What suggestions do you have for a new wine tasting group?

I am starting a wine tasting group with some local friends and am hoping to learn from and receive suggestions from the WB community.

I have only been serious about wine for a few years and find enjoyment sharing a bottle of wine that I like with friends and family. The other members of the group seem enthusiastic and appreciate wine too but have less experience than myself. None of the members, myself included, have been part of a wine tasting group before.

For each meeting, I am planning on having each couple bring one bottle to share and a dish/snack to share. Do you think it’s better to have everyone bring bottles versus the host supplying the wine for the evening?

I am planning on using varietal/region themes, at least initially, to provide some structure to each meeting. An example of a theme I would use might be “bring a bottle of pinot noir” or “bring a bottle of Beaujolais.” I can imagine themes becoming less important if the group met for several years but I think it would probably help unexperienced members to develop a better sense of a region or varietal. Do you have any thoughts on themes or any fond memories centered around a certain theme?

Flawed bottles may be an occasional issue and I was thinking of having at least one extra bottle that fits the theme to replace any potential flawed bottles.

Bottles costing several hundred dollars are not shocking to me, but I don’t want to intimidate or pressure any other members to spend more than they feel comfortable spending. I was planning on having a price limit of $40 at first and hopefully increasing it over time as the participating friends become more comfortable with different wines. The discussion on budget is inherently complicated when incomes, budgets, frugality, etc. are involved. Do you have thoughts on spending budgets for a wine tasting group?

Champagne is often associated with celebration and an overall positive mood. I was thinking of starting at least some of the meetings by sharing a bottle or two of Champagne as a way to provide an inviting environment and act as a sort of aperitif. Should I be concerned that this may be too distracting to a wine theme that doesn’t involve Champagne?

If you have any other advice, general thoughts or experiences you would like to share, they are appreciated.

  • Host buys or each brings something?
    Both approaches work, and maybe starting off as you suggest is good for the first get-together, but leave it open to switching in the long term to host arranging all.

  • Themes are good, though the occasional free for all tasting is good as well

  • so many good themes, but some are best suited to a host selecting all, e.g. to give a price progression of balance of reds & whites etc. Some we’ve done in the past include:

Is there any good Bordeaux for under $x
Lesser seen grape varieties
Country focus
Grape focus
Versus tastings e.g. new world versus old world, or France vs. Italy
Wine style focus e.g. big reds, or whites with a bit of bite
Wine / food matching focus e.g. what wines go well with a spicy curry / chilli?

  • Price limit makes huge sense, and price can be a delicate topic. No-one wants to be seen as cheap. You can always have a once a year blowout where the budget cap is breached. This is another area where the host organising can help, as it stops everyone bringing a $39 wine, as instead the host can select a range e.g. from $20 up to $60.

  • Starting with fizz is pretty common, but probably just the one bottle, and not at every tasting. An off-theme white is also fine for this.

Other thoughts

  • Glasses. No need to have a different glass for every wine (1 per person is enough), but ideal to have identical glasses for everyone, and ideally ones that are sensible for the wine. ISOs aren’t great for tasting, but are portable and cheap. If you have enough, maybe offer to bring some matching glasses to each venue, if the hosts don’t have enough suitable glasses.
  • Tasting sheets & pens. Not everyone will be confident to write their thoughts, but they’ll get there in time. If the host organises the wines, then a pre-printed sheet with wine name / region / grapes(s) can be given to each person with columns for eye, nose, taste and final thoughts usually works well
  • Water. Always good to have a water jug or two, with water glasses. Partly to offset the alcohol, but also for swilling wine glass out with water. Few if any will spit, but good to have a bowl to pour wines out if people have tasted enough of it
  • Pours. Our group went for tasting size pours, which might do about half a bottle for 6-8 people. Once all have been tasted, it’s then a free for all for retasting (and often a good guide to what was liked best). This is also when we’d typically bring a more substantial meal out (less significant if you’re planning on taster plates throughout)
  • If anyone is nervous about writing notes, there are some good ‘circle the one that best fits’ tasting sheets as TORB used to have and I’m sure if you search for that on the site, I posted a copy here a few years ago.

Weve just started a Denver group over the last 6 months or so and I think consistency is the biggest thing. Decide how frequently you want to have events and try to stick to that or itll fall off.

We started small with just 6 of us and slowly expanded it to where weve got 20 or so interested now. Ive been the main organizer, but everyone has offered to bring food or host. I think being flexible is important, not every event has to be the same structure.

