THE 5 W's
Once you've recovered from the shock of agreeing to host a wine tasting, start working on the 5W's
will be invited a how will they be contacted?
wines will be tasted and who will provide them?
will the tasting be held?
will the tasting be held -- lunch time, mid-afternoon or dinner time?
are you having the tasting? Is it just to share wine with friends or is it a fund raiser?
White before red, sparkling before still, light before full-bodied and young before old.
For larger gatherings, a champagne reception is a nice way to ease into the event. As guests arrive greet them with a glass of champagne to cleanse the palette and set the mood.
At any size tasting, soft background music and a candle placed here and there will help to make the experience more enjoyable.
Wine tasting generate lots of empty bottles and old corks. Save a some of each as a resource for your next tasting. Remove the labels, then number each bottle with a glass marker for a future 'blind' tasting. Old corks can be used in invitations or as place card holders.
Your invitations should suggest a style of attire and ask guests to refrain from smoking and too much perfume to allow the true taste of the wines to be appreciated.
The temperature of a wine greatly affects how it tastes. Here are some rough guidelines for popular wines (in degrees F):
Barollo, Barbaresco -- 60 - 66
Beaujoulais -- 48-52
Cabernet Sauvignon -- 60 - 64
Chardonnay -- 46 - 50
Champagne -- 40-46
Pinot Noir -- 58 - 64
Red Burgundy -- 58 - 64
White Burgundy 54 - 58
""A crust of bread, a glass of wine, and.....a tasting party!"
When Plato proclaimed, "in vino veritas", ("in wine there is truth"), he neglected to specify the nature of that truth. For this discussion, we are tempted to replace the word 'truth' with 'fun'.
Above all, a wine tasting should be fun for the hosts and the guests. It's a wonderful opportunity to mingle in a casual setting, tasting and discussing wine, while setting aside the pressure of life for a few hours. To plan your tasting start with a review of the 5W's. The first W -- WHO -- is the determining factor for everything else involved in the tasting.
A THEME keeps your wine tasting event from becoming a wine drinking party. Your theme will be shaped by: what wines will be tasted, will the host provide the wine or will guests bring favorites, and will food be provided? Here are a few examples of picking your wines:
- Wines by varietal:
How about comparing a group of Zinfandels or Chardonnays from different wineries?
- Red or White categories:
Compare 3 Merlots against 3 Cabernet's, or 3 Chardonnays versus 3 Semilions
- Varietal of a winery:
Compare the last five releases of a varietal from the same winery.
- Wines by vintages:
Compare a 1998, 1999 & 2000 release of a particular wine from one or more wineries
- Wines by price:
How about Merlot's under $12, or Cabernets between $15 - $30
- Wines by single vintage:
For example, all the Cabernets released in 1999 from a specific region
- Vertical tasting:
all the wines released by one winery in a given year
One host handed out pocket-sized versions of the famous MOLESKINE notebook to record tasting notes. This finely crafted notebook was used by the likes of Van Gough, Matisse and Hemmingway
The style of your wine tasting can range from a minimalistic experience to a grandiose celebration. Here are some styles to consider:
Intimate Tasting (1-4 people)
You've invited two or three friends to taste some wine you recently discovered. Here little is required besides a clean glass, good conversation and maybe a dry cracker or crsut of bread to clear the pallete.
Dinner Tasting (4-12 people)
Perhaps you've invited a few couples over to share a meal and taste wine with each course. When setting the table, a good rule of thumb is never more than 3 wine glasses at a time. If you are serving a number of wines with each course, it's okay to have a single white wine glass and a single red wine glass per person.
Casual Tasting (Up to 50)
If you have a large residence or patio area, a wine buffet willl work great for this type of tasting. Having volunteers to pour the wines in the proper order at each table will help move things along. Tables can be divided by wine type or by color: reds on one and whites on another. The number of tables is dictated by how much room you have to work with and still allow for a good flow. Appetizers or a light food buffet selection works nicely.
A nice twist is to have a photographer or illustrator walk around and do portraits for the guests to take home.
Tasting Stations (up to 200)
With these numbers extra planning is required and a committee may be used to select wines and foods presented. You may also be working with a chef, or a speaker with expertise in the wines presented. Stations could combine certain wines with certain foods. Nicely designed handouts describing the wines and food can be offered at the door. Guest speakers, or even a surprise celebrity is a nice touch. Formal invitations with RSVP a must. Silent auctions will require additional people.
- You'll need plenty of pitchers of room temperature water since cold water numbs the tastebuds.
- Place dump buckets (or spit buckets) in multiple locations to allow guests to discard wine they don't like.
- Be sure there's more than one corkscrew at the event.
- Open reds ahead of time to allow them to breathe before serving.
- Depending on the tasting you may want to provide pens and papers for guests to take notes.
- To calculate how much wine you need, figure on two people per bottle, not that everyone will drink a half a bottle. This allows for
those wines that folks really like and want 'seconds'.
- Match the food provided with the time of day. If your planning a lunchtime tasting, you can't expect your guests to have eaten before hand.
- If your guests are wine savvy, a "blind" tasting of the wines may be fun and challenging.
- The larger the event, the more advance set-up time you'll need to handle the "what-ifs".