Start with white tablecloths to cover tables where the wine will be poured and tasted. White linens are part of the taster's tools: Guests hold their glasses against the white background to examine the wine color.
On top of the tables, arrange:
- Bottle coverings: For a blind tasting, place each bottle in a numbered paper bag. What's the advantage of tasting blind? Fancy labels won't sway guests.
- Wineglasses: Professional tastings would necessitate a fresh glass for each wine, but for an easygoing at-home tasting with friends, one glass per person is sufficient. Just have a pitcher of water handy for rinsing between rounds.
- Corkscrews: Many models are available, so pick the type you're comfortable using. Keep a few on hand -- the party could come to a screeching halt if your only corkscrew gets misplaced halfway through the event.
- Dump buckets: People may wish to dump wine from their glass if they don't want to finish it. Although professional tasters do this often, it's more likely that, at an informal tasting with relatively few wines, guests will just "sip and enjoy."
- Pitchers of ice water and glasses: These will allow guests to cleanse their palates between samples.
- Pens and notepads: Even at informal tastings, each person should be encouraged to make a few notes about the wines. The notes will serve to remind guests which wines they tasted and enjoyed.
- Bread: Professional tasters don't always agree on what, if any, food should be served at a wine tasting. Although we eventually judge wines in part by how they pair with foods we like, food changes the taste of wine and a tasting without food allows a different, clearer point of view. If you do wish to put some food out for the tasting, serve cubes of unsugared white bread. Save the rest of your party menu for after the official taste tests are complete.
Continued on page 4: Ready, Set, Sip!