Earlier this year I hosted my first wine tasting party, and it was a learning experience, for sure. I don’t look at wine the same way, and after one get-together, I had a new sense of confidence when it came to talking about wine. But one wine tasting does not as sommelier make. As the saying goes “practice makes perfect,” so I took one for the team (aka you) and attended another wine tasting party with our newly formed group.
This time, our host was “Renaissance Woman” Laura Marlowe. Laura is a print production manager by day, and remodels house rentals, makes jewelry and cooks amazing food (including homemade bread) in her spare time. She is a superwoman and amazing friend.
In our second tasting party, Laura decided to focus on white wines, taking us through everything from Chardonnay to Marsanne. As with our previous tasting, none of us could agree on what we liked or didn’t like, and I am finding that is the point. It’s almost like looking at art – everyone will come away from the wine with a different view.
I don’t like Chardonnay’s, and view them as buttery and blech, but they are a popular wine, and there were those at the tasting who disagreed with me. These tastings are teaching me that “taste is in the taste buds of the beholder” and it’s ok to not like what everyone else does, or dislike what everyone else spits out. It’s all about trying a variety of wines and finding what you like.
Here is what we learned from our second experiment:
Keep the tasting notes simple
We found a real winner in our second set of tasting notes, put together by Laura (you can download a PDF of our notes here), and designed by fellow taster, Pamela. We went from a very complex form to a four step process. We debated adding “suggested” words to it, but decided that it was best to let people come up with their own descriptor words, rather than be guided by someone else’s words. We have already reused the same note sheet again at a subsequent testing with one change – we have the host add the wine information in the “Wine Facts” section before the tasting. Writing all the information down was a struggle and made the pace a little sluggish, so we decided in the future that we wanted that information pre-printed (I am working on creating an interactive version of this PDF for a future post, so stay tuned!).
In our first tasting, we ate before we started tasting, because that’s what all the sites I read said to do. The idea was that you would eat to have something on your stomach, and then drink water to cleanse your palate so that you could truly taste the wine. I call poppycock on this one. For our white wine tasting, we drank while we ate, and we discovered something amazing – food pairings! It became a fun game to figure out what foods made each wine taste better or worse (sometimes a cookie paired best, and sometimes a spicy salami). Christina has become a true master of this game. Make sure that you have a good variety – salty, sweet, spicy, savory – so that you have lots of options in what you are pairing with each selection.
There’s an App for That
Before the tasting, a couple of our participants had discovered a fantastic wine app called Vivino. This free app allows you to catalog and rate wines you have tasted, scan or search wines to see how others have rated them, and discover what wines your friends are drinking by connecting you with your Facebook network of friends who also have the app. All of this can be done by simply taking a picture of the label, which the app then uses to find the wine within its database. You simply rate, make any notes, and save. I have used it several times when I am buying wine as a way to ensure I am buying something that is rated well. As a side note, we aren’t being sponsored to promote this app, we just really love it.
This was truly Laura’s contribution, and something that has proven to be a great addition to our wine tastings – a wine guide. You can customize the guide to include a variety of wines, or if you are focusing on one wine, you can expand on fun facts for that particular variety. It gives your guests a take-away guide to keep on hand so that they can continue their learning at home, and have something to reference the next time they want to try something new. You can see an example of the guide she created for her party here.
After just two tasting sessions, we have really started to hone in on what works for us as a group, from the format to the food to the tasting notes. The key has been assembling a group of people who are like-minded in our desire to learn more about wine, and agreement to allow an environment where people can be open and honest with their opinions.
Before the end of the year, I will bring you a summary (including a list of what we tasted) for our most recent tasting on champagne/sparkling wines.