine Time’ banner, bottle tags, and instructions. Everything you need to run your event like a pro!

Wine snobs need not attend

Wine snobbery is real. While researching this post, I read a funny article on Vinepair about the four stages of wine snobbery. It cracked me up. But, it also gave me hope that the industry is beginning to see the need to move on from the wine elite.

There are far too many people out there who consider wine an opportunity for only the most skilled and informed, the privileged few. I say pshaw to them!

The joy and deliciousness of fermented grapes should be available to everyone. Try a variety of selections and drink them as you see fit. Don’t get hung up on other people’s rules.

I violate wine rules all the time. For example, I sometimes put ice in my white wines and, god forbid, put some of my red wines in the fridge because I like it a bit chilled. I drink pinot noir with white fish and albariño with everything. All of these choices are a violation of “the rules”.

To be fair, it is true that certain varietals pair best with certain foods. That’s undeniable. But, these aren’t laws. If you have a leftover bottle of red wine and you’re serving shrimp for dinner, drink up if you want. The wine police will not come and arrest you or put you on display for public humiliation. It’s time to put an end to wine snobbery. Hosting easy going and fun wine tastings at home is a great way to start.

Choose a theme

The first step to planning a wine tasting at home is to select a theme you like. Here are a few ideas to get you stared:

  • Wine & cheese
  • Wine & chocolate
  • Blind tasting
  • Wines of Italy
  • Wines of France
  • Italy vs. France
  • Red wines
  • White wines
  • Rosés
  • Old world vs. new world wines
  • Wines rated 95 and above
  • Vintage wines from X year
  • Surprise – each guest brings a bottle

I love the idea of a blind wine tasting. It adds some mystery and a lot of fun. To hide the wine label, put it into a paper bag tied with a ribbon. If you want to get fancy, try velvet bags with tag numbers, or use printed labels wrapped around each bottle. The key is for your guests to not know what wine is being served.

Four wine glasses and four bottles of wine with labels hidden for a blind wine tasting. How to host a wine tasting at home.
Blind wine tasting

Keep it intimate

Keep your home wine tasting small to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to mingle and discuss the wines. Too many people and it becomes a party rather than a tasting. 8 to 10 is an ideal number. Tasting servings are approximately half a standard pour so you’ll get about 10 tasting servings from a bottle. This means only one bottle of each wine is needed if you keep the group small. That is, of course, unless you want extra for later.

What wine should you include in the tasting?

What wine to include will depend on your theme. You can select it yourself, ask your guests to each bring a bottle, or request help with selections from your local wine store. I was introduced to many of my favorite wines by the staff at our neighborhood wine shop.

If you decide to have guests bring the wine, be sure to set a price range for each bottle and provide instructions about how to bring the wine so that no one sees the label. Plan on 5 to 8 different wines. Any more than that and people will begin to have a hard time telling them apart. Personally, I think 6 is the perfect number.

Generally, you’ll want to have a couple of whites and several reds, unless of course your theme is all white or all red. Typically, 2 or 3 whites and the rest red. When serving, begin with anything bubbly, then the sweetest white, and work your way up to the driest red. Ideally, guests should be able to have two wines served side by side so they can compare. This is especially helpful if a goal of the event is for guests to learn more about wines.

If you don’t have enough glasses, no need to fret. Many party supply companies rent glassware or you can pickup disposable ones at a party store. You could also ask your guests to bring glasses. Pickup some wine markers at an art or wine store and label the glasses so everyone takes their own home. At a minimum, you’ll need one white glass and one red glass for each guest.

To spit or not to spit

I’m sure that there is heated debate about this question somewhere, but not here. Let your guests choose whether they want to drink the wines or spit them out after tasting. Provide each person with a large plastic cup to use as a spittoon, if they so desire. Instruct guests where to dump it at the end of the night. Use disposable cups so your guests can throw them away at the end of the event. You don’t want to be cleaning those!

Bring on the munchies

Food is a critical part of any wine tasting. Not only is it a way to enhance the experience by pairing food with each wine, it’s also a way to soak up some of the alcohol. Small pours add up when you’re tasting so many wines.

Setting the table

There are two setups for your at home wine tasting, the wine & food table and guest seating. The wine and food table should hold the bottles of wine, wrapped so no one can see the label if you’re doing a blind tasting. Use an ice bucket or wine chiller for your white wines. Keep the reds on the table.

Select small bites that go with each wine and serve them on a plate or tray in front of the appropriate bottle so guests know which food ideally goes with each wine. Encourage your guests to mix wines and food items to see the difference in taste.

Each guest will need a tasting sheet to record her reactions, a bottle of water, some water crackers to cleanse her palette between sips, a personal spittoon, and some pens or pencils. It’s also nice to provide some information about each selection for guests to review during the tasting or held until the end if it’s a blind tasting.

The wine tasting

Now for the best part… the tasting itself!

There are plenty of rules about how a “proper” tasting should proceed but you should feel free to ignore most of them unless you are a sommelier or you plan to hire one. But, there are some details that are important and will improve the experience for everyone.

