How To Plan A Wine Tasting Party

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - April 11, 2007
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How to plan a wine tasting? Well, I’ve had a little experience doing these things. In fact, I’m planning one right now. I don’t claim to be a Martha Stewart or Michael Chiarello, but I do have a few tips on putting these together.

First, make sure you have enough room for your guests. It’s not so bad if you know that all your guests are well acquainted, but if new acquaintances have to share elbow room, it’s not so nice. Try as best as possible to keep the areas clear of aromas like scented candles or strongly aromatic flowers. They are beautiful and add ambianc,e but can kill the wine’s own bouquet.

Food aromas are always welcome, but they can often taint the experience of a wine tasting too. Smoke, spices, strong cheeses and fish sauce top my list of food aromas that play havoc with enjoying wine aromas.

For light, there are two schools of thought. If you are really planning for education to happen at the tasting, ample lighting and a white background for people to be able to see the natural color of the wine is important. However, if it’s more for mood, turn the lights down as low as you like. Sexy, non?

Pay attention to glassware. Have plenty; more than enough. There is bound to be a mixup in glassware. Even those fancy bangles and rings for identifying your own glass come off on occasion, or people take them off to play with them.

If you take anything away from reading this column, please remember to serve wine in clean and unscented glass-ware. It may be clean, but if it has been sitting in that cardboard box or in your wooden cupboard or display case, it is bound to smell like it too.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I’ve been when I get served what is supposed to be a really killer glass of wine, and then put my nose in it just to smell the container the glass was stored in instead. Yuck!! The wine is ruined. Don’t let this happen to you or your guests. Before people pour wine into my glass, I always make a point to smell the glass first.

On top of that, make sure your glasses are appropriate. There are several glass producers that make varietal specific stemware that can enhance the experience. Riedel is my personal favorite. Don’t serve BIG red wines in a tiny glass, and stay away completely from those heavy, extremely ornate, etched glasses that your mother or grandmother passed down to you. Those glasses do nothing for the enjoyment of the wine.

Water with wine is extremely important. Not because you blend the two, but because you should make sure your guests have plenty of water to drink. It helps keep them refreshed and helps to avoid the drunken behavior we should all try to avoid. And I don’t have to mention all the trouble it can cause when operating a vehicle. Keep plenty of water handy.

Most people like to rinse their glasses with water between different wines too. Here’s my view with rinsing glasses. If I’m going from a very aromatic white wine like Gewurztraminer, Muscat or Viognier to something different, or I’m changing colors of wine, I’ll rinse it before tasting the next wine with the same glass. But otherwise, I don’t usually rinse my glass. Yes, purists will tell you to rinse it between each new wine. You can do that too. But I would rather wine dilute my wine rather than water.

And finally we come to the wine. Choose something you like to drink or want to learn about. It’s no fun having someone else tell you what to drink.

For food, eat what you like, what tastes good. It’s that easy - it’s your party and you should enjoy.

Good for tasting and drinking: 2005 Villa Creek Garnacha ($35) Juicy, full-bodied and rich, this is a palate thumper that has a really silky texture. 2004 Four Vines “The Maverick” Zinfandel ($28) I’m not a huge fan of Zinfandel, but this wine is wickedly easy to cuddle up with and drink.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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