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How to Do a Wine Tasting at Home

Model 11 holiday wine tasting virutal

Face it: wine is complicated.

From grape to glass, there’s a lot to know -- all of which can influence the way a wine tastes. The more you try, the more you know! Attending a wine tasting facilitated by a wine educator like me or setting one up for your friends and family on your own can be a great way to learn while you spend time together. (Plus, as the wine starts flowing, the pressure to accurately call aromas and flavors goes way down!)

Trying multiple wines side by side can help even the most seasoned wine pro distinguish differences between vineyards, grape clones, wine styles, and growing seasons. For those of us not trying to take the first place prize in a blind tasting competition, it can be a great way to get introduced to new grape varieties in new styles from new regions.

Read on for how you can coordinate your own tasting -- with or without an educator to lead you.

Setting up a wine tasting at home

There are a few things you’ll need to have on hand to facilitate a wine tasting, and the first is the most obvious: wine! Typically, one standard 750ml bottle will be enough for 10-12 guests to sample the wine (2-ounce pours are standard for tasting).

Beyond the vino, you’ll want some glassware. I recommend having more than one glass available per person so you can go back and forth as you sample different wines. Not enough glassware? In a pinch, you can use tumblers or plastic tasting cups, but for the full experience, treat yourself and your guests to some stemmed glassware that will allow you to swirl and sniff your wine as you taste it. You can also turn a wine tasting into a glass-swap: ask each guest joining you to bring two glasses they’re willing to sip from and trade, and then everyone can head home with a new tasting set (a best practice is to make sure each set is two of the same glasses so each guest can evaluate wines side-by-side in the same glassware).

Here are a few other items I recommend having on hand:

  • A white piece of paper: This will serve as a backdrop so you can evaluate the color of each sample.

  • Somewhere to take notes: After a few samples you’ll start forgetting what you thought about the first wine you tried.

  • Blind tasting bags to cover wine labels: These are in case you want to remove any bias about the wines you’re trying.

  • Snacks to sip with: Definitely have these – otherwise, things will get silly real fast.

  • Water: The most common reason for morning-after headaches? Dehydration.

Here’s what you should avoid:

  • Perfume, cologne or scented candles: These will interfere with your ability to smell the aromas of each wine. Since 80% of what we consider taste is actually aroma, this is significant. It’s time to ditch the Daisy by Marc Jacobs, if only for one night.

  • Pouring full glasses of everything: When you’re leading a tasting on your own, it can be hard not to split the entire bottle of each wine amongst your group. Don’t do it! You’ll be drunk by the second wine and the attentiveness you need to intentionally taste wine will be long gone.

  • Wasting wine: If you’re not pouring full glasses of each wine you’re sampling, you might be able to more adequately describe the wines you try, but you’re likely going to have several leftover bottles. Coravin can help! Snag a Coravin Timeless system and avoid opening multiple bottles at once.

Wine tasting 101

Now that you’re set up – you have your wines, your glassware, your accessories, and you’ve nixed all of the holiday-scented candles – what's next?

When you’re sampling a few wines side-by-side, it’s important to evaluate the following attributes:

  • Aromas

  • Flavors

  • Acid

  • Tannin

  • Alcohol

  • Body

Many producers have this information on their website or on the wine’s tech sheet. Use those as guidance but test your nose and taste buds first.

Understanding your own wine palate

Ultimately, wine tastings are about discovering what you like about certain wines. Understanding your own palate can help you feel more confident in a wine shop or at a restaurant, and can expand your wine horizons. When you learn that you like a new grape or varietal, this new knowledge opens you up to thousands of new bottles.

The key to wine tasting is having fun and getting out of your comfort zone. Trying new wines will open up your mind to new places, styles, and pairings you’ll revisit over and over again. However you decide to do it, have fun -- and let Coravin (and me!) help you do it right!

If this all sounds overwhelming to do on your own, don’t worry. I’m here to help. The foundation philosophy of Viva la Vino is that wine is only good if you like it. Book a tasting with me through my website and I’ll choose some wines and guide you through the whole process.

Brielle Buckler (she/her), founder of Viva la Vino (on Instagram as @vivalavino_nyc) , is a wine enthusiast who loves rare varietals, busting wine myths, and making the world of wine more approachable. While Brielle is typically based in the NYC area, she has been traveling the country by car for the past year, hosting virtual wine tastings from the road (check out her brick background – it’s a backdrop she brings with her!). The philosophy of Viva la Vino is that wine is only good if you like it, and Brielle is passionate about helping wine drinkers of all levels understand what qualities they prefer in wine and why. She wants to help others be more confident ordering wine in a restaurant or asking for recommendations in a wine shop. Brielle currently holds her WSET II certification and is waiting to sit for her WSET III exam.