HOLDING A WINE TASTING FOR FRIENDS
I've been involved in blind-tastings since the 1970s...I'm in
a group which has been meeting on a monthly basis and 2014 marks our 40th
Over the years, we have refined, streamlined and come close to perfecting this
sort of event.
When we started, one person was charged with "hosting" the tasting
and, in those days, the tasting was held at the host's residence. These
days, with members moving to far-flung locales, we now conduct these at one of
three member's homes which are centrally located in San Francisco.
Back when we started, the cost of the tasting would be divided amongst those in
attendance. Having a bunch of accountants as members of our group, they
quickly realized that when a member, or two, had bailed out, it stuck the rest
of us with a higher tab.
Now we assess everyone a set amount and one member of the group takes care of
the "book-keeping," reimbursing the host for the cost of the wines as
well as the bread and cheese provided at the tasting.
But perhaps you're not looking to start a group which meets on a regular
Once you've picked the date and time, the host should select the tasting theme.
Here are some basic suggestions:
(or specific appellations, such as Sonoma Chardonnays, Napa
Chardonnays, Santa Barbara Chardonnays, Monterey Chardonnays)
(or Napa versus Left Bank Bordeaux, Sonoma Cabernets,
California Cabernets, Cabernets Under $20, Stags Leap District
Cabernets, Oakville, Rutherford or Spring Mountain Cabernets,
Chilean Cabernets, Australian Cabernets, etc.)
(Or New Zealand Sauvignons, Sancerres, Loire Valley
Sauvignons, Austrian Sauvignon Blancs)
(Wines from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, California, Southern
Oregon. Yes, Southern Oregon is big on Tempranillo!)
(Pinots from a single region such as Sonoma Coast, Carneros,
Santa Barbara, Sta. Rita Hills, Pommard, Vosne-Romanee,
(Napa Zins, Sonoma Zins, Dry Creek Zinfandels, Paso Roble
(Wines from California...Piemontese Barbera, Barbera d'Alba,
Barbera del Monferrato, Barbera d'Asti)
(Riesling from Everywhere...or more specific regions:
Germany, Austria, Australia, California, Washington, New York, or
more specifically Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinpfalz, Nahe, Wachau,
(Bubblies from all over, or specific regions such as
"Champagnes," or "West Coast Sparklers," or
Italian Bubbles, Franciacorta, Prosecco, Spanish Cavas, German Sekts,
Bubbles from Great Britain, etc.)
(Tuscan reds, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico
Riserva, Vino Nobile, Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino, California
(Syrah from California, Santa Barbara Syrahs, Sonoma Syrahs,
Washington State Syrahs, Tuscan Syrahs, Northern Rhone Syrahs,
Cote-Rotie, Crozes Hermitage, Barossa Valley Shiraz, etc.)
(or specific Nebbiolo regions: Barolo, Barbaresco,
Nebbiolo Langhe, Nebbiolo d'Alba, Roero, Lessona, Ghemme, Gattinara,
California Nebbiolo, etc.
As you can see, there are numerous themes for
tastings. Start with familiar themes and you can branch out to do
a tasting of Mourvedre wines or Grenache-based reds...or more esoteric
tastings such as "Arneis," "Gruner Veltliners from Around
the World," "Cabernets made by Left-Handed
Winemakers," "Zinfandels Vinified by Winemakers Sporting
Tattoos and/or Piercings," "Chardonnays with Critter
We asked each taster to bring their own glasses, so one person
isn't stuck washing a few hundred wine glasses.
Or you can rent stemware from a party rental service...
Tasters should bring a set of decent wine glasses and theses should be of
similar design. Tasting one wine out of a 22 ounce Bordeaux glass and
another wine from a jelly jar severely hampers one's ability to actually fairly
evaluate the wines...
You might want to provide a few spit buckets for people who don't wish to
Alternatively, some of us bring a large coffee mug with our box of wine glasses
so we can spit and dump out excess wine.
We had placemats printed with circles on which to set each
glass, marked "A," "B," "C," "D,"
"E," "F," "G" and "H" as we typically
taste 8 wines.
Alternatively, you can put a sticker on the base of each glass or use a
felt-tipped marking pen and mark each glass with the appropriate letter.
You will need to create some documents for your tasting.
We typically create a list of the wines being tasted, listed in alphabetical
order by winery name or brand name.
