I love the idea of home wine tastings. Tastings at a winery or at a wine store can at times be stuffy, and even I, with my basic knowledge of varietals and regions and my somewhat trained palate, find myself freezing up when talking about the aromas and flavors of wine amongst my peers. It brings back horrible memories of being 21, “green” to the wine industry, and so intimidated when tasting with my boss and coworkers… I shudder thinking about how my boss once condemned a colleague for tasting “blueberry” in a wine: how he laughed at him for weeks, and how scared I was to ever announce the flavors/aromas I perceived in a wine after that event. (I wrote some tips about how to avoid this on Hello Giggles: check it out!) So needless to say, I feel that conducting a tasting at home, in a comfortable atmosphere and surrounded by friends and those who love you, is the best way to teach yourself about wine… and a great way to spend an evening!
But how do you go about organizing a tasting? It is quite simple, and actually quite inexpensive if you set a price limit on each bottle. I put together a list of tips for conducting a home wine tasting. Feel free to contact me if you need more suggestions. I hope that you and your friends have fun!
1. Decide on a varietal or style of wine
Which grape intrigues you? Which one do you want to know more about? Choose a varietal or style of wine that you find interesting: it will make the entire event more exciting. For example, I felt like I was not schooled enough on Argentine sparkling wines, so I organized a tasting where each guest brought a bottle of sparkling wine from Argentina. By the end of the night, I realized a few things: Argentina has some incredible sparkling wines, and they make their sparklers from some interesting grapes! (Typically sparkling wines are made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and/or Chardonnay grapes, but in Argentina, anything goes: we tasted one from Torrontes, and they also make them from Bonarda, Malbec, Tannat… you name it! So exciting. And something I might not have known if I had not hosted this tasting.)
2. Choose whether or not to make it specific or very broad (I suggest specific).
If you choose a grape like Cabernet Sauvignon, which is produced throughout the world, in many styles, and in many different price ranges, you are allowing your guests a lot of leeway. This is good and bad: you and your guests might get an incredible sampling of the world’s Cabernets… but you also might leave a tad confused, since this incredibly popular grape is made in so many very different styles! I suggest limiting it a little: try “Cabernets from California”, or “Malbecs from Argentina” or “Shiraz from Australia” to start: it will narrow down the region and give you a nice sampling of an area’s wines so that by the end of the night, you have a decent idea of what the region has to offer.
3. Choose a price range and assign the wines
This goes without saying. Obviously, it is only fair to set a price range so that guests are comfortable with the wine that they bring; in addition, it gives you an idea of what wines from a region in a certain price range are like. Of course, if you are throwing a blind taste test, it is always fun to throw in one more expensive bottle and one less expensive one… just to see if price really does determine the wine’s quality. You’d be surprised at how many inexpensive wines beat out pricier ones: look at Charles Shaw and it’s award-winning Chardonnay. . . thanks to a blind taste test at the California State Fair!
I suggest setting up an email list or a private Facebook event for the group: that way, everyone can communicate what wines they are bringing so that there are no duplicates.
Stemware, brown bags (if hosting a blind taste test), pens and paper for note taking and voting, a spittoon for spitting and some water for rinsing glasses … there is not much required to host a tasting!
If the purpose of the party is to learn about each varietal, then I suggest providing food as well. Food and wine are intricately linked, so what good is learning about wine if you don’t know what to drink it with? Search for recipes that compliment the varietal you are showcasing: you and your guests can sample the dishes alongside the wines and leave the event with some great recipes to pair with your new favorite wines.
Hosting a more formal tasting, where wine is the showcase? Bread and water are all you need.
I hope that these tips help you organize a casual, fun event where everyone learns a little more about wine. As I said before, if you need some tips choosing a varietal, or region, or recipes, feel free to contact me at sedimentality(at)gmail(dot)com.