If you haven’t done a great deal of wine tasting in your life, you might breeze right past the second word in “wine tasting” and subconsciously replace it with “drinking.”
“Tasting” is not a euphemism here. There’s no real “surfing” in couch surfing and no actual “diving” in Dumpster diving.
A wine tasting, however, is all about “tasting.” It can be followed by wine “drinking” and often is. In fact, I am going to go ahead and recommend that every wine tasting you host from this point forward is followed by a nice, full session of spirited wine drinking.
But if you make the mistake of going to a wine tasting and instead drinking several pours, even small ones, back-to-back in a short amount of time, don’t be surprised when all of your would-be thoughtful insight is supplanted by giggles.
In a tasting, the spit bucket is your friend. Tasting wine is an active endeavour. It requires focus and thoughtfulness. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. It should be. But it’s about learning too.
Spit first, drink later. Here are some more tips on hosting a wine tasting of your own.
Keep it small. Limit your attendees to about six or eight people, so that everyone feels part of the same group. Larger groups tend to splinter. Taste roughly the same number of wines – six or eight. Maybe as many as 10. Keep it manageable and realistic.
Focus. Agree on a tasting theme. Because you can easily be too general. Decide what you are interested in knowing more about, and let that be your guide.
You could choose a grape variety and a price range to start: cabernet sauvignon under $25. In a subsequent tasting, you could focus on cabernet sauvignon from a particular part of the world, like Chile for instance.
You could taste different wine styles from the same place. Say, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from the Malborough region in New Zealand. Just make sure that the focus of your theme is sharp.
Pot luck. Ask everyone to bring a bottle. That way, you’re all invested and in it together.
Blind taste. Everyone will know the theme, but it is fun to be in the dark about which specific bottle you are tasting at the moment. Place the bottles in paper bags, cinch the tops and write a letter or number on each bag so you will have reference points for conversation and notes.
Take notes. To that end, supply everyone with paper and pen – better still, provide a score sheet. What do you see, smell, taste? Do you like it? Why? At the end of the tasting do the big reveal by lifting each bottle from its bag.
Wine glasses. Make sure everyone has at least one good glass. If you can give them two glasses, all the better. This will allow everyone to go back-and-forth, two wines at a time. Three glasses each? Even better.
Keep the pours small – about 60ml. Give guests just enough that they can swirl and get two or three sips from. You can always pour a little more. Don’t be afraid of looking stingy with the small pours. Assure everyone that they can drink whatever they like when the tasting is done.
Spittoon. This is what makes a tasting a tasting. Keep reminding your people that there are a lot of wines ahead, and you’re all there to try and learn something. Also remind them, without sounding like a taskmaster, that they are there to work, at least for a little while, and that everyone is relying on one another’s opinions. The reward is the wine drinking later. And the new knowledge.
Water. The importance of a steady supply of water cannot be overstated. Give everyone a generously sized water glass, and place a pitcher of water on the table. Done.
Crackers, breadsticks or bread. They’re not essential, but people are usually glad to have them. Make sure they’re as neutral as possible. You want water crackers, not Ritz. Plain breadsticks, not sesame. French bread, not challah. As close to neutral as possible. Along those lines, keep fragrances to a minimum in the area where you’re tasting: no room deodoriser floating, no scented candles burning, no garlic chickens roasting.
Now, drinking. If you can, make sure to revisit the wines after the tasting with an actual meal because tasting wine on its own can teach you things, but drinking wine with food is the reason for the season.
It’s not a dinner party, so don’t feel you need to provide a mind-blowing, multi-course feast. Just serve some nice food that matches well with your wines, retire the spittoon and let everyone relax. (That includes you.) – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Michael Austin