Please note: This is a continuation of our series “An idiots guide to hosting a wine tasting”! If you haven’t read Part 1 yet then you can check it out here!
Setting the scene
An often overlooked aspect of any wine tasting is setting the scene for the event. It can be a very easy mistake to make to assume that once you’ve chosen and obtained the wine that the hard work is done – in reality, this is far from true.
Let’s get the obvious one out the way first – absolutely make sure that you have ample wine glasses! Sure, most people have wine glasses…but do most people have 20? I always find it’s best to assume that at least one or two glasses will get broken during the event too. It rarely happens, but it’s significantly better to have a couple of spares knocking around than forcing guests to share glasses mid-way through an event. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t exclusively limited to particularly rackus events – we once had the first guest to arrive trip and drop his glass onto the floor before any wine had even been consumed! If you’re on the lookout, you can get some great wine glasses delivered straight to your door from online stores like Amazon.
Another key aspect to consider is whether or not you intend people to drink the wine. In our opinion, it’s significantly more fun if you do, but with limitations like hosting events on work nights or guests with young children to return to etc, often people may wish to spit rather than drink. It’s always safest to have a couple of spittoons around the place in case a guest would rather not drink – or just in case they really dislike the wine they’re trying!
If you’re going to be mixing white and red wines then the ideal situation is to give each guest a white wine glass and a red wine glass. However, if you’re hosting an event for 25 people then needing to buy ~60 wine glasses can seem like a bit of overkill. If guests will be using the same glass (and you’re mixing wines) then it’s absolutely essential to have both spittoons and ample jugs of water so guests can rinse their glass between wines. We’d really recommend always doing this to avoid previous wines clouding the new bottle, but admittedly we have seen it work without when you’re doing a strict subset of the same kind of wines and only having very small glasses (mouthful tastings).
To food or not to food, that is the question
While this might seem obvious, there are actually a lot of factors at play here. Please remember, initially, that food can dramatically alter the taste and perception of wines – and some more than others. This is fine, but something to bear in mind if you’re planning on serving a meal or even canapés during the tasting.
Not serving food is definitely the safest option, but (and especially if people are drinking the wine) this can lead to things getting out of hand relatively fast! It’s a great idea to at least provide some kind of incredibly light refreshment (cheese and crackers) if this will give guests the option of something to soak up a bit of the wine.
If you would like to serve food, you’ll need to decide whether you’d prefer to serve a full meal or just canapés or finger food. A full meal is (paradoxically) often significantly less effort unless you’re lucky enough to be hosting with a caterer, but can also serve to disrupt the momentum of the wine tasting significantly more than serving some light food.
Our preference, if you have the time, money, and effort, would be to serve a small canapé alongside each wine you have in the tasting. This can be great fun, and you can specifically identify foods which will pair well with the wines in your selection. If you’re opting for this route, you’ll definitely want to prep significantly far ahead – honestly, maybe considering spending a full evening the day before your event just to prep.
Pro tip – If you’re going down this route then ask the guests to taste each wine at least twice, once before eating the canapé and once after. It’s truly an amazing way to illustrate how significantly food can alter the taste, enjoyment, and even mouthfeel of the wine.
“Surely this is one of the most important and basic aspects of literally any event” I hear you cry? Well, you aren’t wrong. However, specifically for a wine tasting it’s an aspect we feel is absolutely vital to get right. Guests are unreliable, and maintaining a good momentum is of paramount importance.
Specifically in the case where guests are contributing financially, it is understandable if there is frustration arising if a guest arrives a little late and misses out on tasting some of the more expensive wines.
As such, we’d recommend officially ‘starting’ the event at least 1-2h prior to when you’d like to start the actual tasting. This will give you a bit of time to get everything in order and set clear expectations which allow for late arriving guests (and let’s be real, some always will).