Wine has experienced incredible growth in popularity over the last fifteen years. Once occupying the dual provinces of the upper crust and the corner wino, a huge market for the middle class has emerged. Because the oenophilia of the masses is relatively new, most of us approach wine without knowing what to look for.
Wine parties create a fun way to learn to appreciate and enjoy wine. Planning the right way, though, requires knowing the experience and tastes of those attending, and limiting the number, both to suit your budget and to allow everyone to share in the experience. For those who do not know a great deal about wine, the focus should be on people identifying what they taste and learning what they like.
Reds and Whites
A good starting point for a wine party is to select two or three white wines and two or three red wines. Choosing some of the more common varietals will help the introduction apply to many other settings. Commonly available whites include chardonnay, pinot grigio, reisling, and sauvignon blanc; common reds include merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, shiraz/syrah, and cabernet franc. Pour tastes one wine at a time, allowing everyone to sip, swish the wine in their mouths, and taste during and after their drink. Be sure to provide water in between so the taste of one wine does not affect the taste of the next.
Take down tasting notes from the bottle labels or from the website of the vineyard that makes each wine. Put these on cards by each bottle, face down. Then give everyone a notepad and a pen. When they are tasting, have them try to identify different flavors: fruits, spices, scents, and the like. You will find different people identify different tastes, including some not listed with the “official” notes. Few if any will identify everything listed. Compare everyone’s notes at the end of tasting for each wine, then try another taste to see what new notes emerge.
Different foods bring out taste notes in different wines. This varies not only from varietal to varietal, but with different vineyards and even different bottles. The vineyard or the bottle label can often help identify wine pairing suggestions. In addition, the shop from which you buy your wine can often help with pairings. If you go to a specialty wine store, or even the wine department of your local grocery store, you can usually find someone who has developed expertise in the area. They can recommend cheeses, fruits, or simple recipes to prepare for the party.
At the end of the party, have everyone take stock of what they liked and what they did not. Some may prefer whites, some reds. Some prefer sweeter wines, and some prefer dry wines. Providing a variety of taste profiles helps everyone identify what they like best, and gives some initial guidance to lead further explorations. If someone prefers the drier reds, that person may enjoy a dry white as well. Or someone who only likes the reds or whites can then start looking for the specific qualities they really enjoy.
A wine-tasting party for beginning wine drinkers may show some of your guests that they just don’t enjoy wine. For others, it provides a chance to discover something new in the company of friends. Most importantly, these parties give the opportunity for fun and shared exploration. A little planning and preparation can lead to a great night in to celebrate life with friends.