Luxury living: A guide to hosting a wine tasting at your home
Anyone can host a wine tasting at home — all you need is stemware, some fruit and cheese, and good friends!
So many people run around talking about wine these days that it seems almost as though they just discovered a never-tapped vineyard, jumped into a barrel of fermented grape juice feet first, and emerged knowing everything there is to know. Nose, legs, palate – they talk about it as though it were a dear friend, personified, and sentient. It can be quite intimidating to have people over for a glass of wine when everyone seems to be talking about the latest hip vineyard and the different kinds of grape fungus. However, no one need feel that wine is unapproachable! Wine should be fun, friendly, and full of good fortune. Since ancient times, humans have shared the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine to celebrate their lives and their loves. Whether you know a lot or a little, what better way to spend an evening with friends than sipping different wines, sharing your thoughts, and enjoying each others’ company?
Anyone can host a wine tasting at home with very little fuss and effort. The basic essentials are stemware; paper and pens (for taking notes); crackers with fruit and cheese (to clear the palate and provide sustenance); and water (both to drink and to rinse glasses). Optional elements include a white tablecloth or backdrop to showcase the color of the wines, a more elaborate banquet to pair wines with different foods, and if you really want to be “professional” about it, a large bowl or decorative bucket into which your guests can spit their sips of wine (a tradition designed to prevent tasters from getting tipsy – but at a party, a little tipsiness is most certainly allowed). That’s it! No fancy equipment required.
Once you have the fundamentals set up, you’ll need to decide what kind of tasting you want to host. There are oodles of different types of tasting, and all have advantages based upon what you might like to study in your wine. The two most common types are the vertical and the horizontal. What does that mean? A vertical tasting consists of several wines of the same type of grape (known as a “varietal”) from different years, or vintages – i.e., a ’92 chardonnay, a ’94 chardonnay, and a ’99 chardonnay. You can often find different vintages of the same wine from a single winery, which can be a great way to learn about different vintners and their products. In a horizontal tasting, you stick with a single vintage year and test different wines, perhaps a ’99 merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah. A horizontal tasting can let you sample the products of several different wineries in a region, allowing you to determine if there is a specific producer you prefer.
What if you don’t care as much about differentiating between wineries? Let’s make it a game, then! One fun wine-tasting game is “Guess the Wine.” You disguise the bottles, and your guests attempt to determine what type of wines they’re drinking based upon color, flavor, and aroma. Is it a pinot noir? A zinfandel? Guessing the wine a great event if you and your guests know a little bit about wine but aren’t too concerned about all the technical mumbo-jumbo. You can also create a wine showdown, in which you compare the same varietal from different regions. Comparing Australian chardonnay to Californian chardonnay can make for some great discussion, as your guests chat about the what they like and don’t like from each wine. You can also combine this with a guessing game, hiding the bottles and trying to have your guests determine if their glasses of pinot noir are from France or Oregon!
Another tasting helps you and your guests learn about how to enjoy wine at a reasonable price. Some bottles of wine cost $5.99 at the corner wine shop, while others reach the hundreds and even thousands of dollars – how do you know if a wine is worth its cost? You can buy a selection of wines of the same type of grape at different costs. Grab a $10, a $20, a $35, and a $60 cabernet, cover the labels, and have your guests write reviews of each wine. Then you can see if the best reviews correlate to the most expensive bottle, or the least! People who take pleasure in a good glass of wine at a fine restaurant often choose not to purchase bottles for home consumption because they have the impression that the only good wines carry a heavy cost. Together, you and your friends can learn that wine need not be expensive to be enjoyable.
You can also have a tasting matching wine with foods. A fun way to do this is to have a dessert party; select several dessert wines and match them to different sweets. Port goes well with strong cheeses like gorgonzola, while Madeira pairs nicely with chocolate and eiswein (or ice-wine) loves fruit crisps. What better way to end an evening with friends?
There are a few tips for the act of tasting itself. Make sure you have your wines at an appropriate temperature. People often over-chill white wine – it only needs to reach about 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Red wine can be closer to room temperature. Pour moderate amounts into the glasses – enough for a few sips, about two ounces. This allows the wine to breathe a bit, or come into contact with oxygen, which helps you to appreciate its full aroma. You’ve probably seen wine connoisseurs swirl the wine in the glass. Give it a try! Rotate the glass gently both to oxygenate the wine and to see the speed at which it runs back down the sides of the glass (the streams are called “legs”). Inhale the scent of the wine and take a small sip, allowing it to linger in your mouth so you can truly taste its flavor. Don’t worry about identifying the undertones! Experienced wine tasters can often pick out the flavor of the herbs and fruits grown in the ground near the vineyard, but you need not be able tell if there’s pear in the wine to like it. It’s enough for you just to feel as though it’s fruity and delicious or that it’s too strong for your taste. Lastly, notice the way the wine lingers, and how the taste changes with a bit of cheese or fruit. In the end, wine tasting is all about trying new things and learning what YOU like in wine. Salut!