Many companies, from small businesses to large ones, treat employees to an entertaining and educational guided wine tasting experience with the sommeliers.
After organizing hundreds of such events, our team has come up with a comprehensive list of best practices and creative ideas for a successful wine event.
Step by step to organize a wine tasting
A. Selection of wines
1. It is best to have 8 to 10 different wines for a tasting. Guests should taste wines in rounds of two, side by side, to appreciate the contrast in flavors.
2. Accordingly, you must provide two glasses of wine for each guest. (We recommend that you hire a Sommelier).
3. One bottle per wine is enough for a maximum of 12 people. For 8-10 different wines, that means 8-10 bottles in total. For every additional 12 guests, you will need to have an additional bottle of each wine, to ensure that everyone receives a satisfactory pour.
4. A bottle contains approximately 13 pours of two ounces each. It's a good tasting portion, although guests should be advised not to drink the two ounces of the 8-10 wines! Pour buckets must be available for any unfinished samples.
5. The world has a great diversity of wine flavors to show you and your guests, and it is best to learn to appreciate wines in contrast. Nor does it cost more to show wines from around the world.
6. It is common to have a sparkling wine (usually Champagne, Cava or Prosecco) as the welcome drink, although you will need to provide flute-shaped glasses for this.
7. We recommend showing two or three white wines and six to seven red wines. Most people prefer reds, but a few diverse whites will make a full tasting.
8. When selecting specific wines, take advantage of the important classic grape and region combinations, and remember to keep it diverse. Here are some suggestions:
- Chardonnay from Chablis (France)
- Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre (France)
- Riesling from Mosel (Germany)
- Viognier de Condrieu (France)
- Torrontes from Argentina
- Chenin Blanc de Vouvray (France), or South Africa
- Gewürztraminer from Alsace (France)
- Albariño from the Rías Baixas (United States)
- Pinot Noir from Burgundy (France), Oregon or New Zealand
- Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux (France), or Napa Valley
- Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley (France)
- Syrah from the Rhone Valley (France), or Australia
- Sangiovese ("Chianti" or "Brunello di Montalcino") from Tuscany (Italy)
- Nebbiolo de Barolo or Barbaresco (Italy)
- Tempranillo from La Rioja (United States)
- Garnacha from the south of the Rhone Valley (France)
- Gamay de Beaujolais (France)
- Carménère from Chile
- Malbec from Argentina
- Zinfandel from Paso Robles (California)
9. If you hire a sommelier, let him help you choose individual wines. You have tasted many wines and you know which producers and vintages will show up well at tasting time, giving you the best quality for your chosen budget.
10. Avoid buying wine in a supermarket. They tend to be more expensive and of lower quality than what a good wine store offers, and they generally lack a good overall selection.
11. Consider a sweet or fortified wine for the end of the night, such as Sauternes dessert wine or Port. It's even better to pair it with dessert: maybe the crème brûlée with Sauternes or the chocolate cake with Porto.
B. The tasting format
1. Setting a theme for your tasting and announcing it in advance can generate excitement and get your guests in the right mood for the tasting. Maybe:
- Key grapes from around the world
- Wines rated 95 and above
- Italian wines
- One night in Tuscany
- Old World vs. The new World
- United States vs. France
- Italy vs. Argentina
- Exploring the southern hemisphere
- Wine and food pairing (serve a great appetizer with each wine)
- Vintage wines that match the anniversary or birthday theme.
2. Maybe your friends don't care much about wine? Offer them a whiskey tasting, tasting Scotch whiskey, Bourbons, among others.
3. Consider making the event more mysterious (and perhaps competitive) with a blind tasting format. Simply place each bottle of wine in a numbered paper bag, and allow guests to try to determine which wine is which, based on past experience or textbook clues about how each wine should taste.
4. Bring in a sommelier, wine educator or keynote speaker to lead the tasting, teach guests to taste blind, or host a wine-mixing competition to make your event social, partially educational, and totally memorable.
5. Choose between an informal approach with tasting stations or a more focused sit-down dinner event with choreographed, course-by-course presentations.
6. If you are reluctant to host the event at home, consider using a restaurant. With many, you can simply buy them dinner and they'll give you a private room and corkage service (for any outside wine) at a reasonable cost.
7. If you decide to have guests bring a bottle of wine each, provide clear guidelines on the type of wine (combination of grape and region) and the price level, to avoid unpleasant surprises. (In our experience, this is not the best format to choose.)
C. Food Pairing Considerations
1. The theme of the event and the wines should correspond with (or at least not diverge too much) from the type of food you are preparing. Many wines are to be enjoyed with food (i.e. most French and Italian wines) and are best paired with the cuisine of their place of origin.
2. Paired tastings of cheese, charcuterie, honey, and dark chocolate often complement wine selections well. If you have access to an outdoor space, a guided cigar tasting (perhaps with live cigar rollers) can also be exciting. There are also other types of tastings such as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tea, jam, coffee and more.
D. Recommended wine budget
1. Plan to spend between $ 20 and $ 90 per person for quality wines.
2. Our typical recommendation for an awesome tasting is $ 50 per person.
E. Logistics and configuration
1. Chill white wines (ideally on ice) before and throughout the event.
2. Place pouring buckets throughout the venue so guests can dispose of unwanted wine. (This is especially important if there is a lot of wine available!)
3. Special pens can be purchased at most wine stores to temporarily write guests' names on glasses, or to number bottles with covered labels for a blind tasting.
4. Avoid using glassware near a pool by keeping guests away from the area. Or, if the theme is summer or outdoor-focused, consider using plastic glassware.
5. Take care that your guests don't drink too much, drink and drive. Pouring with a little flavor can help, as well as encouraging the use of pouring buckets, providing plenty of water, and cutting down on the tasting component before the gathering ends.
F. Complete list of supplies
- Location and adequate space for the event.
- Tables and chairs (for seated events)
- Tasting stations (one 6-10 foot table per station, for reception style events)
- High tables or other furniture, in case of reception-style events
- Table covers, and other decorations.
- Wines or spirits for tasting.
- Wine glasses (2 per person for seated events, 1 for reception-style events)
- Ice cubes or cooling box
- Ice (often necessary for white wine, beer, and whiskey tastings)
- Discharge buckets
- Paper and pens (for attendees to take notes).
- Wine glass markers
- Mini plates and forks as well as display plates for food / pairings.
- Bottles of water or glasses of water for attendees.
- Cleaning after the event.