Theme for a Wine-Education "Game"?

One of the most enjoyable ways for a group of wine lovers to learn about wine together is a "blind tasting," wherein the participants try several wines without knowing what they are until after the wine is tasted and comments made.

This can be a great way to learn about wine, but there are a couple of issues to be wary of. First, you want to be sure that your guests have enough interest in wine to want to wrap their minds around it rather than simply drinking it. This is a given for a wine-tasting club, but you might want to sample sentiment among your pinochle group before inviting them in for a serious tasting session.

The second issue is a little more subtle: You'll want to set the degree of difficulty of your wine challenge to fit the level of knowledge of the average member of your group, and you'll want to take pains to avoid having it turn into a game of one-upmanship.

This is as true of wine as of any other topic that brings people together, of course, being sensitive to the interests and feelings of all your guests, and avoiding having those who don't do as well feel bad about that. All this is just good manners, of course, and I don't mean to lecture anyone ... only to muse that any party event that becomes competitive can be fun but also leave hurt feelings. A word to the wise!

I don't think of a blind tasting as a game, exactly; more like a learning experience that just happens to be fun: A group of wine lovers surrounding a festive table with two, three or four bottles wrapped in paper bags, trying to learn by tasting, comparing and contrasting.

Having totally unknown bottles and requiring people to guess what's what is certainly the most difficult way to do this, and frankly, I wouldn't recommend it for most groups. I wouldn't have much confidence in my own ability to do well at this!

An easier, and perhaps more educational variation is to select a few wines of similar-only-different type, let your guests know in general what the wines are, and invite them to try to determine which is which. This can be a very good way to sharpen your palate, and it would be easy to set this up as either a discussion-group event with no winners, or as a scoring game with points for each correct guess.

Just to get your creativity going, you might consider doing this with four red wines made from different grapes, giving your group the opportunity to pick out the differences between Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Merlot (for instance), or Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.

Or play a geography game, with similar Cabernets/Cab blends from California, France, Chile and Australia. Or for a more advanced group, with similarly priced Bordeaux from the Medoc, Graves, Pomerol and St.-Emilion. For some silly (but instructive) laughs, issue everyone blindfolds and see how many people can successfully distinguish a red wine from a white without looking! (They'd have to be served at the same temperature, though, so cold white couldn't be distinguished from warm red.)

I hope these quick ideas are enough to give everyone a starting point, and if you're reading this and like the concept, they're yours and welcome to them! For further information, feel free to get in touch.