Gather your favorite vinofiles – sip and choose your wine.
ASE subscribers have lamented that some of their favorite imported wines (especially from Australia and New Zealand) are difficult to find and they are looking for alternatives. Many have suggested that we write about wines from unfamiliar vineyards being recommended by local wineshops. Because we are always willing to serve our readers, Nancy and I have begun tasting new wines and it got me thinking about how to host a wine tasting party. Here are some suggestions.
What do you want to get out of the wine tasting party? Here are some ideas.
Choose a champagne to serve at a wedding reception (my genius mother did this and it resulted in a wonderful first meeting for the in-laws).
Find a new ‘house’ wine when your stand-by becomes expensive or hard to find.
Explore regional wines in advance of travel – French Burgundies? Argentinian Malbecs? South African Pinotage?
Embrace the blends. I attended a tasting in Argentina at a friend’s vineyard where we offered our responses to different blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot. Yum.
You could choose one wine variety like Sauvignon Blanc and try wines from different regions – California, New Zealand and South Africa. Did you know that Pouilly Fume is the French cousin of Sauvignon Blanc?
You could choose to try only organic wines.
Pick a theme.
We are approaching summer, so I am interested in Rosés and there are so many pink choices. Build on your theme by decorating the tasting table, choosing food and a special location to transport your guests. In your garden, early summer evening, picnic fare and cheeses? Before a wedding shower, imagine a theme of pink champagnes and Proseccos with guests dressed in pink to celebrate love.
Create a wine list.
Your local wine shop can advise you or give your guests the wine variety you will be tasting and ask each one to bring a bottle.
Stock your ‘cave’ with enough wine.
On average, you should plan to provide about two glasses of wine per person – although you know your friends and will be able to estimate their capacity. A 2-ounce pour of each wine is standard for tastings – and there are about 24 ounces of wine in a standard 750 ml bottle. Guests tend to sip ‘small’ with each wine and then re-taste the wines they like. Be prepared for your guests to find a favorite wine and ask for a full glass. My local wine store will allow me to buy extra bottles and return them if they are not the favorites. Have at least three wines for guests to taste, five is fine, but don’t confuse them with too many choices – this is supposed to be fun, not work.
Hide the labels.
Blind tasting lets your guests put their palettes and their sophistication on the line and adds an element of competition.
Disguise the labels on the wine bottles and replace them with a number, letter, or name you make up so that guests can distinguish their favorites. Your local wine store may give you long, narrow wine bags – especially if you are buying the wines. Put each bottle in a bag and tie it up with a different color ribbon to distinguish them. Tinfoil wrapped around each bottle with colorful ribbons or labels works.
Experts will tell you that price and pleasure are not necessarily related when it comes to wine. Wouldn’t it be fun to discover a reasonable wine that everyone loves?
Serve the wines at their best.
Make sure the wines are at the correct temperature.
Bubbles 40-45 degrees, whites 40-50 degrees, and reds 55-65 degrees.
Test equipment (gadgets) as well as the wine.
Get an aerator and decant ½ of a bottle into a decanter and the other half of the same bottle through an aerator. See if guests can tell the difference. Wine Aerator, $13.99.
This video will introduce you to wine tasting techniques and help you guide your guests.
Food plays a supporting role.
Food should be simple and add to the theme. If you are tasting light Rosés, choose summer foods that will transport your guests to warm breezes and vineyards. My local wine store is helpful in suggesting foods that will pair well with my wine. This ASE article has sites that suggest pairings of wine and food.
Have expert advice on hand – with Wine-Searcher.
If you are providing the wines, you can research them ahead of time. If your guests bring bottles, be prepared to look them up.
You will need several glasses for each guest. These should be clear so that they can evaluate color and clarity. Rental is a good option.
Have a ‘dump bucket’ ready. Yes, it is what you think. Guests may want to spit out wines they don’t favor or savor.
Palate cleansers are a must – crackers, bread, and water.
Decanters are optional but elegant. Rental is an option.
Make it easy for guests to keep track of their reactions to the wines. Wine Tasting Notes make it easy for guests to record their preferences. You can print this scorecard for $4 with prompts like appearance, aroma, taste and finish.
Download and print these wine tasting placemats for free. They have categories like fruit, flower, spice, and earth.
Wine-themed cocktail napkins.