WT101 - Festive holiday wines

When it's time to think about wine for a festive occasion - or a quiet evening by the fireside on a chilly night - many of us like to turn to something a little more celebratory than the wines we usually serve, and perhaps a bit more warming.

With the holiday season upon us, the joyous pop of the Champagne cork and the audible purr of pleasure that attends the opening of a bottle of fine Port are, or ought to be, as much an audible signal of the Christmas season as jingle bells or chestnuts crackling on an open fire.

But for many wine enthusiasts who've grown accustomed to the dry table wines served with dinner, sparkling wine ("bubblies") and sweet fortified wine ("stickies") can seem awfully daunting simply because these wines are different. How do you open them? How do you serve them? Do they go with food? Can they be aged?

If you'd like a little guidance in discovering these pleasures, you've come to the right place. In Wine Tasting 101, the popular monthly wine-education feature in our WineLovers' Community online forum, we'll be spending the month of December tasting both "bubblies" and "stickies" and comparing notes on good Champagnes (and other sparkling wines) as well as Ports, Madeiras and other powerful and warming dessert wines in the fortified style.

Lots of experts will be there to answer questions, and I will too; I'm also pleased to announce that international Port expert Roy Hersh, the publisher of the excellent For The Love of Port Website, has agree to serve all month as guest expert, answering questions and offering comments on Port, Madeira and other fortified wines ... and bubblies, too. Roy, a member of the Sommelier Society of Washington, D.C., and the Enological Society of Seattle, is one of only a handful of Americans selected by the Port Wine Institute (I.V.D.P. Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) as a member of its "Confraria" or Port wine brotherhood. It's a pleasure to have him working with us this month, and I hope you'll take advantage of his generosity by dropping in on our online forum with your Port and fortified-wine questions.

Click here to enter Wine Tasting 101

One of the best ways to sharpen your wine-tasting skills is to get in the habit of jotting down a few quick notes whenever you taste an interesting wine. I find that this simple process helps focus my thinking and fix the specifics of each wine I taste in my palate's memory.

This simple technique works even better when I share my tasting impressions with other wine-loving friends. Comparing your impressions with those of others with similar interests can be an excellent way to learn whether you are on the right track.

But this can also be a challenge: If you haven't done it before, even the most bold and self-confident wine lover may feel nervous about offering wine opinions to a savvy crowd, fearing possible criticism or even abuse.

Wine Tasting 101 makes it easy for everyone - - even novice wine enthusiasts - to learn how to record and share wine-tasting notes.

Wine Tasting 101 uses the same user-friendly software as our other interactive forums, but it is dedicated to a single purpose: Learning more about wine by tasting a specific featured wine each month, recording your impressions and sharing them with others in a civil, friendly online community where peer support is encouraged and abuse is banned. (Don't worry, there's no admission charge. All our forums are free and open to wine lovers everywhere.)

Here's how it works: every month, we will select a specific Wine of the Month (see box at upper right) that's affordable, interesting and widely available around the world. Everyone who would like to participate will buy this wine - or, if it's unavailable, the closest alternative available - taste it, and post a tasting report on the Wine Tasting 101 forum.

Everyone is welcome, and encouraged, to join in, whether you're a wine novice, intermediate or advanced hobbyist or wine-industry professional. There's plenty of room for all, and the broader the variety of participants, the more there'll be for everyone to learn.

To encourage wide participation, Wine Tasting 101 redoubles the premise that holds in all our forums: Everyone's opinion is valid and to be respected. We welcome discussion of each other's notes, but such discussion will be positive, supportive and aimed at education. Our experienced tasters will assist our newer peers by gently evaluating their notes and particularly by pointing out, and reinforcing, those instances where someone does it especially well.

The usual procedure is to name the wine, then discuss its appearance, aroma, flavor, aftertaste/finish and overall impression. Please do include the price you paid for the wine, and where you bought it. It's interesting to see how these things vary around the world.

We don't insist on any specific format for tasting reports, but if you would like a specific format to use as a model, here are some examples:

Finally, you are always welcome to dip back through our archives and try wines from previous months. Tasting notes are always welcome, no matter how long after the fact.
Click here for the full archive of previous topics..

Click here to enter Wine Tasting 101.

List of all previously featured wines.