Hosting a wine tasting
By Henry Klein
Hosting a wine tasting party is a fun and excellent way to get together with friends, learn about wine and experiment with new or unusual varieties of wine. A few key steps will help ensure a wine tasting that is sure to be a hit.
The guest list
Typically 8-12 guests are ideal. A regular (750 ml) bottle of wine can accommodate up to 12 people if a typical 2-ounce tasting sample is used.
Choosing the wine & theme
It’s best to limit the wine selection to no more than six wines to go along with your chosen theme. There are many options when choosing a theme for your tasting. Choices can be extremely broad or specific; it is entirely up to you! A few examples:
• Several wines from different varietals (grape type) i.e. Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon. Always serve wine from whites to reds. Work from sweet to dry with white wines and progress from light to full-bodied with red wines.
• A horizontal tasting includes wines from different wineries that are the same type and vintage (year) i.e. six different bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon each with a vintage date of 2004.
• A vertical tasting offers the same brand of wine from different vintages i.e. Winery X Cabernet Sauvignons from 2000-2005. Always start with the youngest and end with the most mature.
• Italian Reds
• California Chardonnays
• German Rieslings
Conducting the tasting
• Wines should be served at their proper temperatures. Whites slightly chilled, but not cold, and reds at a cool room temperature of about 65 degrees. Young reds should be opened about 15-20 minutes before the tasting and more mature reds should be opened half an hour before they are to be poured.
• Wines should be arranged on the table in the order in which they are to be tasted. Whether your tasting is informal or more formal, consider having a blind tasting, where the tasters do not know which wine is in each glass. This reduces the chances of personal preference or prejudice influencing the ratings. To do this, simply cover the wine bottle with a bag and number or letter the bottles. Corresponding numbers or letters should also be placed on the base of each glass, or a wine placemat may be used (wine placemats contain a pattern for placement of wine glasses). Of course, if a blind tasting is performed, some introduction should be given, such as letting guests know the wines are Cabernet Sauvignon’s from 2004.
• A set of wine glasses for each taster is needed. The glasses should be of the same style for each taster. Keep in mind that white wines are commonly served in smaller, slightly curved glasses that helps hold the wine’s chill and accentuates its delicate flavor and aroma, while reds are better served in large bowl-shaped glasses to help heighten their flavor and aroma.
• Receptacles should be available in the event that someone wishes to “spit”.
• Have a sufficient amount of sliced plain baguettes and pitchers of water to act as palate cleansers. It is better to hold off on eating until after the tasting. A tasting without food provides for a clearer point of view, as food changes the taste of the wine.
• It is helpful to keep the tasting area free of strong scented items such as flowers, perfumes or cooked foods, as this can interfere when evaluating the aroma of the wine. It is also best to have a plain white tablecloth to make color and clarity evaluations easier.
• Typically, a 2-ounce sample is poured per tasting.
• Each guest should be given a tasting form or a scoring sheet. These sheets can be easily downloaded off the Internet from a number of websites (try www.winecountrygetaways.com and www.winereviewer.com). Wines are ranked from 1-5 (1 being poor and 5 being outstanding) in the following categories—Appearance, Aroma, Body, Taste and Finish.
After the tasting and tabulations are completed, the wines should be un-bagged if a blind tasting was conducted so that participants can see which wines they most enjoyed. Your guests can compare their likes and dislikes. For added interest, un-bag the wines from last place to first place if scores were submitted. To make the party a bit more interesting and educational, consider doing a little research on the wines, wineries and winemaking regions used in your tasting. l
Wine of the Month: Mount Eden Chardonnay Edna Valley Wolff Vineyard 2004 $17
Henry Klein III is owner of Cabernet Café, 1814 Western Avenue, Guilderland. For more information call 452.5670 or visit www.cabernetcafe.com.