I’m sure many of you have participated in wine tastings at fundraising events and/or at your local wine shop. Why not enjoy a similar event in the privacy of your own home with family and friends?
A winetasting evening can be simple or elaborate, elemental or complex, informal or highly organized. Whichever route you take, it is always going to be fun. Consuming wine with family and friends seems to have a universal effect of conviviality.
Here are a few tips on planning and structuring an in-home wine tasting.
- Decide on a theme. It can be a specific varietal, a specific region or a combination of the two. Limit your individual wine selections to five or six wines. If you’re planning to offer additional pourings of wines after the tasting session, purchase an additional bottle of each wine to be enjoyed by all.
Typically select wines in the $10 to $15 price range, but also throw in a $9 bottle and a $20 bottle in order to evaluate differences in style and appeal of wines at opposite ends of the price spectrum.
- Set up the tasting area. You’ll need appropriate glassware. For informal tastings, almost any stemware will do. If you want to be more formal, select the appropriate glass shape for whites (tall and slender) and for reds (rounded bowl and more squat).
Next, fashion some form of scorekeeping sheet, either individual cards for guests to write notes and scores (a 1-10 scoring scale is sufficient) or a master sheet kept by the host to record verbal evaluations by each guest.
- Taste the wines. Yes, there is a preferred way to experience wines. These simple steps apply at your tasting event as well as when you order wine at a restaurant. Follow this “5 S Steps” sequence.
SIGHT: The color and viscosity of the wine will set up your expectations of the wine. Light, clear color typically equates to softer, less acidic styles of wine. Darker, opaque color typically equates to robust, more acidic styles of wine.
SWIRL: Holding the base of the glass on the table, move the glass in a circular motion. This step opens up the wine from its cramped quarters in the bottle and allows it to breathe, which brings out the bouquet and aromas of the wine.
SMELL: Go ahead, don’t be reluctant to stick your nose into the glass to experience the sensory characteristics of the wine. After all, it is your sense of smell, with its 10,000 components, that determines your opinion of a wine.
SIP: Take a sip of wine and note how it initially feels on your palate. This is when your sense of taste comes into play (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami).
SWALLOW OR SPIT. When you swallow, the intensity of the wine – the “finish” – is experienced, as the wine passes through the rear of your mouth, where your bitter sensory taste buds reside. This will help you determine the acidic levels of the wine. Of course, by this fifth step, you’ve experienced 90 percent of the style and characteristics of the wine, so don’t think it’s inappropriate to spit the wine into a spittoon.
- Evaluate the wines. As I note above, this can be recorded by each guest or by the hosts. At the end of the tasting, compare evaluations. It’s quite normal for one of the wines to stand out as the worst in class; it’s not so normal for one to stand out as best in class. If you enjoy a particular wine but it doesn’t seem to be consensus opinion, don’t fret. Go out and buy a case of that wine.
Wine tastings are an efficient way for you to develop and understand your wine palate. A side benefit is that you are likely to discover a wine that will become your new favorite – until the next tasting event.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.