Throwing an Easter Wine Tasting Party
The most entertaining way to learn about wine is to arrange a wine tasting, and an Easter dinner gathering is a great opportunity to involve family and friends. There are many approaches for organizing a wine tasting, but for a casual dinner party like this, I would suggest picking three or four varietals of wine that you think might go well with a specific course of the meal. If you have enough people attending, you can take the same approach and add courses.
The rule of thumb for how much wine to have available is to have each consuming adult bring one bottle of wine, which is the equivalent of five glasses of wine per person. I would also suggest that with this type of wine tasting, the wines all be approximately the same age. This will help avoid adding too many complexities to the understanding process of the tasting.
If you have enough people for more than one bottle of each varietal, you might try finding wines from different regions or countries, like Viognier from the Central Coast, Virginia and it’s origin, France. This way, you can not only discern whether you like Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier better, but also what the differences are between the Viognier grown in three very different parts of the world.
There are four primary senses that you use when tasting wine: sight, smell, taste, and feel (texture). In order to best discern the color and clarity of the wines, the table used for the tasting should be covered in white and the lighting should be as close to natural as possible. Setting a table in the garden is a great way to bring your party outdoors.
The most important aspect about the glasses used is that they are clean, crystal clear, and large enough to allow the wine to be vigorously swirled to release the aromas. Crystal is best to use as it has an elastic property that makes it ‘ring.’
Try to avoid strong scents around the tasting area, as they will interfere with the tasters’ ability to discern the subtle nuances in the wines.
A “rule” to remember about the serving temperature is one-half hour. If you put your red wines in the refrigerator for one-half hour, and take your whites out of the fridge one-half hour before serving, they will be close to the ideal temperatures. At normal room temperatures, the alcohol and some of the bitter components of red wines are intensified, while white wine at refrigerator temperature (34-36°F) is only a few degrees above freezing. If you roll an ice cube in your mouth and then try to taste anything, you will understand the problem with wine that is too cold.
Every party needs a host, so someone should take charge of the tasting. This person is responsible for directing guests on what particular wines to bring so that duplicates are avoided and the theme chosen can be kept.
The host should also instruct each person to bring their wine wrapped in a paper bag with just the varietal name on the outside in order to avoid letting the bottle or label influence the tasting. In this setting, we are looking to learn just about the contents of the bottle.
Now that all the preparation is done, let’s get down to the best part: the tasting. I’d like to think of tasting as a five S process: sight, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor.
SIGHT: This is about enjoying the color and clarity of the wine. With experience, this can give great starting clues about the wine. Tilting the glass to create less wine to look through, to the white background, gives you an ability to discern color from the edge all the way to the saturated color of the wine in the bowl.
SWIRL AND SNIFF: Wine has a lot of volatile compounds that form the aromas. Depending on the concentration of these compounds, they can be strong scents or subtle nuances, so concentrating the aromas by swirling the wine vigorously in a large bowl will help discern the more subtle characters. This is the most important aspect of tasting wine, as truly we only detect sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory on the tongue. The rest of the perceptions we have as the flavor of peaches, etc. are actually scents that are detected by the receptors above and behind the palate.
Determining what a wine smells like takes a lot of practice. In fact, a way to help your guests with this process and give them something to bring home, is to give them all a wine aroma wheel as a placeholder at the tasting table, which can be purchased on winearomawheel.com, developed by Professor Emeritus Ann Noble from UC Davis. This tool will help you to develop your wine tasting stream of consciousness.
SIP: Finally, we are ready for the sip part of wine tasting. Take a sip of the wine and hold it in your mouth; swish it around, chew it, and allow it to coat your entire palate.
When sipping the wine there is a technique professional tasters use called “trilling.” This is basically the same as slurping soup off of a spoon. By vigorously aerating the wine entering your mouth, you again intensify the aromas that waft up the back of your palate to your smell receptors.
Remember, there are really only five “tastes,” so getting the volatile components of the wine to waft up will help with the “taste” of the wine. What we spend more time on is the texture of the wine. What does the wine feel like? Is it thin and acidic? Is it rich and velvety? Is it light and crisp or heavy and thick?
SAVOR: Lastly, savoring is my personal most important aspect of determining the quality of the wine. For me, savoring the wine is about the lingering after taste. The longer and more complex the flavors last, the higher quality of the wine. In the vernacular, this is called the finish of the wine. Just like music, some wines finish with a crescendo while others just end abruptly.