Invite your friends to a wine tasting at your home
If you’ve run out of room in your wine chiller, if you have friends that enjoy trying wines as much as you do or if you just want to entertain in a new way, consider hosting a wine-tasting party. You can make it as simple or elaborate as you wish and as enjoyable for wine novices as for oenophiles.
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether you want to provide all the wine or ask each guest or couple to bring a bottle. If the latter, it’s best to determine the criteria for the wines to be included so they have some guidance. You can “theme” your tasting by wine region, varietal or a whimsy such as “wines with animals pictured on the label.”
If your guests will be contributing to the inventory, you should probably set a price range so they don’t have to worry about the comparison of what they spent to what someone else spent. And don’t set the bar too high, because you’ll be left with too many open bottles of pricey wine that are best appreciated on their own.
Should you want to prevent your guests (especially “wine snobs”) from having pre-conceived notions about the wines they will be tasting, you can put the bottles in numbered bags to hide the labels. You might even want to include a ringer to see how “discerning” your guests are. For example, if you are pouring wines in the $15 to $25 range, throw in a bottle that costs around $5; if you are concentrating on Syrahs, slip a Zinfandel into the mix.
For a completely casual wine tasting, you need the basics of wine, a corkscrew, one glass per guest and whatever munchies you want to supply. But to make it a true “tasting,” you’ll want to guide conversation to the wine. Ask people what they think about the wine. But don’t make them feel intimidated by asking them to describe the bouquet or flavors like wine professionals typically do with “aromas of dark stone fruit and toast” or “baking spice bolstered by round tannins.”
For a more formalized and educational format, seat guests at a table with multiple glasses so they can compare wines side by side and supply them with paper and pens to make notes. To encourage discussion, do a bit of research ahead of time on the varietal(s) and/or wine region(s) you’re featuring and perhaps even on the specific wines. Give each guest a printout of the notes you accumulate.
You can go even further, asking guests to rate each wine. Create your own rating scale or use an established system such as those used by Wine & Spirits; Wine Spectator; Wine Enthusiast; the University of California, Davis; or the granddaddy of numerical rat-ings, Robert Parker (see “A Numbers Game” at right).
Because this is a tasting, you’ll be open-ing more bottles than will be consumed (unless, of course, you want your guests staying overnight). If you don’t have a wine preservation device like Coravin, pick up a can of inert gas spray such as Private Preserve. Before recorking a bottle at the end of the night, give it a squirt of gas that will lie on top of the wine to prevent further oxidation.
For each of its professional events, San Diego International Wine Competition sup-plies its judges (winemakers, sommeliers and wine critics) with individual Styrofoam cups for spitting. You may not want to en-courage spitting in your house; but unless you are providing each guest a glass for each wine being tasted, set out a “dump bucket” (an urn or other opaque container) so they do not feel they have to swallow everything in their glass before moving on to another wine.
Beyond the basics, wine tastings can be whatever you want them to be. One experienced wine-tasting host presented a “showdown” of oaked and unoaked Chardonnays. To make it an apples-to-apples comparison, she got her selections from wineries that made both versions.
On another occasion, she presented a “Channeling Robert Parker” tasting among a group of wine aficionados. She bought only wines that had a Parker rating and asked guests to assign each wine the number of points they thought the esteemed authority had and to include in their notes descriptors that he might have used. She turned the tasting into a game: For each point your rating deviates from Parker’s, subtract one from your score; for every
word you use that matches his descriptors, add one to your score.
On yet another occasion, she hosted a wine-pairing tasting, straying from a standard rule about neutral foods (see “The Finer Points” on the facing page) to see what flavor profiles in small bites could be matched (or not) with what wines.
However you structure — or don’t structure — a wine tasting, remember that the goal is to engage your guests around a shared activity. A word to the wise: Only invite those who play well with others.