The last blind wine tasting party that I attended was a casual event, and it was a blast, yet it was also a bit of a disaster. First, the host didn’t separate the wines by style, so I drank a mouthwatering glass of thick, robust Shiraz right before a glass of fragile white wine. I couldn’t even identify which white varietal I was tasting because my mouth was still coated in that delicious Mollydooker. To top it all off, the host didn’t provide any of us a spittoon, so by the end of the fourth tasting round, we were all fairly tipsy. Hosting a blind wine tasting party should be simple and fun, but if you want to use the party to develop your palate, you’ll need to take a few precautions first.
Picking Your Theme for a Wine Tasting Party
At least the host got one big thing right at that blind tasting party: she asked everyone to bring one bottle of wine worth at least $100. By sticking to those guidelines, she ensured that all of the wine would be of similar quality, and she made the process more entertaining for her guests. For just $100, each guest would get to try at least eight glasses of high-quality wine from different regions of the world, along with a catered plate of cheese and hors-d’oeuvres. That meant I didn’t have to worry about bringing my bottle of Beaux Freres Pinot Noir, only to have other guests bring Charles Shaw or Cupcake. If you don’t want to tell your guests how much to spend on the wine they bring, you can set a minimum average critic score instead. Ask your guests to only bring wines that received a minimum score of 95 or higher, for instance.
Another option is to host a blind wine tasting party for a particular varietal, region, or producer. This is an excellent option for experienced collectors and aspiring sommeliers because it’s good practice for your palate. To decide on which theme will work for your guests, consider your audience and their goals:
Aspiring Sommeliers: Ask guests to bring single varietal wines, then have your guests score the wine and guess the varietal and its region of origin.
Collectors Looking for New Producers: Choose a region to focus on. This will introduce guests to producers they might not have considered before.
Collectors Seeking the Best Vintages: Pick a producer and ask your guests to each bring one bottle from that producer from a specific year.
The Best Blind Wine Tasting Party Setup
Before your guests arrive, make sure that you have the following within easy reach:
- Decanter (in case one of the wines tastes closed-off)
- At least two corkscrews
- One large spittoon, or enough smaller spittoons for each guest (getting drunk severely impacts your ability to taste wine, so spittoons are essential)
- Individual notepads for your guests to score each wine and write tasting notes
You’ll also need to disguise the bottles before you try them. I use a set of plain burlap wine bags so that each bottle looks the same, but you can also wrap the bottles in tin foil or place them in paper bags. As a host, you have the option to do a “double-blind” tasting, or a regular blind wine tasting party. In a double-blind, everyone at the tasting (including yourself) only knows the bottle they brought–the others are a mystery. To do this, ask all of your guests to wrap their bottles in tin foil before they arrive so that you don’t see their wine. Shortly before serving, have your guests put their wine in two piles: one for whites and one for reds. If someone has an ultra-bold white, or an especially light red, they can put their bottle in the other pile. Put a number on each bottle, then taste them one-by-one, starting with the whites first.
A double-blind tasting is more fun for the host, but you run the risk of serving wine in a less-than-ideal order. You won’t be drinking reds before whites, but you might well end up tasting a thick, oaky Chardonnay before you get to the Chablis. If the tasting experience is your top priority, and you don’t mind not being surprised, you can host a regular blind wine tasting party instead. To do this, ask your guests to bring their bottles in a wine bag or carrier so that the other guests can’t see it, then take each bottle to your cellar or another room as your guests arrive. Look at the varietal and style of each wine, then decide what order to serve them in. Wrap the bottles in tin foil or bags and number them in their proper serving order. You’ll know which wines are which, but your guests will only know which bottle they brought.
The Best Wines to Bring
As a host or a guest at a blind wine tasting party, you shouldn’t bring your most treasured bottle to the event. The flavor profile of the wine matters far more than its market value, so choose wines that have an interesting, complex set of flavors, like Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon. You also shouldn’t bring your blue chip wines to blind tasting parties, unless the theme calls specifically for them. That’s because most serious collectors and wine lovers have already tried these wines. A tasting party should be about trying unusual varietals and wines from obscure regions. In addition, many collectors can instantly identify a bottle of Opus One or Yquem, which takes some of the fun out of guessing. Consider the guest list, and choose interesting, delicious wines that you think your peers haven’t tried yet. You might just introduce them to their next dream bottle.
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