How to Host a Blind, Comparative Tasting at Home

What a great way to spend a Friday night with your wine-loving friends! 

If you think of a “horizontal tasting” as the way to describe your physical state after tasting several wines, it’s actually just another name for a blind, comparative tasting, which is tons of fun and also quite educational!

Here’s how it goes: You taste several wines of the same variety and vintage side by side, without knowing which is which (a vertical tasting is trying several different vintages of the same wine). 

Here’s what you need to do: Decide what kind of tasting would be fun and get in touch with your friends. How many wines to taste depends upon how experienced your group is. If most of the group is inexperienced, probably six wines should be the max. You could taste six Napa Valley Cabernets or two flights of three wines, three Chardonnays and three Zinfandels, for more variety. 

If you want to do this the way the pros do, the host selects and buys all the wines – it makes for a more cohesive tasting. Then, the host is reimbursed by the attendees. You should decide the price parameters as a group. If you do the buying, ask your retailer for six bags for the bottles. 

Otherwise, you can just decide on the variety, appellation and vintage and have each person, or couple, bring a bottle. In that case, ask them to leave the wine in the bag when they come. 

One bottle = about 12 2-oz pours, so that’s probably the maximum number of people to attend. Think about how economical this is! If there are 12 tasters, you get to try six different wines for the cost of a half bottle! Not bad! 

What you need to do to get ready:

  • Your friends should plan to bring seven glasses (the extra glass is for water), so you can taste the wine side by side – it’s the only way to make a real comparison. Plus, it’s more fun! The glasses will travel safely in a wine-case box. The dividers keep the glasses from clinking and breaking en route.
  • Buy a package of legal-sized, white paper to serve as a placemat for each person. The best way to check the color and clarity is to put the glass at a 45-degree angle against the white background.  
  • Large paper cups make good spittoons for the designated drivers.
  • Cocktail napkins

You can download and print a tasting score sheet, free. Just do a search on “wine-tasting score sheet”. It’s fun to rank the wines most favorite to least favorite and then compare scores with your friends. You can also average the scores to reveal the group favorite. 

In order to detect the subtle differences between the wines, the only food that should be served during the tasting is bland crackers (Bremner or Carrs wafers work well) or bread (no sour dough). That doesn’t mean you can’t bring out some cheeses or hors d’oeuvres later, after the evaluation is over!

If your friends are eager to learn more about wine, you might do some research on the characteristics of the variety and the region(s) represented. 

The night of the tasting:

  • Put out a placemat, score sheet, spittoon and napkin for each guest
  • Provide a pitcher of water so folks can clear their palates between tastes
  • Prepare any food you plan to serve later in the evening
  • Get a calculator
  • If you bought the wine, de-foil it, open it and put it back in the bag. Mark the bags A through F

When your friends arrive:

  • If your friends bring the wine, without removing the bags, quickly defoil and open the bottles – no peeking! – and mark the bags A through F
  • Have each person set out six tasting glasses on the placemat and write down corresponding letter names, A through F, from left to right.
  • Pour the wines and let the fun begin!

Some prefer to smell each wine, first, before tasting. Others smell and taste each as they go. Most pros will taste through the wines twice, at least, and may then go back to certain wines to reaffirm the original impression.

The tasters can write down their impressions and what they like or don’t like about each wine on the score sheet. The wine they like best is #1, second best #2 and so forth. This will probably take about 20 – 30 minutes. 

Note: It’s a funny thing about wine – it changes as it sits there in the glass! Sometimes a wine that, initially, seemed to have very little character opens up like a lovely, fragrant flower (thanks to aeration) as the minutes go by. There’s no law against changing your mind about which is your favorite! And, it’s another good reason to go through the wines more than once.

Also: Encourage everyone to save a little of each wine for tasting and discussion once the scores have been announced. The beauty of tasting in a group is we each bring different strengths to the tasting table. The person next to you might notice the oaky flavors more easily than you, where you might be more sensitive to the tannins, so you all learn from each other. Once you hear what others have to say about the wine, it’s fun to go back and try it again.

When the noise level increases, it’s good indicator that most everyone is finished scoring the wines. Just check to see if anyone wants more time.

Now, it’s time to hear the results – grab your calculator! Unless the group is too large for it to be practical, it’s great fun to have each person announce his scores: “One: C, Two: F…”

Make a grid on the back of your score sheet with A – F along the top and record each person’s scores underneath. Once you have everyone’s score, do a quick tally and it’s like golf: The low score wins!

Party time! If your friends are like mine, this will set off an explosion of conversation about the wines. As the debate rages on, it’s the perfect time to bring out some delicious nibbles, more wine and let the party begin!

Many people love these tastings so much that they form regular tasting groups, just like a book club – I call it a book club with benefits! You’ll be surprised by the perceptive taster you become if you taste regularly and really pay attention to the wine. It’s one of the very best ways to sharpen up your tasting skills and learn more about wine.

Idea for next time: Take the overall winner and pit it against other brands next time. See how it holds up!

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2 responses to “How to Host a Blind, Comparative Tasting at Home

  1. I tend not to drop many comments, however
    i did some searching and wound up here How to Host a Blind, Comparative Tasting at Home | The Tasting Group.

    And I do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be simply me or does it look like a few of these comments look like coming from brain dead visitors? 😛 And, if you are posting at other social sites, I’d like to follow everything
    fresh you have to post. Would you list of all of your public pages like
    your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

    • Hi there! I hope the article was helpful for you. Tasting parties are really fun! As to your first question, I think it’s in my best interests if I take the 5th 😉

      About the second: Thank you! I’m flattered! Please let me get back to you in a few days when I’m home and can find my social media logins. Cheers!

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