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Feb 22, 2008 07:56 AM

Wine Tasting for Beginners...

I will be hosting a wine tasting party in the near future for a group of people very new to wine. Sure, all of us are familiar with "wine" and some of us are more advanced than others, but none of us are "accomplished."

My thought was that the least intimidating start (I would *love* to make it a regular event) would be through French whites. Something to represent several varietals...perhaps a Chablis, Sancerre, Alsace Riesling, Gew├╝rztraminer, Condrieu Viognier, Pinot Gris...and maybe a Vouvray for Chenin Blanc? I'd love to throw in a Champagne, but that already sounds like a lot of wine...:).

So - am I missing anything crucial? Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gew├╝rztraminer, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc...I'm leaving out Melon and Pinot Blanc, I know. Semillon as well... I'm aiming for wines with distinct character - key notes, colour, mouthfeel... Thoughts?

Also, what amount of wine would be appropriate? The idea is to do a blind tasting, chat a bit, then put out finger foods and have a few glasses of our favorites. I don't mind refrigerating leftovers, but I don't want to encourage alcohol-poisoning...

Any advice?

Thanks so much in advance!

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  1. How many people would be there? You're going to get about 10-12 tasting pours out of each bottle of wine, so if you have more than that many people, you'll need multiple bottles of each. I wouldn't worry too much about people drinking too much. Provide buckets for pouring and spitting and encourage it.

    1. If you are doing this for wine "newbies" I would keep things as simple as possible.

      Present them with flights of very different wines.

      1 flight of white wines from different region and varietal of the world. (6 wines)
      1 flight of old-world red (5 wines)
      1 flight of new-world red. (5 wines)
      1 flight of "sweet" wines to finish this out. (2, 3 wines).

      As for the amount, 1 bottle will be enough for 10, 11 persons, you do not have to pour a large quantity of wine in each glass; that should leave 1, 2 small pours of each wine at the end.

      Don't forget water, don't forget bread. during the blind testing.

      1. Are you sure you want to do so many varietals? You don't want to overwhelm beginners.... Maybe do four or five...and add a Muscat.

        Another option would be to do one or two varietals, but from different vineyards.

        Be sure to have slips of paper & pencil for those who want to take notes! =)

        1. Just my 2 cents but that seems a little complicated for total newcomers.

          I'd reduce those varietals just a bit, give them the "major" white wines only (no bubblies), to start, and go into some amount of detail.

          LOIRE: Chenin Blanc & Sauvignon Blanc

          BURGUNDY: Chardonnay

          ALSACE: Gewurztraminer

          BORDEAUX/ Graves: White meritage, mostly Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

          That's quite alot for newbies to take in, and those are the "headline" varietals that they will come across in alot of other regions. It gives them 4 varietals and a meritage to start with... match them up with some finger foods/cheeses, and you have quite a complete experience.

          I didn't include riesling here, just because it is so much more highly identified with Germany, but if I was to include another varietal, it would be an Alsatian Riesling. Would be an interesting comparison/contrast to the gewurz also.

          For now I'd leave off the champagnes, the viogniers, the muscadets, the pinot gris, etc... save them for a more "detailed" tasting later.

          The recommended wines in addition to being abundant in France have the added advantage of introducing them to varietals that are planted all over the world....

          8 Replies
          1. re: Chicago Mike

            I am no expert, and I cannot help with exact wines to use, but we started doing this with friends last year, we are somewhat newbies too.

            We started with comparing wines such as old world vs. new world. wines that we could really see the difference on. We always have a theme, whether it is a region or bbq wines or whatever. I

            would think a blind tasting might be a little overwhelming for newbies. For our first we did one wine comparison as a blind tasting, It was 2 different Zins, one pricey, one cheap, then asked which was the expensive, and what was the grape varietal, I had a door prize for the correct answer.

            We always have 8 people, make it a sit down event, with finger food pairings such as cheese & meats.

            I found a local wine store that gives me great advice on wines and food pairings...this was very helpful, as great as this board is, you will get sooooo many varying opinions.

