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20114April

How to host a blind wine tasting


Here, the kind of blind tasting party I’m talking about is where everyone brings wine along a theme — the wines are then bagged and distinguishing features hidden.

Blind tastings can be super fun IF your guests are into wine and game to learn more.

They are not fun if your guests prefer beer or cocktails and are more interested in drinking. Before hosting a blind tasting, know your audience. (Of course, my ladies are always up for a little palate challenge, I’m lucky like that.)

I recommend keeping your tasting party small, 6-8 folks is the perfect amount. Any more and you can develop palate fatigue or not all people will be able to taste each wine. When inviting, ask your guests not to wear perfumes. You’ll need your sniffers for this one.

One person at the party opens all the wines, removing the foil and cork. Then they bag each wine and label it. It’s best if this is someone who doesn’t want to participate in the tasting part of the party — if everyone does, then the job of secret-keeper falls to the host.

Guests then taste through the wine, writing notes and comparing what they find. Tiny pours, please, and if you feel you’ve tasted enough of the wine, feel free to dump the rest out in the dump bucket and rinse your glass.

More fun? Make your blind tasting a competition. After wines are revealed, guests can then revel in their wine superiority or drink away their shame.

The fun of blind tastings is that only one person knows what wine is inside of which bag. Everyone is tasting without benefit of label pretension. This is good.

It also means most all of your guests are at a level playing field and can actually relax and focus on what the wine TASTES like instead of what it’s supposed to taste like from the label.

As you know from my work with Cheesewhizzes, and Joanie Loves Bocce, I love a good theme so here they are:

Five themes for your blind wine tasting.

Price fixing. Guests bring wines at a specific price points. “$30-$40 wines,” “Wines $10 and less.” Guests taste and rank their favorites.

Not like the other. After sending the guests a varietal or theme, “Merlot,” “Wine under $15,” “Napa,”  Have one bottle that is different (in grape variety) from the others and ask the guest to find it.

Varietal show. Assign a different varietal to each guest. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are good wines to start with. Guess which wine goes with which varietal.

Sense of place. Pick a region. Bordeaux, Chile or Australia are good places to start.

Turn, turn, turn. Have guests bring the same wines from different years. You’ll want to give direction with varietal (Chardonnay) and place (Sonoma). Give a range of years and see how your guests surprise you.

You’ll need a few items on hand before you begin

  • Paper bags and tape, to secure the bags to the bottles
  • Paper for tasting notes and pens*
  • Wine glasses for all.
  • Water jug for rinsing glasses.
  • Dump bucket – or container for dumping wine.
  • Water crackers or French bread for palate cleansing.
  • A prize for the winner.

A few things to remember when covering the bottles:
Remove the capsule around the top of the wine bottle completely as might just blow the secret identity of your wine.

Label the bottles A, B, C – it can get confusing if you’re ranking bottles or scoring them on 1-10 if the bottles are also numbered.

Hide the corks or enclosures. Corks often have the name of the vineyard, producer or vintage printed on them. Open the bottles before bringing them to the table.

* Better yet put together a little tasting note guide and answer sheet for your guests. Your night will be much easier – these little notes can help save you from lots and lots of explaining. Plus, your guests could learn a little bit more about wine.

Any additional blind tasting themes are welcomed here. I’m always on the lookout for new themes.

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4 Responses to How to host a blind wine tasting
  1. I held a few blind-tasting parties, and no one really cared what the results were; we just enjoyed the wine and hanging out. And these were my wine-nerd friends! Oh well.

    Just thought I’d mention the potential outcome. I like your suggestion to limit the number of guests; our parties often include an equal number of people who won’t be participating because they don’t drink, or don’t like wine at all.

    Oh, we did try this with sake, too! Fun.

  2. Yes, we find that a lot with Cheesewhizzes — trying to round up people (TO INFORM THEM ABOUT INFORMATION) who just want to hang out isn’t always the best approach.

    Sake sounds perfect. I just enjoyed a night of sake and realized I don’t know nearly enough about it.

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  4. Nice ideas! Another twist is to have only three bottles (or multiples of this if guests outnumber the amount of pours from a bottle) and choose a rather cheap wine, then:
    1. open one 24 hours before the tasting is to take place as well as decant it at least once for proper airing, then pour back into its bottle(s)

    2. open the second and decant, pour back, a few hours before the tasting (such as one might do around lunch or early afternoon if guests would arrive around 7 pm for dinner)

    3. open the last one and decant, pour back, right before the tasting

    This way you can show how airing can “save” an even cheaper wine by letting it develop.

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