Horizontally, vertically, or any which way – how do you do it?

Hosting a wine tasting party can be easy and fun.

Don’t be intimidated by thinking you don’t know enough to host one.  Wine tasting is not the same as wine drinking, although these can easily become the same amongst a small group of friends.

Wine tasting is done to learn about the wine. The purpose is to develop your palate, your nose, and learn to discern subtleties between wines.

Wine drinking on the other hand, well, involves the actual drinking of the wine.


You can choose different themes for your wine tasting. A general wine tasting can be a combination of any types of wine, typically a few whites and a few reds. You can select wines by region, price, or grape variety.

Other interesting approaches are horizontal or vertical wine tastings. Horizontals all come from the same vintage (year). One approach might be to take several 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons from the same region in California and see how the grapes developed in the hands of the producers.

You might find that you really prefer one’s style over another.

Vertical tastings are really fun. You select a single winery and choose different vintages of the same wine. The vertical tasting will give you a lot of information on the producer.

Do they try to ensure consistency in flavor from year to year, or do they let the unique weather and growing conditions of that year show through? You will learn a lot about the winemaker’s style and also how their particular wines age over time.

At the tasting

  • Wine: Typically between 4 and 6 wines are selected for a home tasting. Be sure to chill any white wines prior to the party, and cool the reds to the appropriate temperature.  Drink the wines in order of lightest to more fully bodied. Each pour should be about 2 ounces.
  • Blinded or not? Decide whether you want to make a game out of the tasting by blinding the wines (simple paper bags over the bottles will do), or if you want everyone to be able to see what they are tasting.
  • If you are not conducting a blinded tasting, you may want to consider preparing tasting cards which provide a description from the producer as an aid.
  • Wine glasses: Depending on your resources, you can take 2 approaches. You can have a separate glass for each wine and use a wine placemat.
  • There are many downloadable versions online (find a beautiful one from Cline here), or you can create your own. It’s also okay to give everyone just one glass and have them rinse in between. In this case, be sure to have a pitcher of water.
  • Spitting bucket: This is crucial for a tasting, but depending on your guests, may or may not be used. Even if you think everyone will drink their full portions, there may be a wine that someone doesn’t care for, so providing a place to dump the remaining bits out is appreciated. It also allows a place for your guests to rinse their glasses in between tastings.
  • Palate cleansers: Glasses of water are appreciated for guests to sip between tastings. Also serve small cubes of bread or bland crackers.  You don’t want anything with a lot of flavor that will interfere with the tasting.
  • Cheese pairings: Both the wine and cheese can have a very different flavor when combined. Have your guests taste the wine alone, and then taste it again with the cheese. You may be surprised at the flavors that are brought out.
  • Fun: Stimulate conversation, don’t rush from one wine to the next, and have fun! This is a party after all. If you are conducting a blinded tasting, you may want to provide prizes to the one who guesses the best!

Remember, the point is to learn more and share the enjoyment of wine with friends. Happy tasting!

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