If you’re a casual fan of wine, you may think that a wine tasting party is something reserved for connoisseurs only. While there certainly are groups and clubs devoted to the study of wine, there’s no reason that you can’t host a perfectly enjoyable and educational wine tasting party of your own. If you’re new to wine drinking or just want to learn more about various wines, a tasting party can be just the thing to expand your horizons and your wine vocabulary.
Send out your invites and decide what wines you’ll be tasting. Smaller groups are ideal as small groups are better able to compare notes. Choosing to limit yourself to one type of wine from various regions can be the best way to begin your education. In other words, choose only white wines, but make sure they come from a variety of different geographical regions, regardless of the year. This is referred to as a varietal tasting. To compare different vintages, you can try a horizontal tasting. Choosing several white wines from different regions, but all from the same year, for instance. You might be very surprised at the differences geography and harvest year can make. Limiting tasting to one particular type of wine is the best way to learn about these differences and characteristics on your way to choosing one or more favorites. A wine selection limited to seven or eight bottles is easier to evaluate, compare, and contrast than a selection consisting of every bottle you could find. Make sure to follow proper chilling and breathing guidelines for any wines you choose.
In order to eliminate brand biases, wrap each bottle in foil or otherwise obscure the labels and any other identifying bottle features. Too often, our perception of how good or bad a particular brand is supposed to be can actually keep us from honestly assessing its true properties. Blind tasting eliminates this bias and can lead to surprising finds.
Clear wine glasses are preferred in order to better appreciate and compare the color and overall appearance of the wines. Glasses should be tall enough to allow tasters to swirl the wine around before tasting (more about that in a bit). Having a white tablecloth is another way to better see the various colors. While it is certainly allowable to drink all of the wine you taste, swishing and spitting allows for a longer tasting session. You can offer guests opaque glasses or cups to use as spittoons and include an opaque jug for emptying the spittoons and glasses.
You also might want to offer guests bland crackers or bread to use as a palate cleanser between bottles. Clearing one taste out of your mouth before moving on ensures a truer evaluation.
Before tasting, swirl the wine around the glass a bit. This releases some of the aromatic properties that affect our sense of taste. After swirling and smelling, take a sip of the wine and swish it around your mouth a little. This gives the wine a chance to reach all of your tastebuds and the aromas time to be translated by the brain into recognizable flavors.
Have each guest make notes about the wine’s color and clarity. Next, note the aromas released by the swirling. Then, ask everyone to jot down the flavors and sensations they get when tasting. Lastly, have your guests note how long the taste lingers on the palate. As you all become more proficient wine tasters, you’ll be surprised at how many subtleties you’ll find. Getting a pre-party idea of the qualities to look for in various wines can help you identify flavors, aromas, and sensations that you might not be able to quite put your finger on.
Following your wine tasting with a meal accompanied by those wines extends the learning experience as things like time out of the bottle and food pairings can mean that so-so wines seem to get better and frontrunners lose some charm.
When all’s said and done, starting your own wine tasting group is as easy as a little research, a trip to the store, and a few friends.