The best way to learn about wine is to taste it! The ultimate experience is comparative tasting. Opening 6 bottles of thematically-related wine, tasting, and discussing the juice will bend the learning curve steeply. The experiment is quite affordable; the knowledge gained: priceless.
Here are 7 tips for throwing your own educational party.
1. Pick A Theme
If this is your first wine tasting, start simple—like comparing apples to apples—or, Chardonnay to Chardonnay. You could compare the Chardonnays of Burgundy, or conduct the Burgundy / Sonoma Challenge. The possibilities are many, and the price tag should average $15 per bottle.
2. Represent Regional Diversity
For a general tasting, a combination of the old-world wines of Europe, and new-world wines from anywhere else on the planet would be revealing. Remember that Chardonnay challenge? The big boys may be from Sonoma and Burgundy, but Italy, Australia, and California’s Central Coast also boast high-quality juice at a savings.
3. Throw In A Ringer
Your sixth bottle could be a joker—a wine that could be mistaken for a Chardonnay. Don’t panic. A good retailer (see last week’s post) will guide you through selecting. A ringer keeps guests on their toes, and will add an element of surprise to your fun.
4. Focus On Aroma
Smelling is 75% to 90% of tasting, depending on which study you choose to believe. Yet it’s hard to put words to aromas. Help guests along by lining up some examples of common aromas for the varietal you choose. Samples of lemon, apple, butterscotch, vanilla, and even wet pebbles will help people think with their noses while sampling Chardonnay.
5. Experiment With Food Pairings
Prepare low-cost, interactive snacks so friends can compare how certain foods affect the flavor of wine. Assemble a variety of homemade quick dips and spreads (see my pesto post), along with a couple of sliced baguettes, olives, a log of fresh goat cheese, and a hunk of hard cheese. If time permits, you’ll still have money in your budget to make spiced pecans (see my healthy snack post) to illustrate how food interacts with certain types of wine. Notice how some foods make the wine taste better while others detract from your perception.
6. Line Up The Wines
Before guests arrive, take chilled whites out of the refrigerator, line the wines up in order of weight (with your retailer’s suggestions), wrap them in aluminum foil or put them into brown bags, and number
the wines one through six. Blind-tasting forces people to focus, and creates drama as you unveil. Return bottles to chill until about 20 minutes before the tasting begins.
7. Logical Logistics
If you don’t have appropriate glassware, ask friends to bring their own. Ideally, you’d have a few glasses per person, but one works just fine. Remember to provide a bucket for pouring out wine and spitting into—a necessity for sobriety. Lastly, have paper and pencils available so people can take notes about their favorites. Cheers!