  • Review instructions for an effective tasting and provide your guests a written instruction sheet. They are likely not experts and wine tasting can be intimidating. Having written instructions that your guests can refer to throughout the event will help people feel more confident.
  • Make it fun! Select tasting sheets that are designed to help your guests experience and enjoy the wines.
  • Begin with the bubbly then move onto the sweetest whites and work your way through the wines to the driest reds. Your guests will have the best tasting experience in this order.
  • Spend time with each wine, at least 10 to 15 minutes. Allow your guests the opportunity to linger over flavors and textures.
  • Provide water crackers, or something similar, as a palette cleanser between glasses.
  • Discuss the wines. Provide a tasting sheet for people to take notes.
  • Keep the white wines on ice.
  • Pour small tasting size servings.
  • Provide water

You can have a sit down tasting during which someone serves the wine, and food if applicable, or a buffet style during which guests come to a table. In either case, someone should pour the servings to ensure they are properly sized. You need to ensure all guests receive some from each bottle and guard against anyone getting intoxicated.

During times with social distance, seated is safest. Spread seating apart and provide distance for each of your guests. Servers should wear masks and hand sanitizer should be provided at all tables.

The five S’s of wine tasting

There are 5 “S’s” of wine tasting – see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor. You can certainly follow this guidance in your home wine tasting or you can simplify it a bit. I prefer look, smell, taste and enjoy!

Look (See and Swirl)

This step includes two of the “S” terms, see and swirl. Take some time to look at the wine. Place it against a white background if you can. A visual inspection can provide clues to the grapes used, how it was aged, and even how it will taste.

You can, of course, get this information right off the bottle but it’s a fun exercise. It will give you an opportunity to learn what different wines look like in a glass. You can, for example, see sweetness by the way the wine sticks to the glass as you swirl it. Sweetness gives it “legs”. Typically, the more legs, the more alcohol. This is a valuable piece of information.

Smell (Sniff)

One of my favorite parts of drinking a glass of wine is the aroma as the glass approaches my nose. Encourage your guests to smell the wine. Suggest they try to identify some of the aromas. A trick someone once taught me is to forget it’s wine. Pretend you are being presented with something you cannot see and try to identify it by smell. It really works! The more you try it, the more natural it will become. Scent is a fun way to learn more about wines.

Taste (Sip and Savor)

Take a big sip and let it sit in your mouth for a few seconds. Drink it slowly so it coats your taste buds and the aromas reach your nasal cavity. This is how you’ll experience the nuances of each glass. How did it taste when you first sipped? What about as it made it’s way down your throat? Or after you swallowed?

Then there is the finish… ah, the finish… Think of this as related to after taste and the length of time that the taste and texture remain in your mouth. How long can you taste the alcohol and feel the remnants on your tongue? A few seconds? Maybe as long a minute.

Savor it and allow yourself the time and attention to enjoy.


Repeat the first three steps for each wine!

The tasting sheets

Wine tasting sheets are a must! You can create your own, buy them from a store or online, or download our free Wine tasting sheets. They serve as a way to record your experience of each wine and are a great source of conversation. I prefer a simple sheet, written in laymen’s terms.

The tasting sheet should provide an area at the top for information about each wine. If it’s a blind testing, these lines should be left blank until the event is over. The guests can then fill it in based on the wine information sheets you provide. Otherwise, this area can be pre-populated. You would typically include the wine’s name, the grape or grapes, vintage, winery, region or country, and price per bottle. This information will be helpful to your guests when they’re trying to remember which wines they liked and disliked.

Include some additional questions to lead guests through the tasting. Some of my favorites are:

  • What are two scents you smell in this wine?
  • Rate this wine on a scale of 1 to 5. Provide an entertaining scale from “Spit it Out” to “Want to Steal the Bottle” rather than just a numeric.
  • Is this wine sweeter or drier than the previous wine?

Questions like this not only help the taster to focus on qualities in the wine, it also encourages learning. The more we learn about wine, the more accessible it becomes.

Supplies needed

  • Seating for each of your guests
  • Wine glasses
  • Ice buckets for white wines
  • Ice
  • Food to pair with each wine
  • Water crackers or other palette cleanser
  • Personal spittons
  • Tasting sheets
  • Pens/Pencils
  • Wine glass markers or wine charms
  • Small plates, forks, and napkins for food
  • Water bottles
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Label covers for blind tastings
  • Wine!

If the price of the event is prohibitive, it is okay to be open with your guests about cost. Everyone knows that buying five to eight bottles of wine isn’t cheap. If you prefer to select the wine yourself, but cannot afford to buy it all, consider asking guests to pay per head or identify the wines and assign a bottle to each guest. If you can swing the costs, I’m sure your guests will appreciate that as well. Who doesn’t love free wine?

Have fun and be safe

However you organize your event, have fun and be safe. Learn something if you can but don’t get hung up on formalities. Wine tastings are a great way to try wines that you may otherwise not get a chance to enjoy. Use these events as a way to grow your wine options and explore different grapes, regions, and vintages. Expand your wine horizons.

Refresh this page to sign up for our free at home wine tasking kit which includes tasting sheets, pairing sheets for chocolate and cheese, a decorative ‘Wine Time’ banner, bottle tags, and instructions. Everything you need to run your event like a pro!


4 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Hosting a Wine Tasting at Home

  1. This is something I have wanted to do for years. Thank you for the great suggestions and breakdown on “How to” host the event. I look forward to having a few family members and friends who enjoy wine.

  2. Thank you so much,great information… I would like the Free wine tasting kit but it stated to subscribe and that means there will be a bill .Right??Patricia Koch

    1. Hi Patricia, there is no cost to subscribe. The subscription is to my mailing list. I occasionally send new blog posts or a newsletter.

      You made a good point. With the rapid growth is “subscription services”, I should clarify my sign up. Thank you for your note and enjoy your wine tasting kit!

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