HERE TO GET A TEMPLATE OF SUCH A DOCUMENT
Your guests will appreciate having a document onto which
they can make notes and figure out their ranking of the wines...here you go:
SCORE SHEET DOCUMENT
Here's a little sheet onto which
each taster jots down their rankings so whomever is tabulating these can
transcribe them onto the master tally list (below)...there are 6 to a page, so
you'll need a pair of scissors to cut that document into half-a-dozen chits...
TASTER'S RANKING SHEET
Here's a master page onto which your accounting person can transcribe
everyone's ranking so they can be tabulated.
THE RESULTS...ADD EVERYONE'S RANKING ON THIS
We typically wait to hand out these various papers until the wines have been
poured, as someone will invariably spill wine on them if they're handed out
You will usually have to explain to people, especially first-timers, that the
roster of wines is listed in alphabetical order...not the order in which we are
tasting them, "A" though "H."
We prefer a fresh baguette sliced into small pieces as a
palate cleanser to deal with palate fatigue.
Some people like celery sticks for this purpose.
Graber Green Olives are marvelous for refreshing the palate...
...as they're not too salty, they're not in a vinegary brine and they seem to
eliminate the harsh after-effects of tannic acid on your palate.
At our Vino Fino tastings, we usually have a few bowls of
cheese, cut into small morsels. The host usually finds some blocks of
Cheddar or Jack Cheese for this, But remember the old adage in the wine
The notion here is that apples have a lot of acidity, so they
can freshen and sharpen your palate, while cheese 'dulls' the palate and so it
can allow even a very modest wine to be appealing to some tasters.
We typically figure one baguette for 4 people.
In Burlingame, The Copenhagen Bakery will slice their lovely sweet or sourdough
baguettes for you.
HERE FOR THEIR WEB SITE
We typically schedule our tastings to begin at 7pm.
For me personally, I prefer to 'taste' while being a bit hungry, as dining
before the tasting dulls your ability to taste sharply and critically.
I go get something to eat after our tastings, but some people who are less fussy
like to dine before the tasting.
You won't be able to differentiate between the wines if the room smells of
garlic or a chicken that's roasting in the oven.
Similarly, if the people attending the tasting have splashed themselves with
cologne, after-shave, perfume, lotion, skin moisturizers or they're wearing
clothing that's exposed to those hugely fragrant "fabric softener
sheets," you will not easily be able to judge the aroma and bouquet of the
Please! No perfume! No scented candles! No fabric
softener! No lotion! No After Shave!!!
You'll want to chill the white wines or bubblies, of course.
I like to remove these bottles from the refrigerator 15-30 minutes before the
tasting. When the wines are too cold, the aromas are restrained and it's
difficult to evaluate them.
Similarly, on a warm day, red wines don't taste so good when they are at ambient
room temperature and are 75-80 degrees. I like to put those in the 'fridge
for 30 to 60 minutes so they're served at cool, cellar temperature (55-60
Keep in mind:
Cold Temperatures make Sweet Wines Taste Drier
Cold Temperatures make red wines taste more
astringent and tannic
Some people like to open certain wines to allow them to "breathe."
Opening a bottle and exposing the surface area of a dime to allow the wine to
breathe does not make any significant changes in the wine.
( I tested tasters by sometimes opening and double decanting the bottles to
aerate them...when I'd told them the wines were "just opened," someone
would comment on them "needing to breathe." )
In any case, why not taste the wines by opening them at the moment of service,
much like the consumer who's purchased a bottle: they'll open it and start
drinking/enjoying the wine.
If you notice the wine seems to be changing (and sometimes the question is
"Is the wine that's changing or me who's simply noting different features
or characteristics of a wine?"), you can note that on your score sheet as
part of your tasting notes.
We broke too many wine glasses when the tasters were blind-folded, so
now we brown bag or wrap the bottles so the wines are tasted
PLEASE REMOVE THE FOIL CAPSULE FROM EACH BOTTLE TO FURTHER
HIDE OR OBSCURE THEIR IDENTITY.
You can't do much with bottles which are sealed with a screw-cap, though.
You will want to make the wines "anonymous," so brown-bagging them is
one way to accomplish this as part of your blind-tasting regimen.
More recently, I've found aluminum foil makes for an easy way
to "hide" the bottles.
Once everyone has arrived and set up their tasting glasses,
we're ready to pour.
Now everyone should receive a similar-sized pour, so you may wish to invest in a
set of "shot glasses" and ask people to pour an ounce-and-a-half or
two ounces into the shot glass and dump it into their wine glass.
