Hosting a Wine Tasting at Home

Inviting friends to a wine tasting at home is an informal way to socialize, share some good food and wine, and maybe learn a little something in the process. You don’t need to make it a serious, professional-style tasting with white tablecloths and score sheets unless you want to. All but the most die-hard tasters will appreciate a relaxed approach.

Suggested do’s and don’ts:

From Karen MacNeil, chairman of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, California:

Choosing your theme:

Selecting a theme for your wine tasting gives it direction and makes it more of a learning opportunity. There’s little to be gained from comparing "apples and oranges."

Should you take notes?

Watching a professional evaluate a wine can be an intimidating, if fascinating, experience. Accomplished tasters find aromas, flavors, attributes and flaws in wine that amateurs often can’t discern. It’s not that such people have more sensitive taste buds or sharper noses. It’s that they’re paying attention.

Taking notes on wine may seem tedious, but it forces you to concentrate and helps you fix an impression, or taste memory, of the wine. If you hope to become a better wine taster, making notes is good exercise. As you develop a wine vocabulary and become familiar with the aromas and flavors that various wines typically offer, your note taking will become easier and more rewarding. "Ah-ha," you’ll say to yourself. "Another grassy Sauvignon Blanc."

Here are some of the features of wine that professionals routinely evaluate. If you like, make a tasting grid for your guests with space to comment on each of these aspects for each wine in the tasting.

Sharing results: to rate or to rank?

So your guests have finished tasting and making their notes. Now it’s time to share results. Hearing what others liked and hated, and why, can be the most enlightening part of a tasting

In professional groups, tasters may be asked to rank the wines, putting them in order of most to least favorite. Or they may rate the wines, assigning a numerical value to each, most likely on a 20-point scale.

You and your guests may feel more comfortable with a simpler system.