How to Host a Wine Tasting
Hosting your own wine tasting can be as simple as sampling a few California Chardonnays, or as complex as a dinner with complementary wines for every course. Your wine tastings will likely be more successful if you first gather together a few of these helpful items:
- A selection of wines - larger bowls for reds, and smaller bowls for whites
- A supply of wine glasses - there should be enough for everyone as well as being the same size and design
- A pitcher of purified water
- A spit bucket or container for guests who do not wish to swallow every sample Note: It is not necessary to swallow the wine to taste it sufficiently if you are tasting correctly, but it is appropriate to spit your wine into a bucket!
- A loaf of plain French bread
- Neutral cheeses, such as Colby, Monterey Jack, nuts and perhaps dried fruits (if desired)
CHOOSING THE WINE
When selecting the wines to be tasted at your party, there are a number of details you should consider. One of the most important is the experience level of your guests as well as yourself.
If you are fairly new to the world of wines, you may want to consider tasting one or more of the major grape varieties. The most common varieties are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling (all white grapes) and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir (all red grapes). This will give you a basic idea of which red or white wines you prefer. There are literally thousands of other varieties, any of which could be used to create an all-white or all-red tasting once you have developed a feel for the major types of wine. The helpful staff at the Monalisa Wine & Liquor can help you with additional varieties.
If you already have a preference for a particular grape variety, you may want to try to see how different countries or regions affect the same grape. For example, you could sample the same grape from different microclimates in California (i.e., Sonoma, Napa, Carneros, Santa Barbara, Russian River Valley, Monterey, etc.). You could also sample the same wine from different countries. For example, you could choose Chardonnay from California, France (which would be White Burgundy if from that region), Italy, Australia and Chile. The winemakers have a lot of influence on the outcome, but even more important is the climate. Extremely hot climate: very ripe grapes, usually full-bodied, high alcohol content wines. Cool climate: just ripe, usually more subtle, elegant wines with lower alcohol.
FOOD AND WINE TASTING
You can have a lot of fun by choosing a specific cuisine (say…Northern Italian, Provencal, Spanish, etc.) and having wines from that area or wines that would complement the foods of that area. In general, wines from the regions in which the food originates will usually pair well with the selected dishes.
As a general rule, the proper order of tasting is:
- White before red
- Dry before sweet
- Older before younger
Sweet white wines can complicate the order, but they are generally tasted last after the dry reds.
STEPS IN EVALUATING WINE
- Examine the Wine for Clarity: Holding the glass by its base or stem, tilt the bowl to show the wine against a white background so you can evaluate the wine's color, clarity, depth and intensity. This can tell you a lot about the wine before you even taste or smell it.
- Release the Wine'S Bouquet: Swirl the wine in the glass to release the bouquet. This will also allow you to assess the "legs" of the wine. (The longer the legs take to fall down the sides of the glass, the fuller bodied the wine will be in your mouth.) Your sense of smell is your best evaluation tool. Does the wine smell of a certain fruit or herb? Is it nutty? Is there a woody smell, such as oak or cedar? Does it have a flowery aroma?
- Taste the Wine: Take a good mouthful of wine, purse your lips, and draw some air through the wine in your mouth, but be careful not to choke. Exhale the air through your nose to ensure that the wine's flavor and aromas have been evenly distributed throughout your mouth. The tip of your tongue recognizes sweetness only, while acidity and salinity are perceived by the taste buds along the sides of your tongue, and bitterness is detected by the back of your tongue. So, if you are sipping a dry wine and touching just the tip of your tongue, then the wine will surely taste just bitter because it has little or no sweetness. You must take a good amount in, and cover your tongue; about the same as you would with any other beverage.
- Swallow or Expel the Wine: Now you can swallow the wine or spit it out. In this case, spitting is good! If you are tasting a number of wines, spitting is the only way you will keep your perceptions clear. Take a bite of bread or a sip of water to cleanse your palate before tasting the next wine.
- Rinsing: Better to rinse with wine than water unless you are changing styles drastically, like going from red to white. Rinsing with water will dilute the following wine.
SERVING FOOD WITH WINE
If you'd like to serve food at your wine tasting, you can present your guests with a variety of items from light fare (chicken, seafood, white sauces and vegetable dips) to heavy dishes (meats, grilled foods and dark sauces). Your wine selections can be further evaluated and matched with the "taste power" of the food.
Cheese: Some believe that only white and sweet wines go with cheese but we think you should let your own palate be the judge. For instance, we think that Parmesean-Reggiano cheese from Italy goes beautifully with Champagne as well as aged full-bodied reds. There are no hard and fast rules about food and wine pairing anymore, in part, because of how wine and food has evolved. Granted, certain wines with certain foods will pair better than others, but ultimately, you should decide for yourself.