Some tasters will bring 10 to 14 ounce glasses to taste, a normal size for such
But there are those who invest in large, fancy stemware and a small pour into a
22 ounce glass looks like a meager serving.
To preclude those bringing the ostentatious glasses from hogging the wines, a
measuring device such as a shot glass is a good idea, especially if you're
trying to squeeze 12 to 16 "pours" out of each bottle.
If your group is a mere 6 or 8 people, you might not need a measuring device.
The more distractions you have, the more difficult it is to
evaluate the wines which any degree of clarity.
Having soft classical music as background sound is fine, but having the TV on
with a ball game in progress will make focusing attention on the wines a
We ask tasters to refrain from discussing the wines. This will allow for a
more natural and true "result" for the group ranking.
Having someone blurt out "Gee, that Wine F sure is a stinker!" will
cause others to re-evaluate their assessment of that wine. Since some
people feel pressured to conform, they may move Wine F from its first place
perch on their score sheet down to a bottom-of-the-heap ranking solely on the
basis of the blowhard who forced an opinion on the group.
We will usually discuss our findings and what elements we liked or disliked
about the wines as we unveil them. And we can chit-chat after the tasting,
but doing so during the tasting only distracts tasters from doing their best
critiquing of the wines.
You will need to explain to the tasters that the sole
requirement at this point is to "rank the wines in order of their
We don't care if you're 'rating' the wines using a 20-point, UC Davis scale or
Robert Parker's 100 Point wine scoring system.
Me? I simply write down adjectives to describe each wine and I put a star
or two or three in the boxes to note wines I think are worthy of attention.
I rarely find "3 star" wines, but some wines merit a star or two, some
merit a half-a-star and some are noted as "minus" a star for wines
which are poor.
But it makes no difference how people "score" or evaluate the
wines...all we need is their ranking and this is a universal scale.
A rank of "1" is their first place or favorite wine of the tasting.
A ranking of "8" is their least favorite.
You will need each taster to fill out their tally sheet or chit with
"A" though "H" on the left column and their rankings on the
If "Wine A" is your least favorite, then
please write "8" next to it.
If "Wine B" is your favorite, then please write "1" next to
And so forth....
But: No Ties.
Each tasting sheet should have a set of rankings with all the numbers between 1
and 8. Don't screw up the results with two 5th place rankings, for
For a set of 8 wines, typically it takes most people 20 to 40
minutes to come to some sort of conclusion or verdict in terms of their
Each tasters then fills out their ranking or verdict sheet and
passes it down to whomever is charged with tallying the numbers.
First, be sure each tally sheet has all 8 numbers on it, one to eight...no
ties...often I'll find someone inadvertently has two wines ranked fourth, fifth
To be sure you're spot-on correct: the total number of points, adding the
score of each wine, will be a number divisible by 36.
Ten tasters will have a total, then, of 360 points.
Low score wins.
In the event two or three wines are tied with the same number of points for a
particular spot in the rankings, the "tie breaker" is the greater
number of first place votes.
If those wines are still tied, then go to the greater number of second place
Once you've tallied the results, now you can unveil the wines and see who is the
king of the hill.
We typically unveil the wines last place to first, one wine at
We'll call out which wine finished last...tell the group "Wine F finishes
last. It had 60 points, with no first place votes, 1 second place vote
from Tim and three last place votes from Gerald, Jack and Mark."
One bit of horse-racing, if you like. My colleagues call this the
"Delta," the differential between your ranking and the group's
A low Delta can mean you have pedestrian taste in wine or you're closing in on
being a Master Sommelier!
To Calculate This: If Wine A was your 8th and the group's 5th, that's 3
points. If you ranked Wine B 3rd and it finished third, that's
"zero" and you're still at 3 points. If Wine C was your 1st
place wine and it finished second, add one point to the column, so now you'd be
And so on and so on.
This has no real meaning, but some tasters are especially thrilled to have a low
Delta, while the fellow whose Delta is 24 (it's always an even number when you
have 8 wines) feels like a complete and total failure.
Sometimes we'd offer everyone a "Post-Tasting" wine...a "bonne
Bouche" if you like.
If we'd just been tasting big reds, a nice fruity, sweet white can be
If we've tasted dry whites and it's a cool weather season, perhaps a Port might
At this stage you can discuss who's hosting the next tasting
and what the theme might be...
Some friends overseas take turns in hosting...the tastings might be on a
Saturday, late afternoon, early evening and dinner is provided after the
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