Our first event was simple, Chianti Classico, which made it easier to get a feel for how it works. We generally do a bottle per person which guarantees some variety. Our next event is Cab with a rough minimum of $100/bottle. I think most of our group is most interested in that price point, but it was good to kind of step up to that level. Im sure well exceed that point in the future.

Still being new to this, I really liked that we started off slow and casual. Instead of it being a strictly structured tasting group it was a more casual social event. It was nice because everyone got to know each other in a relaxed environment. We might do something more structured at some point or jt may naturally gravitate that way as the wines become more serious.


Thank you for the detailed feedback, Ian. I will definitely be sure to reference some of your themes in the future.

I appreciate the discussion regarding glasses. I recently purchased numerous extra of my preferred wine glasses for every participant to have the same one. I have done stemware tastings at home with my wife and agree that no one should necessarily have to use glasses that we wouldn’t prefer to use either. I expect to probably have to travel with one or more of these sets as well.

I also like the idea to provide a tasting size pour and let everyone go back to the bottles that they enjoy most.

Putting water out is definitely a good idea. Do you typically rinse out your wine glass with water if you are tasting similar wines? For example, drinking Burgundy pinot noir wines back to back. I have read about the idea of “seasoning” the glass which seems like rinsing a glass with a similar type of wine. In that instance, it was suggested to be done before drinking any wine to remove any soap residue or dishwater drying agent. So that idea might not be applicable in this instance.

I’ll have to do some searching for some tasting notes sheets as you suggested. Thanks again.

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Thanks for your insight Max.

I am definitely interested in keeping the meetings relaxed and allowing everyone to be able to socialize. Hopefully there are some fun discoveries for all the participants that encourages them to explore more wines.

I will probably be hosting and organizing more often than the other participants, at least initially. My thought was to try and meet about once per month. How often does your group meet and what is your preference to meeting frequency?

Thanks again.

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Hi Steve
Sometimes I’ll rinse as an excuse to have a swig of water, sometimes because I think the residue from the previous wine might confuse the aromas of the following wine, sometimes through habit… and then other times I won’t be bothered. Easiest to let each find what they’re happy doing.

I think the seasoning is something the Italians have a name for, but I’ve forgotten it. Essentially you rinse the glass out with a drop of the next wine, before pouring a proper tasting pour. It’s better for sure, but many will see that as a waste of good wine!

For residues before you start, I’d say that’s mostly avoided by giving the glasses a rinse with hot water, in prep for an upcoming wine tasting. No need to waste wine doing this (IMO).

Our group started about 2 decades ago, and whilst we eventually dropped off the formality of being sat down with a tasting sheet, we still meet up as friends, and indeed went to a large walkround tasting event earlier this week.

I hope yours builds similar long-term friendships!


Thanks for the thoughtful discussion Ian. My most common scenario for consuming wine involves sharing a bottle with my wife and there’s no dilemma for preparing a wine glass for the next pour in that scenario. I will certainly keep in mind your useful suggestions.

I’m happy to hear your group has been going strong for about twenty years. Impressive!


I have been with three groups, and I cannot think of a better way to learn about wines.

The Winos of Westchester which has been in existence since the sixties was the paradigm, the other two variations. Basically it worked

  • Membership limited to 12-14 people, the right number to divide a bottle.
  • Each was hosted by a member at his or her house. He was responsible for the theme, and also provided bread and usually cheese as well as dessert. There were usually a dozen wines and about 90% of the tastings were double blind.
  • A dollar amount per person was agreed, and given to the host. If the host exceeded the amount, which was the usual way, he was responsible for the excess, if it was less, the money would go into the kitty and used either for a special bottle or to subsidize a meal.
  • everyone brought their own glasses.

Hosts became pretty creative; tastings could be Cyprus wines or Chateauneuf, a horizontal Bordeaux etc. Occasionally we agreed to do something different, such as when a highly touted new vintage came in.
Different levels of experience and the makeup and age of the cellar made for some wonderful tastings


Thanks for your feedback Mark. I will certainly keep many of your suggestions in mind as time goes on and hopefully the group members become comfortable with double blind tastings and develop their own preferences for wine glasses. I am going to try and make the experience as approachable at first, even if that means I spend extra time organizing everything and bought lots of extra glasses.

I quite like the idea of everyone contributing money and allowing the host buy wines with it as you described. I think this will be suggested to the group in the future.

When desserts were provided, would this often be paired with a dessert wine? I have multiple vintage ports and Sauternes from the 70’s through the 90’s that I would happily share. My wife tends to drink less of the dessert wines and a 750 mL bottle can be challenging to finish between the two of us.

