Wine tasting at your local winery, wine bar, or restaurant has been difficult these days. Many states still have restrictions in place but that doesn’t mean you can’t have wine tastings at home! No one likes wasting wine, so I recommend using a tool like the Coravin, so the bottles stay fresh for consumption long after your tasting.
Wine Tasting Theme Ideas
Wine tasting themes, like the ones I will share below, have really helped my friends and I differentiate wines and appreciate regional qualities. You can even have a friend pour these wines in another room to make it a blind tasting. This can really enhance your sensory experience, but whether or not you want to disclose the theme beforehand is up to you.
Below are some themes to get started:
Your own 1976 Judgement of Paris:
The Judgment of Paris (not the Greek Mythology version) was a turning point for California wines. The renowned wine tasting in France compared French and Napa Valley wines in a blind tasting, surprising many when the top scores were given to California wines over their French counterparts. For this theme, you can start by comparing multiple regional profiles, such as:
Côte de Beaune (White Burgundy) Chardonnay vs Sonoma Chardonnay
Left Bank Bordeaux vs Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Vertical wine tasting from your favorite Winery
A vertical tasting is done by pouring a few different wines that are all the same varietal and are all from the same producer. The only aspect that changes is the vintage. It's a fun way to test your palate and see how a wine can differ year-to-year.
Pick a few vintages, for example 2012-2016 of your favorite producer’s Napa Cabernet - see which vintage impressed you the most!
Compare one vintage among several producers in one region
Before your at home wine tasting, decide on a region, either one that all participants know and love, or select something completely new! The idea is to ask everyone to pick different wineries, while keeping the vintage and wine varietal the same. For example:
2018 Zinfandel from Sonoma - Which producer knocked it out of the park?
Compare multiple white wines and their acidity levels
White wines come in all different varietals and acidity levels. The key here is trying a number of them side by side! They may be aged differently, contain different grape blends, or produced with different winemaking techniques. Taste them all, discover what you enjoy and see if everyone's palate detects the same level of acidity! An example line up may be:
All Chardonnays (or one varietal everyone agrees on)
Compare multiple red wines and their tannin levels
This is similar to tasting for the different acidity in white wines. Each red wine has different levels of tannins, and subtle nuances with how the tannins interact with the wine's texture, flavor, etc. They also differ naturally between varietals! Some to try could be:
All Pinot Noirs, or all of one varietal (these could even be from the same region!)
Decide on what your favorite varietal wines are and select a few from an old favorite and compare them with a current favorite, or even a brand new and unknown producer. This is also a fun way to walk down memory lane and see if your palate preferences have changed over the years, or stayed relatively the same!
This is definitely a favorite in groups and can be set up in 2 ways: First, is to set a price limit for everyone, taste each bottle, and see which wine is the best value! In other words, which wine tastes like it's a higher quality wine than what the price tag says. for example,
Tell everyone to bring their favorite wine under $30
Decide on an exact budget or at least within $5 of a given price
The second option is especially fun for a group that has a wide range of tasters, from beginners to experts. Ask each person to bring an undisclosed wine to the tasting. This can be a bottle that you personally enjoy, or think might "trick" the other tasters. At the door, make sure everyone writes down what they paid for the bottle on a piece of paper and puts it into a cup. After the tasting, pour all of the bottle prices onto the table and have everyone try to match which wine goes with which price tag!
Search for the Unknown
If you have an adventurous group...have everyone bring a wine from either a very obscure grape variety or obscure wine region. This is usually a great way to find a new favorite, learn about a new grape, a new region or country and its traditions, and best of all, these wines are typically great values! Some criteria could be:
A wine varietal you cannot pronounce
Wines from a country you've never tasted before
Or both a new varietal and region you're not familiar with
The Coravin and Why It Works
This is a fantastic tool for wine tastings, especially with smaller groups or when you know the bottles will still have a good amount of wine in them once the tasting is over! Coravin has been gaining a lot of momentum lately with many new models being introduced and attachments being created for it. I recommend the faster pouring needle and the aerator attachment if you are pouring bigger reds.
The tool itself has a medical grade needle that is inserted through the cork. While wine is being dispensed into your glass, a mini argon capsule is pushing some argon gas into the empty bottle space where oxygen would've moved in and subsequently sped up the life of this wine. Argon gas is heavier than oxygen, so this can leave your wine fresh for months. Yes, months! It is a common inert gas used in winemaking and is preferred over nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The only downside of argon gas is it’s not as plentiful, and it is quite expensive.
A less expensive option than the Coravin is something like the ArT Wine Preserver we have in our Wine Store Accessories! It uses the same argon gas to keep the wine fresh, except it is not dispensed into the bottle through the needle in the cork. Rather, it has a nozzle on the top of the can. This method has you uncork the bottle entirely and once you're finished serving, place the nozzle into the top of the bottle and give it a few spurts of argon gas before corking it again.
Unlike the Coravin, the wine will be exposed to Oxygen upon opening the bottle, which will begin to alter the lifespan of the wine. However, the ArT Preserver will keep your wine fresh for much longer than it would without any use of Argon gas.
Get your wine tasting wines!
So, you have the themes ready...but you still need the wine right? We've got you covered. Click the links below and bring your wine tasting at home to the next level:
Pick your own wine -- Shop the Wine Store
Curated wine packages -- Shop wine Combo Cases
Want to be adventurous? -- Shop our limited-time "Surprise Me!" Combo Cases
Author Bio: Brian is an Enology and Viticulture student in Walla Walla, WA. He is currently working towards a certification as a Certified Specialist of Wine and will be doing his 3rd harvest this Fall in the Willamette Valley. He hopes for wine to continue to be more inclusive and less pretentious and is always on the hunt for his next Ah-Ha bottle.