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The holidays are a perfect time to gather a small group of family or friends for laughs and making memories. And what better way to celebrate than with a small wine tasting? Hosting an in-home wine tasting is a great way to get the best bang for your buck, while also learning about wines and enjoying each other’s company. Plus, the good news is it doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.

Here are a few tips for hosting the perfect in-home wine tasting.

In most cases, a smaller wine tasting is better. Smaller groups allow for better conversation and a more intimate gathering, and prevents you from having to purchase too much wine.

Wine and cheese
Walking into the wine section can be overwhelming. There are a number of factors you can base your theme around, but choosing one can help you focus the tasting and provide a better experience. Some themes you can build around include:

- Variety – Sample one wine variety from different regions. For example, choose a red variety, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, and purchase one from California, Tuscany, France, etc. 

- Value – Purchase bottles at the same price point. 

- Style – Keep the wines within the same style, such as “crisp, dry white wines,” “bold red wines” or “dessert wines.”

- Region – Choose a specific region and taste a variety of wines from the same area.  

A bottle of wine is about 24 ounces, and tastings should be about 2-3 ounces each. However, you should plan on guests wanting to re-taste some of the wines as well. It’s a good idea to plan for at least half a bottle of wine per person, though one bottle per person is also realistic. 

Wine choices

To host a perfect tasting, you should be prepared with the proper supplies, including:

- Clear Glassware – Supply at least one wine glass per person. Prior to guests arriving, use a polishing cloth on the glasses so they are clean and free of water spots or smudges.

- Palate Cleansers – Set out plain crackers or simple bread for cleansers between each tasting. 

- Spit Buckets – Have a place for guests to dispose of unwanted wine.

- Pens and Paper – Give guests an opportunity to take notes or write down favorites. 

- White Background – Use a white tablecloth or paper covering the table. Color is important when it comes to comparing wines, so a white background allows guests to see the color of their wines.

- Wine Opener and Stopper – Have a proper wine opener to make opening the bottles easy, and a stopper for the bottles you don’t finish.      

If you have a wine tasting at a winery or restaurant, they may tell you to follow a variation of the “five s’s”: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Savor. Encourage your guests to do this as well. 

Take time to see the wine, including the color and texture. Swirl the wine lightly around the glass, which makes the wine’s aromas easier to smell. Then, take a few seconds to sniff the wine, preparing your brain for the wine you’re about to taste. Sip the wine, and savor it. Roll it around your mouth so it comes in contact with all your taste buds, giving you a better opportunity to pick up subtle hints of flavor.

In most cases, you’ll want to plan light snacks or a meal to follow the tasting. Keep in mind that different types of wine pair (or don’t pair) well with certain types of food. For example, Chardonnays pair well with fatty fish, such as salmon, while Cabernet Sauvignon goes well with red meats such as steak.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can research how acids, tannins, and sugars in foods interact differently with wines. Wine can react or taste differently when paired with different chocolates, cheeses, fruits, and nuts. 

Be sure your guests know whether you’re planning light hors d'oeuvres or a full meal so they don’t arrive on an empty or full stomach.