A blind wine taste tests may seem daunting at first, but you’ll wish you had organized them more often after throwing your first. They’re the perfect dinner party activity to organize with friends who enjoy drinking, love an excuse to try something new, and enjoy friendly banter.
When I posted about my blind taste test events in Cape Town a while ago, a friend reached out asking for some guidance organizing his own. I realized that the planning process can be overwhelming, especially for those who haven’t participated in many blind taste tests before.
The steps in this post are what I’ve found to be the most straightforward way to organize a blind wine taste test. There’s no relying on flaky friends who drop out last minute or bring the wrong wine and you won’t be out a hundred (or even more) dollars because you made all the purchases. Plus, you still get to participate and won’t know which wine is what until the big reveal.
7 Steps to a Better Blind Wine Taste Test
Step 1: Curate.
The first step in organizing a blind wine taste test party is figuring out what kind of wine you’re going to taste. Pick one of the following themes:
- Grape variety or varieties: Compare different bottles of the same varietal, such as Pinot Noirs or wooded Chardonnays.
- Vertical wine tasting: Focus on one specific wine varietal across multiple vintages from the same winery.
- Different wines from specific geographic locations: Compare a section of wines from an area of the world that interests you and your friends, such as Chenin Blanc from South Africa or Malbec from Argentina.
- One wine from two different regions: Compare a single varietal in different regions—for example, Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, California, South Africa, and France.
Once you’ve decided on your theme, come up with a list of the exact wines you plan to taste. Ask the professionals at your local wine shop, the sommelier, or bar manager at your favorite restaurant, or look online for ideas for yearly round-ups of a specific varietal or region.
Tip: Select wines that are easy to find. If the wines are too exclusive, they’ll be enjoyable to drink but might disappoint your guests when they can’t find them anywhere.
While it may seem easy to ask your friends to just bring a bottle of wine for your taste test that goes with your theme, I’ve found that it often ends up being more complicated than sorting it out on your own.
For example, people arrive late, with the wrong wine, some chilled, some not, and then you have to scramble to cover up the bottles while playing host.
You may choose to buy the wines now or wait until you get your final headcount, as you may have to buy doubles of the wine.
Step 2: Plan.
Now that you’ve picked your wines, decide on a date about two weeks from now and think about who you want to invite. Try and invite friends and guests with diverse backgrounds and experiences with wine to generate more interesting conversations.
Send out a single or a group invitation over email, text, WhatsApp, or however you communicate with your friends.
It doesn’t need to be fancy.
Aim to have between 6-10 guests total including yourself.
Tip: In the invitation, be clear about what you’d like your guests to bring (if anything). I find it easier to organize and buy everything on my own and ask guests to chip in.
I know asking people for money isn’t easy or exactly comfortable, but it’s a key component to making this a better blind wine taste test experience for all.
Step 3: Organize.
There are three areas of your party to organize about a week in advance. Your guests, the wine, and the food.
Confirm who’s coming, any allergies your guests may have, and make sure everyone knows to arrive on time. Late arrivals are annoying because you have to wait for everyone to begin the tasting, so avoid this by reminding people beforehand. Make a joke about it if you have to!
If you haven’t already bought all your wine, buy them now. Remember to have enough wine for one bottle per person.
For the actual tasting of the wine, you’ll want to organize how you will serve your wine. I used to wrap bottles of wine in brown paper bags, long socks, and even tinfoil. But, I’ve found a better way that’s even less biased: clean and empty old wine bottles.
This way, nobody can turn their nose up to a bottle of wine with a screw cap or have opinions about the wine before they even drink it. Alternatives to empty wine bottles are decanters or empty glass water bottles (and no they don’t all have to be the same).
It takes time and energy to collect the wine bottles and remove the labels, but you can clean and reuse these bottles for future taste tests.
Once you’ve organized your wine and how you’ll be serving them at your taste test, number or label the cleaned and dried vessels. Create small tags to identify your wines for the tasting. To do this, cut out small pieces of recycled cardboard paper, poke holes with a toothpick or skewer, use string (twist-ties or rubber bands work too) to make a small loop to hang over the neck of each wine bottle.
Set your empty, labeled empty bottles or decanters away in a safe and clean spot, until the day of your tasting.
