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It may sound a little odd when I tell you I enjoy sitting around a table with friends painstakingly trying to guess a wine I just tasted. But it’s something we wine geeks do a lot, and I think anyone who enjoys wine should share the experience. Blind-tasting wine is the skill of determining the grape variety, region, vintage and producer (recommended for experts only) by using only sensory cues — color, aroma and taste.

It’s an easy and fun event to host. Start by asking guests to bring one bottle of wine. It’s more fun if you don’t attempt to trick one another with blends and unknown varietals. Start with familiar grapes, such as an oaked chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, Riesling and moscato for whites and merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and shiraz for reds.

The tasting setup and equipment are the same as for other tastings: wine and water glasses for each participant, a spittoon and a few palate-cleansing snacks. As I always say, spit early, spit often and spit with confidence, because there may be more wines for tasting than you need. The only difference in setup is the use of wine bags or other cover to hide the bottles. If you don’t want to splurge on wine bags, something as simple as aluminum foil works well. (For those oenophiles you even go another step to be sure they can’t see the bottle shape because it can give the wine away.) Put a number on each bottle starting with whites and then going to reds.

Here are few wines to bring to the party that are straightforward and fun to explore.


  • 2013 Matchbook Chardonnay, California (about $15 retail)
  • 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, Washington (about $13 retail)
  • 2013 Oyster Bay Sauvignon, New Zealand (about $14 retail)


  • 2013 Force of Nature Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $19 retail)
  • 2011 Raptor Ridge Estate Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $45 retail)
  • 2011 Reynolds Family Winery Merlot, California (about $40 retail)