I’ve always thought it would be cool if I could take a sip of wine at a blind wine tasting one day and confidently say, “This is a lovely merlot,” or “What a bold cab this is,” with out being told what the wine is. I can count on one hand how many times in my life I’ve correctly identified a wine just by taste. It’s difficult, but it’s also super fun to try.
Wine is a big part of our life. We travel to various wine regions around the world to taste and learn about the wines that are produced there. We have a pretty awesome wine wall at home that we choose a bottle from most nights to enjoy with dinner. We go to our local wine store often to try new wines. But despite all that tasting, we still have a long way to go when it comes to blindly identifying wines.
Being able to correctly identify wine takes years of practice that includes tasting a lot of wines in order to build your ability to detect the slightest of nuances in taste, smell and viscosity.
Blind wine tasting is a great way to expand your skills and get more confident. Seldom do we come across blind tasting events to participate in. So don’t wait for someone else to put one together – we host it yourself!
You might also be interested in: learning how to host your own supper club.
Host Your Own Blind Wine Tasting Party
Six years ago now I started hosting a blind wine tasting party for my friends. No one invited was a master taster or even a fervent wine drinker. We were a mishmash of beer drinkers, weekend wine sipper and wannabes. The hope of correctly identifying the wines that I chose for the tasting was pretty slim, if possible at all. It being my first party, I wasn’t sure how difficult to make it, and admittedly I thought we’d be better at it than we were, so I made some difficult categories.
Despite the difficulty, it was one of the funnest parties I’ve ever hosted. No, not everyone was good at it, but we all put in our best effort, made our best guesses and laughed at ourselves when we heard the results. We’ve since held an annual blind wine tasting and it’s become somewhat of a legend among our friends.
In case you’re thinking it must be really difficult to put together a blind tasting party, or that you must be a wine wizard in order to choose the wines, let me just squash those pessimistic tendencies. It’s actually really easy and it’s fun for even the most uneducated of wine drinkers.
Set a Date and Invite Your Guests
Obviously the first step to organizing a party is setting a date and inviting guests. You can make it as formal or casual as you like.
- Set a Date – Choosing when to hold a blind wine party can depend on a number of factors. If it’s winter, aside from road-related problems, guests might not be excited to sip on cold white wines. If it’s summer and you’re holding the party outside, it might be too hot for guests to enjoy drinking the bolder red wines. We hold hold our party in April, since it offers neutral weather and people’s schedules tend to be lighter.
- Send Invitations – We tend to opt for Facebook invites and word of mouth to invite our guests. But sending formal paper invitations is a fancier option if you want to bump it up a notch. You could choose a theme for the party if you’re so inclined, and maybe even base your tasting on a specific country like Italy or France. Depending on the party space, make sure you don’t invite too many people. Guests need time to sip and ruminate on each wine. If there are too many people crowding the wine table, it’ll be difficult for guests to focus. If you want to invite a large number of people, just make sure to buy two or more bottles of each wine. We typically plan for 20-25 participants. One bottle of each wine covers about 30 guests.
Choose and Prepare the Wines
Next you need to do is choose the wines. We’ve determined that the ideal number of wines is six: three whites and three reds. In order to give a fair chance, they all need to be single varietal wines (blends would be impossible). We tend to mix up the varietals we choose each year so as to keep it unique and interesting. You also want to avoid picking three wines that are vastly different. This is where help from your local wine purveyor comes in handy if you don’t know a lot about wine varietals yourself. You could also visit wine.com and pick out your wines online.
1. Pick typical varietals
For your first blind wine tasting party, choose typical varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Syrah. Pinot Noir is often easy to identify due to its lighter body and color. Also, stick with local wines, if possible. Throwing in a wine from a different region that your guests aren’t used to can make it a dead giveaway. For instance, if you choose Malbec, Merlot and Pinot Noir, it’s highly likely that most people will know which one the Pinot Noir is.
2. Pick bottles that are similar
If you don’t intend to transfer the wine to different serving vessels like a decanter, choose bottles that look very similar. When choosing reds, for instance, pick all tall dark brown bottles with corks. If you want to participate in the blind tasting yourself, you don’t want to “cheat” by having 3 dissimilar bottles that you can easily identify. Make sure all of the bottles have either corks or screw caps. It’s a small detail, but you might easily remember which varietal you bought that had a screw cap.
An easy way to accomplish this is to buy three different varietals from the same winery if they use the same bottles for each. We’ve always been able to easily find similar bottles from different wineries, though.
