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.
Things 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