Joy to the World and Wine to Your Friends!

(Written for the Los Altos Town Crier

Familiar faces and places and jolly evenings spent in good cheer – it truly is a wonderful time of year. With plenty of reason to gather with cherished friends and family, how about introducing a new way to celebrate?
A wine-tasting party is fun and interactive. To set up a wine tasting, you’ll want to provide the following items.
  • Three to six bottles of wine. I like to do blind tasting, which means that you conceal each bottle of wine by wrapping it up or putting it in a bag. Be sure to number each bottle and maintain a cheat sheet to keep the wines straight. Consider purchasing wines that span a price range, from very affordable to higher priced. It’s fun when at the end of the evening you reveal that a favorite wine was in fact very low priced.
  • Sensory evaluation sheets. I created a form that puts a Christmas spin on a wine-tasting party, but what you want is a simple way for guests to track their thoughts on each wine – blank pieces of paper for keeping notes work fine, too. And don’t forget to have plenty of pens on hand.
  • A taste chart that includes the common flavors and aromas in wine. This isn’t mandatory, but it can be useful to help people articulate what it is they are smelling and tasting. Find one online that you can download and then print a few copies.
  • Food. Because you’ll be providing the drinks, you could ask friends to bring some food along. Or suggest that the group do the tasting early in the evening and then head out for dinner afterward. Either way, you should have some nibbles available.
As part of the planning process, choose the type of tasting you want to do. You can do a survey of wines, called a “horizontal” tasting, or focus on a particular type of wine, such as all sparkling wines or all Cabernet Sauvignons, for a “vertical” tasting. A bit more detail on both styles of tasting follows.

Horizontal tasting

Horizontal tastings – sort of a Tasting 101 – involve trying the most popular wines of the world while learning about the process of tasting. A festive holiday horizontal tasting evening might look like this:
  • Taste the three major white varietals (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling) and discuss the attributes of the wine using the sensory evaluation sheets.
  • Take a break and have some cheese (chevre and Sauvignon Blanc are wonderful together!).
  • Taste three major red varietals (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah), again using the sensory evaluation sheets to discuss.
  • Wrap up with a dessert and possibly a glass of port. While enjoying the sweets, let guests share their ratings and then unveil each wine.

Vertical tasting

In a vertical tasting, focus on a type of wine, a region or a single vineyard’s wine over the course of several vintages. It’s a great option for a group of people with a good overall familiarity with wine, because it will allow your guests to broaden their knowledge of a specific wine or region.
A wine tasting that features different regions works for any wine varietal. For a vertical tasting that focuses on a type of wine, you could do a Chardonnay from three different places in the world. Take guests first to Oregon with a Willamette Valley Chardonnay. Then taste a white French Burgundy – the same varietal – and finish with a Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Have guests guess the region each wine is from as part of their evaluation notes. After you’ve tasted the various chards, move on to Pinot Noirs from the same three regions.
Share notes and unveil the wines at the end. Now, send the invites out and have fun!

You can download the sensory evaluation form I created.


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