Posts Tagged ‘hosting’

Wine Tasting Party: The Experiment Continues

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

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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.

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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!).

Eat up!
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.

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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.

Wine Guide
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.

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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.

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Cheers!

Holiday Gift Guide: Hostess Gifts

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

If you have ever hosted a party, or even a dinner get-together, you know that it’s a lot of work. As an attendee, it’s a nice gesture to bring a small gift (something that is valued at $25 or less) to thank your hostess for the evening. A hostess gift does not need to be elaborate or expensive. Think simple and affordable. 

As a frequent hostess, I can tell you that the gifts I appreciate the most are the ones I can use when entertaining around the holidays. I have had many a time when dinner out has lead to impromptu drinks or dessert at my home, and having an arsenal of wine and already-made desserts on hand makes my job much easier. I can just run home, open a bottle of wine or brew a pot of coffee, plate some cookies or brownies, and enjoy.

Below is a gift guide with some of my favorite holiday hostess gifts:

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1. Bottle of Wine: Pick what you like. I love opening a bottle of wine that I know someone bought me and thinking that they gave me one of their favorites.
2. Local Microbrew: Does your host/hostess prefer beer? Bring a six-pack of a local microbrew, or even better, get a growler (we love the ones above from Oktoberfest Haus) and take it to your local brewery, or to Whole Foods, to be filled. Whole Foods offers discounts on refills during its biweekly happy hours.
3. Cocktail Ice Mold: For the host that enjoys his or her cocktails “on the rocks,” this ice mold is the perfect gift. The design is meant to keep the temperature of the drink cool, while minimizing melting, thus keeping the drink from getting watered down.
4. Scented Candle: Pick a scent that is fresh and clean and not overpowering, like Pier 1’s Citrus Cilantro.
5. Fairytale Brownies: Fairytale Brownies are an Arizona original, and individually wrapped, so they stay fresh longer.
6. Fancy Salts: Pink, black, sea, or laced with truffle oil , salts are a great gift that any foodie would adore.
7. Set of Cheese Knives or Cocktail Plates: I love getting these and have four little sets of cocktail plates that I can change out depending on my mood. These sets are both from Crate & Barrel.
8. Coffee or Tea w/Infuser: A bag of your host’s favorite coffee, or loose tea and a fun infuser like the one above are a great way to show your thanks every morning when he or she sips that first cup of the day.
9. Jams/Jellies – Don’t do your basic strawberry or blackberry – go to somewhere like Williams Sonoma, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market and pick up a couple of jars of something a little more exotic, like Blackberry Farm’s Apple Onion Jam.

To wrap, use a store-bought bag (something cloth or reusable is best) or simply tie a bow around the item. Be sure to include a small card so that the hostess knows that the item was from you. If you are really into planning ahead, buy a few bottles of your favorite wine, or any of the nonperishable suggestions, and keep them on hand so that you don’t have to rush out the week of the party to buy something. 

What is your favorite host/hostess gift that you have ever received? Do you have any great ideas that aren’t listed above? Please share your ideas and suggestions in the comments.

Happy Holidays!

A Tisket, A Tasket – Let’s Make a Guest Welcome Basket!

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

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With the holidays fast approaching, many of us have family or other guests coming into town to visit. A great way to make those staying with you feel welcome is by putting together a basic guest basket for their room.

A guest basket should consist of items usually forgotten when traveling. Although a larger initial expense, it is inexpensive to maintain, since most guests will not use all the items on each visit.

The image below shows some items you might include:

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1. Basket/Container (Target has a great selection of organizers.)
2. Lip Balm
3. First Aid Kit
4. Mouthwash
5. Makeup Remover Towelettes
6. Gum
7. Wrinkle Release Spray/Static Guard
8. Lint Roller (especially if you have pets who shed)
9. Toothpaste
10. Shaving Cream & Razor
11. Lotion (I like a relaxing scent like lavender)
12. Sunscreen
13. Hairspray
14. Mani/Pedi Set, Nail File, Nail Clippers
15. Baby Powder
16. Hand Sanitizer
17. Floss
18. Cotton Swabs

Some additional items that would be good to have on hand are a box of tissues and a toothbrush (this is a great way to use all those brushes your dentist gives you).

I leave my guest basket on the dresser along with a vase of flowers, a few squares of Ghirardelli chocolate, a couple of bottles of water, and either some magazines, a crossword puzzle or Sudoku book and a pen.

The holidays can be hectic, so providing your guests with a room that is comfortable, and stocked with the basics, will make their stay even more enjoyable.

If you received a guest basket while visiting someone during the holiday season, what would you like to receive? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.