How to Host a Wine Tasting

Last Update: December 21, 2023

Hosting a fun and memorable wine tasting doesn’t have to be complicated, and we’re here to help. With an impressive selection of clean wine to choose from (plus tasting tips from and easy recipe ideas), you’ll be swirling and sipping in no time. Plus, we reached out to our Master Sommelier, Josh Nadel, for his best planning, serving, and tasting recommendations.

3 Steps to the Best Wine Tasting Ever

Even for something relatively low-key, a little advance planning goes a long way. Here are four easy steps to keep things simple for your next wine tasting.

Step 1: Choose Your Theme

There are lots of ways to organize your tasting, so pick what sounds the most fun to you. Here are a few ideas:

  • Country: Sample wines from the same country, like France, Spain, or New Zealand.
  • Region: Choose a country to explore, then pick wines from different appellations, like different Grenache from Southern Rhône, or Sangiovese from Tuscany, Nebbiolo, and Piedmont.
  • Varietal: This is one of our sommelier’s favorite approaches. Explore Syrah from France’s Rhône valley, California, Washington, and Australia, or compare Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, the Loire valley, and Chile. You can also compare the same varietal at different price points.
  • Style: Obsessed with dessert wines or crisp, dry whites? Choose bottles with similar descriptions and see how they compare.
  • Vintage: Look for multiple vintages of the same wine, like a 2017, 2018, and 2019 Sauvignon Blanc to see how the flavors and aroma change year-to-year.
  • Winery: Support a single winery by focusing on several varietals from their lineup.
  • Random: To keep things really simple, just have everyone bring a bottle to share and don’t overthink it!

After you’ve chosen your wines, you have the option to do a blind tasting. This approach involves pouring wine into decanters or wrapping the bottles in wine bags to disguise their true identity. In addition to the actual tasting part, don’t miss the opportunity to toss some wine education into the mix. Print out information on the wineries, vintages, or regions and share it with your guests. And when it comes to the amount of alcohol involved, three to five bottles should be adequate for a small group of guests. To reduce decision fatigue, sign up for our Thrive Market Wine Club to have 6 bottles sent to your door.

Step 2: Invite Your Guests & Plan Light Bites

wine tasting ideas

After inviting your guests, get started on the snacks. A tasting doesn’t require an elaborate spread. Think make-ahead options, artfully assembled platters, and palate-cleansing crackers.

Easy Recipe Ideas

Rosemary & Lemon Spiced Nuts
Summer Lentil Salad With Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette
Vegan Pimento Cheese
Marinated Olives
Dairy-Free Chevre Log
Lemon & Garlic Cauliflower Dip

Done-For-You Bites

Mary’s Gone Sea Salt Crackers
Olli Genoa Salami
Whisps Parmesan Cheese Crisps
Divina Pitted Kalamata Olives
Thrive Market Organic Olive Bruschetta

Step 3: Stock Up on Supplies

  • Glassware: Feel free to reuse glasses. Nadel recommends having two glasses per person because “wines speak volumes when presented relative to one another and you can bounce back and forth.” If you only have space for one glass, the Stolzle Weinland series wine glasses are incredibly versatile and “a superb overlap of form, function and durability.” To take things up a notch, Nadel says Spiegelau vino grande glasses are amazing. “In many ways [they are] my platonic ideal. As much as I wish I could say any glass will do… they really do matter. Riedel Degustazione is another shape and series to check out.”
  • Palate cleansers: Set out plenty of water crackers or a simple bread for palate cleansers.
  • Spit buckets: Just like in a tasting room, make it easy for guests to get rid of unwanted wine and control how much they drink.
  • Water: Don’t forget to hydrate!
  • Paper and pens: Part of the fun of an intimate wine tasting is taking notes. Offer pen and paper while you sip, or print out a tasting grid for reference.

Taste Like a Pro

Read on for suggestions from a Master Sommelier so you can swirl, sip, and savor like a pro. His first non-negotiable? Be sure everyone is comfortable and in a space where they can truly appreciate the wines and reflect on the descriptions you’ll be sharing.

wine tasting tips

Before You Sip

Before you even take a sip, exercise a little patience and pay attention to three key traits.