Food is not the focus of your blind wine taste test party but with all that wine, you’ll need some sustenance.
Plan a simple and hearty meal that you can make almost entirely in advance. My favorite make ahead dishes include vegetable or meat curries, Mexican rice dishes, and baked pastas.
For appetizers, serve wine tasting complimenting appetizers such as plain chips, baguettes, and plain crackers to nibble on between sips. Avoid serving a charcuterie plate with cheese, as these intense flavors can affect your palate.
Step 4: Prepare.
Buy your appetizers and ingredients for your simple make-ahead meal, at least a few days in advance. Cook your meal a day or two before and make sure you have the right serving dishes. If you’re tasting white or rose wine, put your wines in the fridge NOW, before you forget.
Figure out what music to play by selecting a few playlists on Spotify (check out the post above for inspiration), and don’t forget to charge your speaker. You can provide pens and paper for your guests to write down their tasting notes, or just get people to write down notes on their phone. It’s up to you.
Step 5: Disaster Prevention.
An hour before your guests arrive or before work in the morning, set your table for dinner with cutlery and napkins. Paper towel napkins are totally acceptable. Set up your wine tasting station (which might also be on the same table) with clean wine and water glasses, paper and pens, and an aroma wheel if you have one.
Tip: Don’t screw up this next step!
About 30-45 minutes before your guests arrive, decant your wines. This a crucial step to making your blind wine taste test so read through the directions carefully:
- On a piece of paper or on your phone, write down the numbers one through six (or however many wines you’re tasting). This is your key. Don’t lose it or delete it.
- Open all of the wines you’re going to taste (if you have doubles, just open one for now).
- Use a funnel and pour one bottle of wine into the bottle of wine labeled #1, and make a note in your key. For example, write down #1 – Kim Crawford.
- Move on to #2, with a second bottle of wine, until you’ve gone through all of your wines.
Tip: If you don’t want to know which wine is which, ask someone to switch the numbers around while keeping note of which wine(s) they switched in their own key. When you reveal the wines you’ll have to refer to both YOUR key and the key of the person who switched the labels around to know which wine is which.
Before your guests arrive, make sure the music is on, your dinner has been pulled out of the fridge, and the oven is preheating (if you need it on). Put out the snacks too, if they’re not already out, and welcome your guests with open arms.
Step 6: Taste.
Once all your guests have arrived, explain the rules of the blind tasting and get straight into your blind wine taste test.
Blind Taste Test Rules:
- You can taste in any order and as many times as you want.
- Nobody can talk about the specific wines they taste out loud. Doing so influences other people’s opinions.
- Take notes, and rank the wines from your favorite to least favorite.
- It’s recommended you pour small, so you have a chance to go back to the wines for a second (or third) taste.
Now, let the tasting begin! Pop your dinner in the oven or on the burner (on low), sit back, relax, and taste some wines.
Once you’re finished and your tasting notes are complete, finish any last-minute things for dinner. The plan is to discuss and reveal the wines over dinner.
Give everyone a 5 or 10-minute heads up to finish their last sips and notes. Stack plates in the kitchen and let people serve themselves. At the dinner table, make sure everyone has their tasting notes and something to sip on.
Step 7: Discuss.
Over dinner, go around the table, starting with wine #1, and ask everyone to read their tasting notes and ranking. After everyone’s had a chance to share, reveal the wine (and the bottle if you have it). If you bought second bottles of the wines, now is the time to open them up for people to re-taste.
Go around until you’ve discussed and revealed all of the wines.
Tip: If you want to find out what the average ranking was for everyone, use this Google Sheets template and fill it out during the discussion and be sure to send it to everyone the next day.
If you’re ready to get planning a blind wine taste test, use this checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything!
A Blind Wine Taste Test Basics Checklist
❏ Clean and label-free wine bottles or decanters
❏ Tags or labels for wine
❏ Wine (budget 1 bottle per guest)
❏ Pens and paper for notes
❏ Ice bucket and ice (if serving chilled wine)
❏ Easy, make-ahead dinner
❏ Plates, cutlery and napkins
❏ Music (with speakers charged)
❏ Table and chairs
Share Your Findings
If you planned a blind wine taste test using this guide, let me know how it went in the comments, and feel free to share a link with your results! It would be cool for others to see what wines you end up tasting and what order they rank!