A big part of what we do in our business is find new and creative ways to engage people with wine. I mean wine by itself can add loads of fun to any event but how can one use a "wine event" to (i) host a reception, (ii) celebrate an occasion, (iii) profile a restaurant/chef/caterer or (iv) market new wines? I give you "The Blind Wine Tasting" (for a non-Sommelier audience).
The first thing that I would note is that this format works for audiences of all sizes. We have used this Blind Tasting to host events as small as dozen people in a home all the way up to 120 people in a restaurant. In fact, we evolved our tastings this way to better accommodate larger groups, as many of our other tasting formats (wine verticals, food/wine pairings or simple wine and cheese) often required addressing and re-addressing a large crowd and we found that as the evening went on (and more wine was consumed) this became harder and harder to do. Out of this was born a hosting format that allows minimal crowd addressing, does not require every person be in attendance at the start (because when does everyone arrive on time?), while encouraging lots of social interaction and discussion among the participants. And yes, this works just as well for a half dozen friends on a Friday night.
Blind Tasting Steps:
(1) Build a tasting roster
(2) Organize your venue
(3) Lay out the ground rules
(4) Circle back at the end for prizes, laughs
(1) Build a tasting roster:
We find 4 wines samples is reasonable and will generally give you a solid 90 minute tasting event. Our pours are normally 2 oz for each wine, so our participants drink on average 8 oz. Using this formula, and knowing that there are 25.4 oz in a bottle, you can calculate that you need one bottle of each wine for every 12 guests that you have attending- always round up! Feel free to adjust your pour sizes accordingly- just be sure to adjust the amount of wine that you buy too. For example, 3 oz pours means 12 oz of wine consumed (2 glasses) and you need one bottle of each wine for every 8 guests. We try to present 2 white wines and 2 red wines but this can also vary depending on crowd preference and/or time of year- a hot summer patio event might warrant 3 cool whites while a cold winter format, with lots of heavy foods, might call for more red wines. The key here is to keep it simple. Unless you have a sophisticated wine crowd this is not the time to be testing your guests on their knowledge of the differences between Sonoma, Oregon and Burgundy Pinot Noirs. Multiple choice (as noted below) gives everyone a 1 in 4 chance of being right. Stylistically, i like to present vastly different varietals to make it easier to identify the wines too. Remember, you want your guests to feel smart, accomplished and engaged not lost, confused and ultimately embarrassed.
(2) Prepare/Organize your Venue:
I like to space out the tasting tables around the outside of the room and keep the finger foods near the centre. This allows people to work around the entire room, stopping for the odd bite, without standing in line for long periods. When we host 100+ people we normally have 2 pourers per table to keep things moving (asking the hosts to help out keeps staff numbers down and gives them a chance to be part of the show) but normally you can get away with 1 pourer per wine. You can choose to create formal tasting cards or print something out from your computer but your guests will need to be able to record which of the four wines is the right one. Lastly, you need to cover your wine so the guests can't see it. We use paper bags and elastics to accomplish this but I've seen tinfoil and gift wrap too!
(3) Lay out the Ground Rules:
Keep this short and simple when you engage your guests. Essentially, each table offers one wine and the card has four wines listed- with only one of the wines on the list being the right one. Once you have tried the wine, circle the one that you think is right. When you have made a selection for each wine, be sure to write your name on the card and hand it in. It is alright to discuss it in groups- this should be a social event not a secretive one! In fact, we have found that the encouraged discussion, coupled with the wine I suppose, has really helped turn up the networking aspect of receptions that we host in this format- and the hosts are always thankful for this.
In time we have found that the guests would like more hints- to help them oimporve their odds from 25%. We will often kick off the event by sharing some "Deductive Tasting" basics like
(a) How to Taste: Sight Swirl, Smell and Taste.
(b) Viscosity/Legs on wine glasses means higher alcohol (and warmer regions)
(c) The larger the clear rim that forms on the edge of the wine in your glass the older the wine likely is.
(d) The use of oak in certain regions (like California, Spain)
(e) Earthier notes and tones found in Old World Wines.
Sometimes I will cover these in my opening remarks and sometimes I just save these suggestions for when I am working around the crowd and I'm asked for a hint.
(4) Circle back at the end for prizes, laughs
I normally gather the cards up about 15 minutes before the end and quickly tabulate how our guests have done. Normally we have a few prizes for the "winners" but have just as much fun calling out the lowest scores too- these people normally win wine, as we note they need more practice!
Very simple to organize, and a ton of fun to deliver, we recommend that you try this kind of Blind Tasting for your event- we are sure your guests will love it!