Planning a Private Wine-Tasting Event

A sommelier's advice on selection, menu, logistics and more


Global Classics
For an international selection of whites, consider Riesling from Germany; chenin blanc from South Africa; sauvignon blanc from Loire Valley, France; and Gewuerztraminer from Alsace, France.

Nice reds include Syrah from Rhone Valley or Australia; cabernet sauvignon from Bordeaux or Napa Valley; Nebbiolo from Barolo or Barbaresco, Italy; Tempranillo from Rioja in Spain; and Malbec from Argentina.

The following was adapted from a checklist created by Jörn Kleinhans, principal of the Wine Elite Sommelier Co.  in Huntington Beach, Calif., an independent and nationwide resource for sommelier-guided wine-tasting experiences.

Selecting the Wines
Plan for 8 to 10 different wines for the event. The selection should include two to three white wines and six to seven reds. (Most people prefer red, but a few white wines make the experience more well-rounded.)

Consider serving a sparkling wine (cava, prosecco or champagne) as a welcome drink. It should be served in flute-shaped glasses.

Ask a sommelier to select individual wines.

Don't buy wines at the grocery store or supermarket, as they tend to be overpriced and too U.S.-focused.

Don't restrict your wine selection to United States wines. You can show global diversity without incurring higher costs.

Purchase one bottle of each wine if you expect 12 guests or fewer. Add another bottle of each wine for every 12 additional guests. (One bottle provides 13 pours of 2 oz. each.)

Consider a sweeter wine for the finish, like sauternes dessert wine or port. Serve with a designated food equivalent, such as chocolate cake.

Tasting Format
Set a theme for the tasting and announce it in the invitation for a higher turnout (e.g., Old World vs. New World, key grapes from around the world, rated 95 and above, etc.)

Guests should taste two wines at a time, so that they can compare. Provide each guest with two glasses; following the optimal sequence of white, rosé, light red and then heavy red, rinsing the glasses isn't necessary.

Consider a blind-tasting format, in which the bottles are placed in numbered bags.  

Bring in an expert or keynote speaker to lead the presentation or tasting, adding an educational and memorable element to the event.

Decide whether you want a walk-around event with stations or a more focused sit-down event with a presentation.

For non-wine-drinking crowds, try a whiskey-tasting party instead -- sampling Scotch, bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and others. Bring in a whiskey expert to lead the event.

Food Considerations
Ensure the wine selection and overall theme is aligned with the food that's being prepared.

Consider a cheese, charcuterie, chocolate and/or honey tasting to accompany the wine event. If there is an outdoor space, consider a guided cigar tasting.

Plan on $20 per guest for wine on the low end, or $90 per guest on the higher end. Anything in between will work. (We've found the ideal budget for an affordable but impressive wine lineup is $50 per person.)

Set-up and Logistics
Put the white wines on ice before and throughout the entire wine-tasting event.

Set up a few bowls as dump buckets.

Use pens that are specially designed to temporarily indicate the guest name and wine number on each glass.

Do not place tables or bottles of wine in any area close to a swimming pool, to avoid possible mishaps with broken glass.

Ensure that guests don't overdrink and drive. Allocating tasting pours of 2 oz. at a time can help. Provide plenty of water, and wind down the wine-tasting portion of the event at least an hour before the gathering ends.