Wine tastings can be very simple to put together and a great way to learn about new wines and stir conversation before heading to a meal or hosting one yourself.

If you want to save the expense of flying to Napa or travel time to a local vineyard near you, plot out your own wine-tasting party for a casual weekend or holiday afternoon.  It’s also a great way to kick off a brunch or dinner party, warming up the guests for a fun meal, sparking conversation and an excuse to hit the wine early and go long.

There are many ways to map one out, including asking each guest to bring a wine they can present to the group.  I recommend making traditional breadsticks (or buying them) and a few select cheeses that will help bring out the flavors in the wine.

img_6684Things to do:

  • First thing, unless Robert Parker is a guest at your wine tasting, don’t go overboard. Consider this as a quick and casual conversation about wine, learn one or two interesting things and keep the tasting moving.  (No one likes the person who pulls out a wikipedia page, eager to educate everyone on the history of grapes.)
  • Pick four wines to taste, basing it on varietal or horizontal.
    • Varietal means you have picked a certain wine, let’s say a Cabernet, and you look for the same vintage from different regions.
    • Horizontal is when you pick from a single category and single vintage, so you could pick 1998 Cabernets from Napa Valley and go ahead and pick from different vineyards.
  • Since this tasting is more casual, you can just have each guest bring a few bottles of their favorite wine in the varietal or horizontal. You choose and each guest/couple can present their selections. No need to break the bank on a vintage bottle, when an interesting or unique vineyard is likely to be more fun to discuss (and drink.)
  • I went to a wine tasting hosted by Clive Cloates the legendary Burgundy expert from that region in France.  A woman from the Burgundy Society of Washington stood up and asked how he knew a wine is truly good.  His response devastated her as it was quick and simple, “If you like the wine you are drinking then it is good, well at least for you.”  So my recommendation, don’t spend the night sniffing, swirling, gurgling, just drink it, discuss it and have a great meal after.

What to serve for the tasting?

Cheese and fresh Prosciutto Thyme Gourgeres

It is a good idea to match cheeses with the wine, also known as pairing (this is done with food as well). Here is a thumbnail sketch on pairings, but you can also look it up on-line.

Cabernet: Extra sharp cheddar cheese and if your market has it, get Montgomery Cheddar from Neal’s Dairy Yard, Monchego

Pinot Noir:  Top quality Gruyere cheese

Bordeaux:   Colby Jack

Syrah:  Aged smoke gouda cheese

Chardonnay:  Triple cream brie cheese

Sauvignon Blanc:  French goat cheese

Pinto Grigio:  Mild cheese

What to serve after the wine tasting….

Shrimp Rolls

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Mini Puff Pastry Pizzas

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Asian Lettuce Wraps

I was traveling out to Los Angeles in the late 90s and went for the first time to Chin Chin, an amazingly delicious and expensive Asian restaurant that attracted the whose who from the entertainment industry.  Of course, we were all in blue blazers or suits and looked terribly out of place.  This was evident…

Baked Stuffed Clams

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The “Morton’s” Steak Sandwich

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Muffuletta Sandwich

We popped into the ever so famous Oakville Grocery in Napa Valley, a stop that is long known for gourmet treats, from amazing sandwiches to delicious pastries.  Since we were mid-way through a long visit out west and had countless amazing and fancy meals, I was ready for something very casual, so when I walked…

Cookies & Cabernet during the Covid-19 Pandemic

I am a big believer in good cookies to end a dinner – and I mean very good cookies. Recently, I found a greater purpose for these tasty treats. When the lock-downs started to roll through the United States, it was tough to keep in touch with people beyond never-ending mass text chains. If I…

Brownie Trifle

If you are having a big group over for a party, there’s a year round dessert guests devour. If you are in a hurry, you can find a good bakery and buy the brownies or make them yourself. Either way, once you layer them with whipped cream and toffee bars, you have a spectacular dessert.…

2 comments on “The Wine Tasting

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