A fun way to learn more about different wines—especially those you normally wouldn’t buy on your own—is to host a wine tasting in your home. Here are a few tips for a fun and educational wine tasting:
- First, decide how many people you’re going to invite. The size of your tasting will probably determine the setup you use and maybe even your tasting’s theme.
- Second, decide on a theme. You could choose a country, a region within a country, or a varietal (a grape). For example, wines from the Southern Rhône, or maybe New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, or red wines from Chile. You could even settle on an “ABC” theme: “Anything but Cabernet” or “Anything but Chardonnay.” However, I’ve found that the narrower the theme, the more interesting and fun the event.
- Third, decide who will provide the wine and the food. You may chose to stick to cheese, crackers and provide those. And if that’s the case, you could ask your guests to each bring a bottle or two of wine (based on your specified theme).
- Lastly, determine how formal you want the even to be. In other words, will you be pouring one wine at a time and then encouraging comments and observations from everyone? Or will this be a more casual event that merely has a wine theme and no “wine talk”? There are no rules; it’s completely up to you.
Here are some ideas for you to consider:
Your Basic Wine Tasting
- Invite just a handful of friends and ask each couple to bring a bottle of wine. Decide on a theme—Syrah, for example—and set a price ceiling of, say, $30 and a floor of $20. The country of origin is up to the buyer.
- Go to the market and buy a variety of quality cheeses. Consult with the cheese specialist. Let her know the type of wines you’ll be serving. Pick up a couple of baguettes, some olives, a decent olive oil, some sliced cured ham (prosciutto, for example), and some gourmet crackers. Also, pick up a bottle or two of a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or Rosé so you have something to serve while the guests arrive.
- Give each of your guests a piece of paper and a pen. You may even want to have scoring sheets prepared to help everyone evaluate the wines. But don’t let that intimidate anyone. Make sure your guests know there’s no right or wrong here, and it’s just for fun anyway.
Some simple suggestions on how to judge and score wine:
- Color: You’ll want to make sure to look at the wine’s color by tilting the glass about 45 degrees and looking at the liquid against a white background (such as your tasting sheet). Pay particular attention to the rim of the liquid. That’s where the true color will show. The deeper the color, the younger and more concentrated the wine will probably be. Amber, brick-like tones in a red wine are typical indicators of some age. Deep, golden colors in a white typically indicate richness and concentration. Don’t worry about scoring for color. We’ll save the scores for the other elements.
- Aroma: Make sure to give the wine a good swirl. Then, stick your nose in there and take a deep breath. Swirl again and try this one more time. Thoughts on aroma? What do you detect? Write it down. Then, give the aroma a score from 1 – 10, based on YOUR opinion, not others’.
- Flavor: After a few swirls and sniffs, it is time to taste the wine. Start with a small sip and hold it in your mouth—on top of and around your tongue—for a few seconds. Swish the juice inside your mouth. It’s also helpful to open your mouth a bit and lightly clamp your top teeth on your lower lip. This creates a very small opening through with you can suck air in rapidly, letting the air run through the wine, and releasing more of the aroma and flavor inside your mouth.
Think about the wine for a few seconds before you swallow. How’s the acidity? The fruit? The tannins? The body? Does it seem balanced? What does it taste like? Does it remind you of something: nectarines, strawberries, vanilla, figs, currants, blackberries? Use your imagination and don’t worry about what others may think; there are no right or wrong answers here. Give the wine a flavor score between 1 – 10.
- Overall Impression: Finally, I like to assign a score based on my overall impression of the wine. Think about what you’ve just tasted. How impressed are you with its overall quality? With the balance and finish? With its overall character? Did it “wow!” you? Was it disappointing? Did it seem flabby or spineless? Give it a separate score between 1 – 5 based on this overall impression.
Now, add up your scores and multiply the total by four. This will give you an overall score based on a 100-point scale.
Tip: Ask everyone to keep their scores secret until everyone has fully evaluated the wine and added up their scores. This will ensure everyone writes down their honest opinion. Compare scores with others (this is always fun) and see how you and the others judged the wine. Repeat this process with the other wines.
Wine tastings can be a ton of fun and a great way to meet interesting people. And guests tend to remember these get-togethers for years. I have friends who still tell me how much fun they had 5 or 6 years ago at a wine tasting party I helped them organize. Follow these tips and you, too, will have friends talking about your “legendary” tastings for years to come.