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Starting a wine group- foods to accompany?

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Would like to start with a few couples in the Berkshires but am wondering whether to request appetizers/cheeses to match the theme or have a bring-a-dish dinner structure. What have you found to work best?

Also, what minimum to maximum price range leads to a successful tasting? Thanks, in advance, for your suggestions.

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  1. There have been some GREAT threads on the wine board that have talked specifically about wine - tasting groups and how to get started, and what foods to serve with various themes. Do you mind doing a search and unearthing these threads?

    Here are two to get you started -- Jason (zin1953), among others, shares
    great specifics and suggestions:

    Starting up a wine tasting group, any advice?
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/498351

    Want to start a wine club
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/458344

    1. It SOOO depends upon what you are looking for.

      My very general suggestion, based not upon how I taste with my friends, but based upon what it sounds like you are looking for, is to just have a rough idea of what you want to be tasting price-wise and, since you are doing a pot-luck theme tasting tell everyone to bring a dish that they feel will compliment the theme.

      1. Of course the price range depends on the financial status of the friends.

        And of course it also depends on what you're offering. If you're having caviar and prime steaks that's one price. If having toast points and cheese that's a very different price...

        But if you want a very inclusive price that wouldn't turn away any serious wine taster, then if you're tasting at least 5 or so wines per event, and have any kind of reasonable food accompaniment, then you'll have very large turnout at around $30 per person, IMO.

        Once you get into the $50 range you need to have more interesting exclusive wines and very nice dinner. Into the $70 to 100 nicer still and semi-haute cuisine and on up from there, just depends on who's coming and what they're interested in.

        If you're appealing to wine geeks then the food just has to be nicely prepared, IMO, to highlight whatever the theme is, but it doesn't have to be elaborately presented with haute acoutrements...

        Then, the wine should be good examples of the varietal, not necessarily trophy bottles by any means...

        Based on what you're describing I'd say you should try and develop the purpose of the event a bit better as it's not clear from your post. Are these people who are looking to taste these varietals for the first time and get to know the differences in the flavors of the wines ? OR are these people reasonably familiar with the different wines and want to take it to the next level and start experimenting with food / wine matching ??

        If they are relatively new and just want familiarity with the taste of the wines, then keeping it very simple and just serving with some cheese or finger-food makes sense to me. On the other hand, if they're looking to develop their palates for food and wine matching then you have to have a theme.... either the FOOD is the theme, and you get wines to the event to try with the food OR the WINE is the event and you bring various dishes to try and pair with the wine... it works either way.

        If going the food/wine tasting route (as opposed to wine-introduction focus), then I personally prefer making the FOOD the theme because that's the way it comes to you in the real world of restaurants. There isn't a "chardonnay restaurant" or a "malbec restaurant".... there are thai restaurants, steakhouses, french restaurants, etc. etc....

        So, starting with the food as the theme and bringing various different varietals to your tastings, you can quickly ascertain which varietals match that theme of food. Then the next time you're heading to a restaurant that specializes in that cuisine, you'll have a real good idea of what wine to BYOB or to order from the winelist.

        A key point there being that many cuisines have some dishes that fit white varietal(s) and some dishes that fit red varietal(s), etc. So if you're doing a food theme with proposed matching wines for tasting, keep that in mind. Say you're doing Italian cuisine, that's a very broad category... do you want to focus on Italian dishes likely to match red wines, and have your guests (or you) bring various reds to try and match them ? (or vice-versa with white-favoring dishes) OR do you want to mix it up and serve a couple red-favoring dishes and a couple white-favoring dishes from that cuisine?

        Hope this helps. Please report on how you structure it and your tasting results....

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chicago Mike

          This post brings up several thoughts... but one that I would like to highlight:

          "Once you get into the $50 range you need to have more interesting exclusive wines and very nice dinner. Into the $70 to 100 nicer still and semi-haute cuisine and on up from there, just depends on who's coming and what they're interested in.

          If you're appealing to wine geeks then the food just has to be nicely prepared, IMO, to highlight whatever the theme is, but it doesn't have to be elaborately presented with haute acoutrements..."

          I think this can be summed up by saying: be appropriate. I once went over to a friend's house with the 2 '02 KL Reserves, he opened the '95 Harlan and Maya, someone else came by with '02 Araujo. We had hambugers. I was also having burgers when I had the '82 Pichon-Lalande and all three times I've had '90 Montrose. Granted, these were good 2/3 lb burgers that we grilled on an open flame and topped with some good cheddar, but still... The point is that everyone was on the same page that this was just a casual get together to hang out and share stories, and some great wine. Different people have different intersts and attitudes towards life/food, and you would know a lot better than we would how fru-fru the food you serve ought to be. But, to be pefectly honest, I would take a really good burger with a Cabernet over most other foods. There are a lot of great food pairings out there and even if you decide to dink expensive wines, I don't think that necessarily translates into needing to go out and get truffles. (Just like, conversely, I've had dinner parties where the ingredients probably cost $60/person and we only spent about $40/person on the wine... it ALL DEPENDS on what you are looking for,)

        2. We did a food/wine group, some years back. For that group, we had six couples, and usually only 4 could attend any one monthly event.

