Tips for starting your own tasting group

Q: We would like to start a small wine-tasting group to meet regularly and learn a bit more about wine. Can you suggest a format for organizing a home-tasting group?

A: There are many ways to do this, but if you really want it to be a learning, rather than purely social occasion, I would suggest the following:

• Set a regular date (monthly if possible) and get it on everyone's calendar.

• Choose a specific topic, such as a specific grape (riesling), a specific place (Yakima Valley), a specific vintage, etc. Keep it as focused as possible, for each tasting.

• Either everyone brings a bottle, or one person buys all wine for the night.

• Figure one bottle per person, 12 people maximum (8-10 is ideal).

• Strip off capsules, pull corks and place bottles in plain brown bags.

• Taste a bottle at a time — one ounce pours — and make notes — remember tasters are sampling and spitting, not drinking each ounce.

• Go through the wines again, discuss, and vote (like, didn't like, favorite, etc.).

• Reveal its identity after you go through each wine the second time.

• Have a good reference book handy, such as "Oxford Companion to Wine," "The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia," or "The Wine Bible"; read some highlights out loud.

• If you want to add a challenge, have the host put a "ringer" into the mix and see if anyone can guess which wine does not fit the evening's topic.

• Most important, provide food, water, spit cups and a dump bucket. Have fun!

Paul Gregutt answers questions weekly in the Wine section.

He can be reached by e-mail at