Unlike hosting a dinner party or planning a bridal shower, a wine tasting event requires hardly any planning. With a wine tasting, you can spend less time prepping for the event and spend more time enjoying your guests. This is a stress free way to host. It also gives a great excuse ends to test their palette. Now let’s go on a grape exploration.
Picking a theme is necessary, as it will help you decide which wine to buy. Start by deciding if you want red, white, sparkling, or dessert wine. Or just stick to wines within a specific region (Willamette Valley or Napa Valley), or taste the same varietal produced in different parts of the world (Cabernet Sauvignon). With the surge of eco-friendly trends, organic wines are now available, perfect for a eco-friendly theme.
Think about your guests and how much they know about wine. If you’re hosting a group of novice wine drinkers, a more basic tasting such as an introduction to one of the major red wine grapes works best. If your group is more experienced, try experimenting with lesser-known varietals or different years (vintage) of the same wine. Also think about the season: heavy and full reds don’t mix well with a hot and dry August evening, but they would be perfect in February around the fireplace.
You can host a wine tasting on any budget. While some bottles can costs hundreds, even thousands of dollars, yet a great tasting can be done on almost any budget. Go to your local grocery, Trader Joe’s or World Market to find some budget friendly bottles. Ask the reps from the store, one might be able to recommend a bottle for you.
To share the cost of the event, make the tasting a potluck style tasting. Or have tiny bites to supplement your tasting. Prepared food and no-cook items can easy bulk up a menu.
No Cook Items: cheese, crackers, breads, chutneys, fresh or dried fruit (apples, pears, grapes and figs), pickled vegetables, nuts, honey, jam, salami and other dried/cured meats,
Prepared foods: deli counter sliced meat, pre-made desserts from your local grocery or bakery. Remove wrappings and transfer everything to several serving dishes. Then clean afterwards is a snap.
Offer food or drink that will help cleanse the tongue (palette) of any flavor remnants. Chilled water and bland crackers are a great example. Try to avoid flavored breads or crackers.
If you want to trim your budget, skip the crackers and bread, but water must be offered.
Line up wines in the order in which they will be tasted. Although there are no set rules, Cheney recommends starting with whites and finishing with reds, and going in order of driest to sweetest and lightest to heaviest.
Six different wines are enough to keep your guests entertained with flavors. Offering more than six can make your guests feel overwhelmed and rushed to try them all. In addition, it can get your guests beyond drunk. :)
After the tasting, if you your guests are not too full, offer them dessert. Pairing something light with coffee or tea will help settle the stomach. Don’t forget to offer nonalcoholic options to your guests whom are driving.
Chill the Wine
In general, white wines are chilled and reds room are at temperature. If your house is warm, you can put the bottles in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes or just until they are cool to the touch. Red wines should not be served cold, so be sure to take them out of the fridge about one hour prior to pouring.
Opening and Pouring Wine
Opening all your bottles ahead of time can streamline the tasting process, especially if you have a large group. But if the party is small enough, opening the bottles at each round is acceptable (and more fun).
The Tasting Steps
1. Introduce the Wine
Start by introducing and pouring your first wine, then walk the group through the tasting process detailed below. Throughout the tasting, encourage your guests to keep in mind that this is a fun, social occasion, so it is not a competition. Just a relaxed way to try to new.
Hold the glass at a 45-degree angle over a white tablecloth or napkin and examine the wine’s color and intensity. Is it a deep red, a light gold? Is the color saturated throughout or does the wine look watery around the rim/edges? Does it look viscous or watery?
Place the glass on the table and swirl it vigorously to release the wine’s aromas, then bring the glass up to your nose and inhale. What does the smell remind you of? Cherries? Tobacco? Oak?
Take a small sip and swish around. Allow some air to help release the aromas and flavors. Think about what flavors you taste as well as the wine’s acidity and sweetness. Also consider the wine’s body and texture: Is it light or heavy? Thick or thin? If you’re sampling red wine, think about the tannin level—tannins make for a dry, almost cotton-dry. Again, you may want to close your eyes to focus on what you’re tasting.
Swallow the wine and think about its finish and aftertaste. Does the flavor linger (have a “long finish”) or disappear quickly? Is the wine one-dimensional or more complex?
Do you like this wine? Try to identify exactly what you like or dislike, as that can help you identify wines you’ll enjoy in the future. And, keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers—it’s all a matter of personal preference.
7. Samples #2 to #6
In between each sample, be sure everyone cleanses their palate with water. Sample the wine with a morsel of food. Does it bring out hidden flavors?
For subsequent wines, you may want to once again lead the group through the formal tasting process—this can be especially helpful for newbie tasters. But, if you think your group would prefer, feel free to let everyone taste on their own.
8. Final Discussion
Once all the wines have been sampled, lead the group in a discussion about all six wines. (If you held a blind tasting, this is the time to reveal your bottles.) For fun, have everyone vote for his or her favorite and rank the wines in terms of preference.
A prost to you and your next party! Cheers!
(Credits: Photo – Pottery Barn; Thoughts and Ideas from: Wine Lovers, Forbes, Epicurious and my past experiences)
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