Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Having a Wine Tasting Party

Good wine with friends—what could be better? Having an informal wine party. It’s fun and well worth the planning. Any good party takes a bit of preparation, from the menu to the music. A wine tasting just has a few more steps—mainly making sure guests RSVP and coordinating who is bringing what wine (unless you have deep pockets and are supplying all the wine). Usually, I get every couple to bring a bottle within a certain price range and from a certain region, though you could stick to a certain varietal or even colour.

I like to know before the party what wines will be tasted so I can make up a list for guests to take home, along with their tasting notes. Also, I need to know how many bottles I’m supplying. Depending on how many guests, having 5-9 wines to taste is good. If you have too many wines, guests will get buzzed and think everything’s fabulous because their taste buds are deadened.

Since it’s a wine tasting and not a dinner, keep the appetizers simple. Quiches, fruit and veggies are great, as well as cheese, as it’s a natural accompaniment to wine. Have a variety of cheeses, from soft (Brie) to hard (cheddar), but label them if they're flavoured or specialty. Also have plain bread and crackers to cleanse the palate while tasting wines. Also make sure there’s plenty of water—both for drinking and for rinsing out glasses between wines so there’s no remaining residue from the previous wine, no matter how tasty.

I like blind tastings, where paper bags cover the bottles. This way personal biases about varietals, producers and price are pushed aside. It’s good to have a designated pourer to keep the tasting going smoothly and the group at relatively the same pace. Make sure you start with white wines before tasting the reds, and always go from light to full-bodied with both wines.

I give guests a wine tasting sheet I created where they can rate the wines from 1-10, with 10 being amazing. There’s also room for notes about the aromas and flavours. Before the tasting guests can flip through wine books or look at sheets of common wine terms to help them with their own notes. If people are new to the wine tasting experience, introduce the swirl & sniff. Get them to experience a wine’s aromas before tasting (sip & swish!). I find that at least three sips are needed to truly determine the different tastes and to really enjoy it, but then again, sometimes it’s love or hate at first sip.

After each wine is tasted, it’s fun to go around the room and comment on our impressions. What one person loves, another will hate. Sometimes everyone agrees on a clear winner or loser. It’s entertaining to hear descriptions of different scents and flavours—amazing how creative people can get. It’s also surprising when people you least likely expect to be enthusiastic about describing wine turn out to be the most insightful.

After the tasting, the wines are revealed and the wine list is given out so that partiers can identify what they liked. They also now have some names to look for the next time they're at the liquor store or in a wine shop.

So, next time you’re thinking of having a party, why not try a wine tasting. No one has to be a sommelier (though, that would be a bonus), just keep it fun and informal. Guaranteed, your guests will learn something, even if it’s that they love California Zinfandels or they hate a particular brand of Cabernet Sauvignon. They might even discover that they have a knack for describing what’s in their glass.



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