Rogov's Ramblings: Wine Tasting Parties: Evenings of Pleasure

Daniel Rogov

Responding to the increasing local popularity of wine-tasting parties, more and more people have requested guidelines that will help them organize such evenings at home. There is only one disadvantage to hosting or attending wine tastings - The more experienced you are and the better trained your palate becomes, the less tolerant you will be of faulted or boring wines.

1: The basic rules in all tastings are that white wines should be tasted before reds and within each group you should start with wines that are light in body before going on to fuller bodied wines. When tasting wines of the same variety, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, always start with the youngest wines and end with the most mature.

2: Professionals can sample 30 or more wines at a single sitting because they have undergone a rigid apprenticeship and are trained to examine every wine methodically and analytically. It is widely agreed that the maximum number of wines that can be tasted and enjoyed at home is eight.

3: Wines should be served at their proper temperatures. Young reds should be opened about fifteen or twenty minutes before the tasting and more mature reds about half an hour before they are poured.

4: In setting up a tasting table, provide enough space so that guests can feel comfortable. Although some people feel that a single glass is adequate for each guest (who will rinse their glasses with water between tastings), I feel that a separate glass should be provided for each wine that is being served. This allows each person to return to earlier tasted wines and compare it to others he is tasting, and does not force us to rely on memory alone. Be sure that all of the glasses are perfectly clean. Each guest should also be provided with a separate glass for water.

5. Wines should be arranged on the table in the order they are to be tasted. I suggest using a felt-tipped pen to put a number on each bottle and then to mark the corresponding number on the base of each glass in order to avoid any confusion.

6. After they have tasted each wine, many (but not all) profes-sional wine tasters spit the wine out in order not to become intoxicated. There is no need to spit at a home tasting where much of the pleasure comes from actually drinking the wine. Some guests will choose to spit, however, so there should be enough recepticles on the table for this purpose. (Clay jugs, low vases and Champagne buckets are ideal).

7. I suggest, even at the most casual of tastings, that each guest be given either a pad and pencil or a form that can easily be filled out so that each person can record their impressions of each wine tasted. Making notes unconsciously forces each person to make up their minds and commit themselves before they reach a general conclusion of the wines being sampled.

8. The host or hostess of a wine-tasting has two options - either placing the bottles on the table in full sight of the guests or of placing each bottle in a paper bag, each bag identified only by a number, for a blind tasting. My own preference is always for blind tastings, for no matter how honest we may be, the power of suggestion is strong and it is difficult to be entirely objective once one has seen the label of a prestigious Chateau bottled wine staring up at him. Unconsciously or otherwise, advance knowledge often reflects what we think we should find rather than what our senses told us.

9. If the host or hostess of the party is knowledgeable about wine, they should not hesitate to say a few words about each wine being tasted. Under no circumstances, however, should the hosts or any of the guest presents their drinking companions with detailed lectures on the wines. That, frankly, is a bore and that contradicts the purpose of such an evening.

10. Estimating the number of bottles needed for a tasting is not difficult. Allow half a bottle of all the wines, combined per person. That is to say, for 8 people you will need 4 bottles, for 12 people, 6 bottles. When pouring during the tasting itself, remember that the average sampling should be small enough to allow room for swirling the wine in the glass. Whatever wines are left over after the actual tasting can be served with the meal or snacks offered afterwards.

11. Although some disagree, I feel that food should always be served after and never before or during a wine tasting. Although we eventually judge wines partly by how well they go with the foods we like, food changes the taste of wine and a tasting without food allows a different, more clear point of view. If you feel absolutely bound to put something on the table use only cubes of unsugared white bread.

12. Discussing the wines tasted is one of the great pleasures of such evenings. If you choose to host a more formal tasting, discourage your guests from discussing the wines until all have been tasted. This eliminates peer pressure and allows each guest to form his or her own opinion of each of the wines. In a more informal setting, however, free speech can comfortably be the rule of thumb.

13. After the formal part of the tasting, it is appropriate to set all of the bottles out so that people can select those they most enjoyed to accompany whatever foods you are going to serve.

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