  • Color. For red wines, the intensity of the color is really informative, speaking to both the varietal and winemaking practices. “So many impressions and experiences are informed by our visual experience of food and drink,” Josh says. “If the wine is a high intense opaque purple ruby, people will expect one thing, while if it’s a low intensity ruby with amber at the rim the expectation will be very different, and these visual cues indicate either specific varietals or barrel/bottle age, or both.” Color can also be informative for white wine, but Nadel says that most will be pale straw with streaks of green, indicating their youth. “Wines with darker, more golden colors indicate other factors at play such as oak aging or other grape growing choices or conditions.”
  • Tears. Wine tears (also known as wine legs) are the ring of clear liquid at the rim where droplets begin dripping continuously down the glass. “Tears indicate alcohol or sugar, or lack thereof, nothing more,” Nadel says. “They are not an indication of quality, but could be something to mention if they are particularly noteworthy or, in the case of red wines, particularly intense in staining and color, which indicates varietal or even growing conditions.”
  • Smell. Don’t forget to smell the wines before you taste them! Is it aromatic or neutral? Intense or mild? “Describing the aromatic intensity is a huge point of differentiation from wine to wine,” Nadel says. Is it a neutral and agreeable Pinot Grigio or an aromatic varietal such as Sauvignon Blanc?

The First Taste (and Beyond)

During your first sip, you can compare the aroma of the wine with your first impressions of flavors on the palate, and most importantly, structure. Nadel explains that structure refers to tannin, acidity, body, dryness (sugar, or lack thereof), and body. For example, is the wine mouth-watering and refreshing due to higher levels of acidity, or full-bodied and tannic, which needs food? Defining and discussing aroma, flavor, texture, and body, “provides you and your guests with an approachable and common language to define the cornerstones of wine, and a vocabulary everyone can take with them going forward,” Nadel explains.

Once you’re well on your way to trying all the wines, remember the mantra of appearance-aroma-body-flavor-texture to guide your tasting. “When you taste, do that slurpy thing where you inhale through the nose and mouth at the same time, even just once or twice to give it a try. Getting your olfactory senses involved amplifies your experience.” You can also try swirling, which Nadel says isn’t just theater, but helps release the wine’s aroma, as well as giving your palate 10 to 20 seconds to experience the texture and finish of the wine.

Bottom line: There are no wrong opinions. “Don’t listen to anyone who speaks in absolutes,” he reminds. “Wine is subjective and delicious in the way you prefer it for yourself.”

Versatile Wines for Every Palate

When choosing your wines, you can’t go wrong with these member-approved bottles.

Best Red Wines

Las Cepas Rioja
This deep purple wine is bright with flavors of wild blueberry. Celeste from Texas says it has the “assertiveness of a Spanish red, with a gentle red fruit aftertaste that reminds me of Italian reds.”

Scott Paul Pinot Noir
Hailing from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, this light-bodied red has notes of cherry, spice, and rose. Carolyn from Illinois says it’s her new favorite and calls this bottle “smooth and silky.”

Fonte Barco Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Calling all charcuterie platters: travel to Italy with a peppery bottle made with hand-harvested, organic grapes. Emily from Texas says “the tannins are lovely and balanced; it’s a crowd pleaser that also has some decent complexity to it.”

Favorite White Wines

Haast Sauvignon Blanc
A favorite since the beginning, this New Zealand bottle boasts tropical fruit and herbal notes. Donna from Massashusetts says it’s “super crisp” and paired beautifully with shrimp and asparagus risotto.

Asado Cruz Chardonnay
Sustainably farmed in Argentina’s Uco Valley, you can expect a creamy texture with citrus and white fruit flavors married with a subtle touch of oak. For Debbie in Indiana, it’s become her go-to for sipping on the back patio.

Plozner Pinot Grigio
With delicate aromas of melon and stone fruit, Plozner’s Italian Pinot Grigio is the perfect companion to appetizers and salads. Annabel from California says “this is a great day and light wine with a lot of flavor” and noted hints of green apple.

Crowd-Pleasing Rosé

EthicDrinks Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé
This crowd-pleasing sip blends three sustainable grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Syrah—and is ready for cheese platters, seafood, and barbecue. Brenda from Texas says “I’m always looking for great natural wines without pesticides or added sugar, and this company fits the bill. The wine was very tasty and I really enjoyed it.”

El Gran Amigo Cava Brut Rosé
Pop this sparkling Pinot Noir anytime you’re looking for a crisp and refreshing addition to your meal. Elizabeth from Illinois admits she’s not always a sparkling wine fan, but says, “This stuff is amazing! Got all my neighbors buying it as we all love it!”

Domaine Py Cuvée Jules Rosé
From France’s Corbières region, this organic Syrah blend makes for a versatile bottle. Juleen from Massachusetts says “this was an enjoyable dry rosé with more fruit forward notes. Buying again because I enjoyed it so much!”

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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