          The host/hostess chose the theme, provided the entrée, the welcome wine and a "themed" wine for the entrée. All other attendees did a dish plus a wine for it. People got to choose the dish/wine, based on who responded first.

          Sometimes, the theme was loose, and other times it was very specific. Everyone had to give a talk about their dish(es) and the wine(s). Sometimes, there were handouts. This group did well for many years, until it was decimated by people moving away. Often, there were cooking demos, by the host/hostess.

          Themes ranged from "the wines of Spain," to "the wines of the Cote d'Or." It was up to the host/hostess to define the theme. Lot of fun. Lot of good food. Lot of good wines.

          Enjoy,

          Hunt

          PS we never set a $ limit. It was about the theme, and the wines ranged from >$20 to >$300. It was up to the attendees. No one ever felt slighted - so long as the wines went with the respective dishes. I brought wines in that price range, though usually pulled out a few "stops," when we hosted. Heck, they were in my cellar, and what better way to consume them, than with good food and better friends?

          3 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            We have our first tasting for 8 planned for Sept. 22. We've chosen a bottom price of $20. I will probably have eveyone bring their own glasses as I bought the washable nametags that fit onto the stemware. Also, our food approach will be "substantial appetizers" in hopes of eating a light dinner together.

            I will use your aluminum/brown bag strategy to cover labels for a blind tasting. Would anyone know of a website that provides a worksheet which could be utilized for writing comments? Any other ideas for my preparation in hosting the first meeting?

            Most of the participants seem to prefer reds. Therefore, I was thinking of Italian or French areas to explore. Can you suggest an exciting place to start? If you have any good appetizers to suggest which would pair well with the wines, we would be most appreciative.

            1. re: hopegoode

              As for reds, it makes sense to me to start with the most COMMON REDS for the first couple group meetings, then work down to the more exotiic reds. Let's say you're doing 4 varietals each for first 2 meetings, then the most common 8 varietals are probably: Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese. So pick 4 for each of your first 2 meetings.

              Alternatively, you could focus on reds from a particular country or region.

              Once you have specified the strategy and the wines for the evening, then you can work up matching food items.

              As for comment notes, keep the paper fairly small with writing pens that don't require alot of pressure (like felt-tip flairs). You can just quarter some 8.5 x 11 letter size plain paper and staple a few together.

              Personally I like to have all the wines on the table at the same time so guests can sip them side-by-side. And you either have to a) label the cups or b) make sure the guests are disciplined enough to keep the cups in order from left to right in front of them.

              I don't find it as important to keep the identity of the wine hidden if they are different varietals. In fact I'd like to know so that I can note the nuance differences between the different types of wine. On the other hand, blind tasting is good if you're sipping several offerings of the SAME VARIETAL (say tasting 4 chardonnays for example) or if you have a trophy wine in the batch that will get undue "oos and ahhs" just because it's a well-known trophy. But otherwise I'd prefer to know what wine it is and just keep it straight by labelling the cups or keeping the cups in order. For example, if you pour the wines in order: zinfandel, rioja, cabernet, barolo... then have the 4 bottles "on display" from left to right in the same order and have the guests strive to keep their 4 glasses/cups in same order from left to right in front of them.

              But getting the matching foods will be the last thing you do, after you've settled on which wines you're presenting that evening.

              1. re: hopegoode

                How specific do you want your theme to be?

                If you want to be petty specific, I'd proably go Southern Rhone. There are a lot of good wines in the $20-$60 price range and 2005 is an excellent vintage, 2006 also appears to be very very good so it would be easy for everyone to pick up a good example from their favorite wine store. (FYI: You'd be tasting mostly Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape.) These are also excellent food wines.

                For pairing, even though it is Italian, I really like Breassola, watercress, and fontina panini with Southern Rhones. But almost any cured meat, a wide variety of cheese, duck and lamb are all normally quite nice with them.

                If you want to do an entire country, I would do Spain. The problem there would be thatyou might want, then, to note which wines come from which regions, as a Rioja will not show as well after drinking a heavier Ribera del Duero, Priorat, or Toro.

                FYI: My rationale for region rather than varietal is two-fold. 1) price-related. Sadly, unless you are already quite knowledgable about wine, a $30 Cabernet, Merlot, or Pinot is unlikely to be quite delicious. Whereas you have a much better shot in other regions. 2) Style varies so much from region to region that if you are doing a tasting you would deffinitely want to have an intended order to the wines. (For example, if you were doing Syrah, you would want to have the European ones first, then the California ones, then the Australian ones, because there are such huge differences in how much extraction these wines get based upon the region they hail from.)