As an aside, your tasting notes inspired me to search out some 2014 VCC and I’ll have multiple bottles arriving next week. I look forward to trying at least one of those bottles in the near future.

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Set a price point for each event. It is fun to do the $25 blind challenge, $100 plus from a region, high vs. low blind for the same region/ grape variety, etc.

This is the best way to try new wines and make friends in the process.

One way to avoid corked bottles, etc. is preview ahead. One issue with many wine clubs is people show up and pop and pour and many of the wines need decanting time prior to arrival so they never show as well.

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Tasting in groups is very enjoyable. Some thoughts.

1 bottle per couple means you’re only getting 2 glasses of wine per person across the whole event. Is that enough for people to be satisfied and feel like they had a good event? We never do less than 1 bottle per person and usually it ends up being 1.5+. We don’t typically finish every bottle, but if you’re having a leisurely event, most of it gets finished. If you have a bunch of very light drinkers I suppose that could work, but I wouldn’t do it.

Most people prefer to have several stems each. Having the same glasses doesn’t matter at all. Mix and match to give people options. Depending on location, some people will bring their own stems. It’s really enjoyable and helpful for learning to be able to follow a wine over time in the glass to see how it develops with air. Nice stems make all the difference. Less experienced drinkers won’t realize that upfront, but they will realize that over time, so it’s better to start them on the path.

I don’t think it’s necessary or helpful to set a price limit. Having a recommended price range can be a good idea to set expectations and make people feel comfortable. But sharing great bottles is one of the joys in life. Whenever we have casual tasting events there’s always different levels of wine that people bring. There’s people who have been collecting a long time and have deep cellars and there’s younger/newer individuals who don’t. All are welcome and it’s part of the community process for the old guard to be able to share cherries and allow the newer members to experience those wines.

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My wife and I have attempted a small tasting group (6-8 people to start) a couple of times, but have never been able to sustain it, mostly due to conflicting schedules. Best/worst was a group we started with friends in the business, but we both work(ed) 8-5 M-F, and they worked most evenings and weekends. Finding a mutually agreeable day for the core four ultimately made it impossible.

Other times we have joined local Wine Society type clubs. Those worked much better for us, and we made several friends that spun off into some small tastings. Unfortunately the city closest to us now, Yakima, we had a couple of oddball event experiences that spoiled our interest. Most commonly their tastings would be “free for all”, and we still tried to bring an interesting mid priced bottle, for us that would be ~$50. Others, several others, routinely brought the same entry level mass produced $10-$15 bottles. We tired of that quickly and stopped participating.

I know there are many, many wine people in Yakima. It is home to some good wineries, though not nearly as many as Walla Walla or Woodinville, but the local wine shop, which is inside a Wray’s supermarket, sells practically all top end Washington wines except Cayuse, though I have bought that there years ago, and also a small but good selections, of OR, CA, and European wines. The store sells these wines often and turnover is high because I shop there regularly, mostly just window shopping, but if I see a prize bottle, I’ll often buy it before it disappears.

This thread reminds me we want to try again. That might be a good goal for us in the new year.

Anyway, maybe my purpose here was to provide a couple of things to avoid and consider when recruiting or opening a group.


Thanks for your advice, John. I appreciate the comment on decanting prior to meeting. I have definitely worked on this over the past few years to improve my timing and avoid the “last glass is the best one.” I have read countless tasting notes and appreciate the writers that are descriptive in their preparation. I have also read numerous of your reviews, both on this forum and by chance at Cellar Tracker, and enjoy your description of the wine evolution with time. I have also purchased a couple of wines influenced by your reviews. We typically have at least one bottle of Roederer Estate Brut in the cellar.

And thanks for your theme suggestions. I am certain we will try at least some in the future.

Thank you for all your suggestions, Andrew. The bottles per person decision was based on a discussion with my wife who drinks on the lighter spectrum. I appreciate the experienced input for more realistic expectations. I agree that having closer to one bottle (or more) per couple might be the realistic outcome. I should be able to easily supplement from my cellar for this first meeting and will adjust accordingly for future meetings.

My preferred stems at the moment are Grassl and I will have enough of three different series of those stems for each member. I also have some other brands that I like less and was planning on letting the other members compare stems. And as you suggest, let them discover that the stems matter more than they might expect.