3. Consider your price point
Obviously, wines vary greatly in price, and sometimes the price actually reflects the quality of the wine, not just the reputation of the winery. You’ll want to choose wines that are roughly similar in price and quality. Basically, don’t pit a $3 bottle against a $30 bottle. We try to stay in the $20 range.
4. Wrap the bottles
Each bottle needs to be wrapped so you can’t see the label. There are blind wine-tasting bags you can purchase from Amazon that have everything you’ll need to wrap the bottles.
We’ve also come up with a cheap method that allows the white bottles to be placed in the ice without ruining the bag. Use tinfoil to cover the main part of the bottle. Remember to also remove the wine foil from the bottle neck too.
Once the bottles are wrapped up, use clear packing tape to attach a label to each bottle. Whites are labeled 1-3, reds are labeled 4-6. If you want to avoid cheating, shuffle up the bottles and perhaps even let them be for a day or two before adding the labels, until you’ve forgotten which is which. I’ve created a label template that you can use on the bottles. Just download and print.
Preparing for the Party
Now that the wines are chosen, you can get down to the details of preparing for the party. You’ll need to decide if you’ll serve food or ask guests to bring food to share. I always use our party as a chance to try out new party food recipes that I’ve been collecting all year. I suggest keeping it as classy as possible, to match the mood. We serve finger foods, a selection of cheeses and fruits, a charcuterie plate and some light desserts.
I also like to put a label next to each of the food items so I don’t have to spend time repeatedly answering questions about the food. Here is a template you can download and use to make food labels (it’s a Microsoft Word document). Just type in the name of the dish, print, cut and fold.
Serving the Wine
A very important aspect of a successful wine party is how you serve the wine. We’ve attempted to use plastic cups for the tasting, but that didn’t work out. You need a proper glass in order to properly smell, swirl and taste wine. You can’t pick up on the nuances of the nose with a plastic cup, and you can’t swirl to see the color or the viscosity of the wine in plastic. It really has to be glass. So if you don’t have enough wine glasses for everyone, you’ll need to get your hands on more. Borrow from your friends, head to the Goodwill or purchase a large pack of wine glasses on Amazon. You can mix and match shapes and sizes, so don’t worry about them all being the same, unless you’re going for an really upscale experience.
Another thing to consider is whether the wine needs to be chilled or decanted.
If you choose all big, bold wines, you might consider transferring them each to a wine decanter (here’s one we like, if you don’t have one) and serving them that way. To avoid knowing which decanter holds which wine, make sure they are all the same size and shape. Most bold red wines benefit from breathing in a decanter for an hour or so before being served.
For the white wines, you’ll need a wine bucket and ice to keep the bottles chilled. Always keep extra ice available to replace it when it inevitably melts.
Lastly, make sure you have a way for your guests to tell their wine glasses apart. Guests are always setting down the glass and misplacing it.
Here are some products you might find helpful when putting together your blind wine tasting party.
Identifying the Wines
We’ve finally made it to the part we’ve all been waiting for. The tasting and identifying of the wines. We’ve found that the best way to go about this is to have your guests grab a glass of non-competition wine to start and mingle around until they’re ready to start blinding tasting the actual wines. We ask each guest to bring a bottle of wine they love to share with the group and we use those wines as “sip and mingle” wines.
You may choose to display all of the wines together on one table, or spread them out around the room. We tend to put the whites in one location in the ice bucket, then spread the red wine bottles throughout the room. This encourages mingling and keeps there from being a crowd around the wine table.
Each guest will need a tasting sheet. Feel free to download and use the tasting sheet template I made (it’s a Microsoft Word document, so you can replace the Varietal Name with the ones you’ve chosen). The sheet gives the varietal of all of the wines plus space for notes. Next to each varietal is a box where you will mark with # bottle you think it is.
We collect the completed sheets in a bowl and once everyone has finished, we privately take the tinfoil covers off the wine bottles and tally the scores. We then reveal the top three winners and can then choose a prize from three wine-related items we purchased for the party. And lastly, we reveal the bottles so everyone can check out the labels, try them again and have lively discussions on why they missed some and got others.
In the end, the effort put into organizing a blind wine tasting party is more than worth it, when you see your guests having such a great time. For months after each of our blind wine tasting parties, we receive tons of compliments on how fun it was and queries about when the next one will be. Perhaps we’ll have to make it a twice-yearly party now!
If you choose to put on your own blind wine tasting party, you and your friends will surely love it. Good luck! Once you’ve held your party, tell us about it in the comments, or if you have additional tips and techniques for putting on an awesome blind wine tasting party, share it below!
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.