You might not experience the romance and splendor of Wine Country, but as far as learning about wine, hosting a wine tasting party – rather than going wine tasting – can’t be beat.
It’ll sharpen your palate like nothing else, be great fun for you and your friends, and is surprisingly simple to undertake. Here’s a basic outline of what you’ll need to do.
Invite Some Friends, But Not Too Many
There will be several wine bottles and a good number of glasses involved. Keep the mayhem under control by limiting your tasting part to six to eight people.
Line Up Your Glassware
Wine tastings are best conducted in flights in which a set of related wines are laid out for tasters to sniff, swish, spit (more on that in a moment) and assess. We recommend three or four wines in a flight. Ideally, you’ll have a glass for each wine in a flight. If you don’t have enough glasses for two flights per person, you can rinse the glasses out after the first flight and re-use them. But why not run over to your local Ikea and pick up a bunch of Hederligs for two bucks a pop and be done with it?
Wine, You Will Need Wine
A solid tasting is two flights of four wines apiece, one white flight, followed by a red flight. But you can do two flights of whites or reds if you wish. Just keep in mind that you always want to finish with your bigger, bolder, more expressive wines.
As far as the specific wines within each flight, the key is to have some kind of coherence or theme going.
For instance, you could taste the Protea Chenin Blanc with three other South African Chenins, including the Ernie Els Big Easy White, and explore how different wineries put their own stamp on the grape. Or try the Protea alongside Chenin Blancs from other wine regions – there are Chenins from California, Washington State and of course from France’s Loire Valley.
Apply the same principle to your tasting of reds, focusing in on a variety across regions (or within a single area) to explore the way place can spell similarities (or differences) in wines.
Blind or Not?
Your tasting could be even more interesting if your guests don’t know exactly what’s in the glasses. Feel free to tell them the region or variety beforehand; some context is helpful. But cover up the bottles before anyone arrives. Paper sacks will work, but we like wrapping the bottles in foil best. Mark the bottles in the order in which they’ll be served (1, 2, 3 …) and wait until each flight is finished before making the big reveal.
Setting It All Up
Hold your tasting in a room where your group won’t be distracted by sensory input, be it noise or aromas. A white or off-white table covering is a good idea, too, either a table cloth or sheets of butcher paper. This will help focus attention on the wines. Oh, and Wine Folly has a nifty PDF placemat that you can download and print out!
Provide each taster a spit bucket, which could just be an opaque cup. Even the humble but classic 16 oz. red plastic party cup would do. Some neutral crackers are also a nice touch as a palate cleanser, along with a glass of water.
Pour about an once and a half of wine into each person’s glass, in the same order at each setting, going from left to right. If an ounce and a half doesn’t sound like much wine, remember, you guys are going to be tasting a bunch of wines. Plus, here’s our plan for all the wine that will be left over: These are your potluck dinner wines.
That’s right, since you’re providing this great array of wines, you can feel free to ask each of your guests to bring over a dish that has a fair chance of going with the wines you’ll be tasting. That might be the best part of the tasting party, going back to your favorites and tasting them again, and casually experimenting with different tasting combinations.
Check out these posts with more info that could come in handy before, during and after your wine tasting party:
- The Right Temperature for Wine
- Five Wine Tasting Terms You Need to Know
- What to Do With All Those Wine Corks