            I serve 2 bottles of 4 varieties + a dessert wine. This is a fair amount, and the night usually gets pretty fun. However I limit refills until the actual tasting is over.

            I also print out various information about wine tasting for the people really new to it, and offer a price list. Sometimes my wine store will even give me coupons to hand out.

            I have learned not too take it all too seriously, some people love to talk about the wines others not so much....but they are having fun.

            This has become a regular thing for us, and we have our friends asking when our next one is. We even did a stand up tasting for 25ppl at xmas with great wines under $20.

            Hope this gives you some fun suggestions. Let us know how it goes.

            1. re: cleopatra999

              cloepatra999, your wine tasing parties sound great! While you say you usually serve 2 bottles of 4 varieties + a dessert wine, can you give me an example? For instance, by '4 varieties,' do you mean that at one tasting you might have Chardonnay, Chablis, Merlot, and Pinot Noir; and by '2 bottles' would you have 2 bottles of the same Chardonnay or 2 bottles from different producers?

              1. re: brandygirl

                2 bottles of chardonnay from different vineyards/producers.

                1. re: brandygirl

                  for instance our first tasting was a comparison of old world v. new world so we had a Malbec & a cohors, a syrah & a shiraz etc.

                  for our next one we did bbq wines so we had big reds & some whites with bbq shrimp, in this one it was 2 of each wine ie. 2 same zins 2 same cab sav. so we could have more of a taste of each (and more left overs), although you could easily do 2 same varietal, different vineyard.

                  We rarely end up with anything left at the end of the night, but these turn into quite a saturday night party with wii & pool till the wee hours!

                  our next planned event is white wine for red wine drinkers, we have gone for the 2 of the same bottles.This seems to work well for us.

                  1. re: cleopatra999

                    Oops...I guess I spoke too soon for cleo.

                    In our tastings, we;ve done for example 3 different chardonnays and 3 different pinot grigio (from 3-6 different wineries). It's fun to taste how chardonnays can differ...and yet see how chardonnays differ altogether from pinot grigios.

                    Thru the evening, favourites emerge...and opinions vary. And another fun part is trying to imagine which wines would pair well with certain dishes.

                    1. re: OCAnn

                      OCann....I like that idea too...will have to do it with another tasting :) However instead of imagining which will pair with what, we will experiment by having various food out....much more enjoyable ;)

                      I think that you really can't go wrong with wine tastings! We will never be at a loss for a new theme.

                    2. re: cleopatra999

                      That sounds like so much fun--I want an invite!

                      1. re: brandygirl

                        Its a long drive from Cali to Alberta.... ;)

              2. I would agree that blind tastings are somewhat intimidating, and I would probably start with comparisons of wines unblinded for the first few sessions, and get into blind tastings later on for fun.

                I like Cleopartra999's format a lot! We also have a group of 8-9 people in our regular wine tasting groups, and we find that it is a nice number for chatting and tasting. We usually aim for 4-5 bottles, usually with a theme. Last night, the theme was wine that goes well with bacon dishes (inspired by Formosalily's bacon tasting thread). I was unfortunately unable to attend, but all reports suggest it went very well! There was even a bacon cake dessert which was surprisingly tasty.

                4-5 bottles for 8-9 people allows you to focus on one comparison, is not overwhelming for newbies, and is a pleasant and safe amount to drink over an evening.

                For more academia and serious tastings, 10-15 bottles for 10-12 people can work, then you can do flights of 4-5 wines with themes linking each flight of wines. I wouldn't try to finish the bottles though. Or if you do, do so over a long evening, and no one drives home...

                1 Reply
                1. re: moh

                  I started hosting a monthly wine tasting for beginners as well. I decided though to showcase one varietal per month (focusing on the major varietals) so that we could all get to know the varietals a little bit better before getting too specific (which means it will be really easy to move expand once we're done.)

                  I also encouraged people to recork and take their unfinished bottles home with them so that no one felt compelled to finish a bottle in one sitting--it can get to be a lot! So far it's been going really well.