I like your suggestion of recommended price range. The other members probably have much smaller cellars than myself and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them pick a bottle from the store the day of the tasting. I am happy to share any bottle from my cellar and look forward to the times when I can share some of the bottles from my cellar that I consider special to me. Hopefully they will gain some confidence it what wines they enjoy through these tastings and feel comfortable searching out some newly discovered wines.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Chris. I’m hoping that the tasting group will persist long term. Some of the members will have occasional weekend work responsibilities so that will be a hurdle for us as well.

I think the group is another way for my wife and I to socialize while participating in a hobby that we enjoy. I’d say our socialization hasn’t fully recovered from the wrath of the pandemic. Hopefully having some regular meetings will be reinvigorating.

I wish you luck in your potential resumption of a tasting group!

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For me it really depends on where the focus is. Social vs going full geek on the wine side of things.

I am in a five man tasting group where the wine is very much in focus. We can spend months finding the right wines for a theme, and still end up with as many blind wines after the theme which people bring. Sometimes we go fully blind with everyone bringing 2-3 bottles.

When our wifes and girlfriends join in, the focus is more on the food and the social side of things, as they are just not as interested in wine as us. But often still with a theme which is fun for everyone. Blind wines is actually also pretty fun in this setting as it is a good way to get a wine discussion going, as long as it is causal and not so much about being correct.

Starting out with Champagne works in all settings! :grin:

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One of the reasons for expanding the size of the group is that people differ in how often they want to get together. Some are monthly, some quarterly, and some less often. There’s also some significant geographic diversity. Having more people allows us to get together monthly or more frequently and still have a good sized group.

The catch is once you get over maybe 12 people, it’s harder to hold a tasting. Either we’ll be able to get 2 groups going, or some people will get left out. That will be a difficult bridge to cross, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out when we get there.

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Thanks for your thoughts, Lasse. I think we won’t go full wine geek but still set aside some dedicated time to discuss and analyze the wines tasted. Hopefully it’s educational for everyone participating with a progression towards becoming more geeky over time. A lot of us are foodies too and I appreciate well paired dishes more and more. One of the participants bought a book on charcuterie and I am excited to see what food she brings.

Your support on starting with champagne is appreciated! Who doesn’t like a nice glass of Champagne to start a social gathering?

Blockquote[quote=“Max_S1, post:17, topic:291799, full:true”]
One of the reasons for expanding the size of the group is that people differ in how often they want to get together. Some are monthly, some quarterly, and some less often. There’s also some significant geographic diversity. Having more people allows us to get together monthly or more frequently and still have a good sized group.

The catch is once you get over maybe 12 people, it’s harder to hold a tasting. Either we’ll be able to get 2 groups going, or some people will get left out. That will be a difficult bridge to cross, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out when we get there.

We are starting with 8 people and I am comfortable keeping it close to that number. I would be open to increasing it to around 12 but would expect that some people would get left out occasionally while trying to maintain a monthly meeting.

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Plenty of good suggestIons already, I’ll offer some other ideas.

First off, and most important, is that the right choices and configuration should be based on an open discussion among all participants. Some people hate blind tasting, some love it. Some want a social event, others a wine geek out, others a guided class.

Money (I.e. the amount spent on the wine) is a delicate subject but if possible try to discuss it openly and non-judgmentally. If some members have been buying longer than others, then they could have some currently ‘valuable’ bottles that they bought at much lower prices. So if you’re going to use cost rules, agree in advance if you use purchase price or recent market price. Of course the latter is often difficult to assess and open to debate, so probably purchase price would be better to use.

Also on the subject of cost/value, many here have suggested setting limits, either minimums or maximums, and that’s fine. But if you have members that want to share more expensive bottles, you should think about how or whether to make that happen. Again, open discussion in your first session can head off future trouble.

Some have suggested written note taking. Again, this depends on the group. Maybe they love that idea. Maybe they hate it. Adjust accordingly.

My group has been meeting for 5+ years and we’ve found our groove. We’re just six people, but we mostly meet at restaurants so getting a table limits our group size. This may be easy or hard in your state depending on laws and acceptance of groups bringing in many bottles.

We do theme nights as diverse as “Whites not Chardonnay” to “Volnay” or single vintages. We nearly always start with Champagne, because we like it. We don’t have overt price limits on the high side or low side, but generally agree on a range. Sometimes we do ‘holiday baller’ events where everyone brings something a bit fancier. Everyone is very much into wine, so nobody just grabs a $8 bottle from a supermarket before the meal. But we’ve been at this long enough that we have an idea of what’s in each others’ cellars.

But most important is for this to be fun for the group or it won’t sustain. Our little group has become good friends - the company and camaraderie has become more important than the bottles.