wine tasting party tips?
- K.W. Hanley
Hi there. This is my first post to the messageboard. I came across this site a few weeks ago and have been reading with interest. It amazes me the amount of stuff out there that I don't know about, but want to learn!
Which leads me to...I'm hosting my first ever wine tasting and dinner party this weekend. Learning about wines is a plus (I'm a novice wine drinker, as are the friends that I've invited), but I'm most interested in making sure everyone has fun. I did some general research on the web about hosting wine parties and decided to ask guests to bring in relatively inexpensive CA wines to compare against, and will cover the labels while we taste and discuss. I'm so excited!
Does anyone have suggestions and tips to share? What made your wine party successful? I'm interested in knowing which are the wines to get, what types of foods to serve with it, and just general ideas on ensuring everyone has a good time.
I appreciate any help! Thanks in advance!
I started learning about wines a few years ago and I found that for wine tasting parties it is a good idea to also have available a "professional" review of each of the wines (e.g., from Wine Spectator or Robert Parker, etc..). It is fun and educational to read these after you've had a taste to compare notes. Sometimes you note "something" on the nose or palate that you just can't describe, but when you read it in a "professional" review it suddenly hits you! It is also fun to compare the "rating" you would give the wine compared to the experts. Everyone has their own likes & dislikes and I have found it helpful to try to calibrate my personal ratings against Wines Spectator or Robert Parker (keeping in mind that experts will disagree as well). The benefit is that the next time you read their reviews, it gives you a better sense of how much you might like the wine.
To get the most learning out of the experience, I would also suggest a less random choice of wines. I've personally learned more when there was a theme. For example, a great beginner's theme would be a comparison of the main varietals of red wines, eg. Shiraz, Cab Sauv, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc.. Yes it is less spontaneous, but only after I had them side-by-side did I appreciate many of the differences.
Hope you have fun!
I like your attitude about having fun. For suggestions for wine and food matches the Wine Spectator has a chart in the Dining section. The first thing to do is small the stuff,aroma is important. When you taste the wine think in terms of balance- between the alcohol,acidity and fruitiness(dryness sweetness). The most common descriptions used are comparisons to other fruits.(i.e. for reds- cherries, raspberries etc.,whites- pineapple,apple,grapefruit etc.)Chili's reccomendation of comparing different grape types is a good one. Later on you might want to compare different wines of the same varietal. (5 different Pinot Noirs)Two good books to read are "The Wine Avenger" and "Wine for Dummies". A site that recommends good affordable wine is www.tablewine.com .Affordable wines I recommend are Kurt Darting Riesling Kabinett.Rosemount Shiraz,Meridian Santa Barbara Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.Cheers.
Sounds like fun. I've hosted my share of parties for wine novices. For novices, I think variety is key. Get as many different varietals as you can, so people can taste the spectrum. Order of tasting is important as well. For the most enhanced tasting, and to avoid tired taste buds, set up a wine order, start with sparkling, then dry white, sweet white, red and dessert wines, in that order. I always throw in a humorous bottle or two (Manischewitz, wine in a box, etc.). I like to keep the food to a minimum during the tastings, as it tends to interfere with the taste; something mild like crackers or french bread is good between drinks. Whatever you decide to do, you can't really go wrong. California wine and friends are enough to make any party a success. Have a ball.
I would suggest having the tasting part before the dinner, serving only bread and water to cleanse the palate between wines. I think your plan is good--relatively inexpensive California wines, and covering the labels. Having everyone bring their own glasses can solve logistical problems. Are you doing the wines sort of pot luck, with just the inexpensive California theme in mind, or are you asking each person to bring a particular type? If it's the latter, you might want to try (depending on how many people you're having) a sparkling wine, a riesling, a viognier, a sauvignon blanc, a chardonnay, a rose, a pinot noir, a merlot, a sangiovese, a cabernet, a Bordeaux-type meritage blend, a syrah, and a zinfandel. Pay attention to appearance, aromas before and after swirling, how the wine feels in your mouth, whether it's light, heavy, or medium, what flavors you taste, whether it's balanced, lots of oak or not, lots of tannin or not, the "finish" (the aftertaste) and how long the finish lasts. Then ask yourself: "Do I like it?" It might be fun to supply each guest with a pad or notebook and pen, so you can all write down your impressions of each. To me the best part of a party such as this (beside the fact that it's a lot of fun) is finding wines you want to buy to serve at home. I'm not really in favor of comparing your notes with the notes of "experts." It's very tough to write wine descriptions, and many of these fall into a cliché pattern of "toasty vanilla with gobs of raspberry fruit" kind of writing. I think it's better to discover your own aromas and find your own way into a wine. I'm also not crazy about scoring. I find it more useful to think about what I like (or dislike) about a wine without assigning it a number. (Also, I've been at tastings where my fellow "experts" couldn't detect wines that were corked.) But it would be really useful to have a wine aroma wheel at hand if you can find one--it basically catalogs all the possible aromas you might find.
When you sit down to dinner afterward, each person can pick a wine that he or she particularly enjoyed, and drink that with dinner. You can start with a white, move to a red, etc. And taste different wines with different foods, to see how they work. Sometimes it's surprising.
I'm including a link for a new website, wineanswers.com, that's chock full of helpful info about every aspect of wine. You can also email experts with any questions you have. The link I'm including will take you right to a section about hosting a wine tasting party. Check the FAQ section for links to help with matching food and wine. Disclosure: I'm a spokesperson for the site, which I also write for (though I don't know if any of my columns are on there at the moment).
Have a wonderful time! I envy you the pleasure of beginning to discover wine. And please let us know how it goes.
I'm a fan of mono varietal tastings. Say all RRV Pinots for example. It has been my experience with those new to tasting that differences in wine (age, oak, cold soak etc) become more apparent this way than by moving around with different grapes. It also helps to cement the sense memory for a particular varietal.