Home wine tastings: Easier than you think

One of the most common questions that the Wine Curmudgeon gets is about home wine tastings. Are they difficult to do? Are they worthwhile? Are they fun?

No, yes, and very yes.

One reason so many people are intimidated by home wine tastings is that they assume, since they don’t know anything about wine, that they aren’t qualified to do a home wine tasting. Which is silly. If you have enough glasses, you can do a home tasting. (You can also hire a professional to do it, and I do those as part of the Two Wine Guys, but that’s a story for another day.)

It’s really that simple. Pick a theme — chardonnays of the world or California wine or whatever — and buya half dozen or so wines that fit the theme. Then invite 12 people, and you’re ready to go.

But what am I going to do next? you cry. The flip answer? Drink the wine — and that’s also the serious answer. The point of a wine tasting is to explore the differences between the wines you’re tasting, and you don’t need to be an expert to do that.

Give everyone a sheet with the names of the wines and where’re they from (we’ll use the chardonnay example). Then, lead the group in tasting each wine, one at a time. Ask about the differences. Ask about the similarities. Chardonnay, regardless of where it’s from, should have a couple of things in common: A green apple, pear-like fruitiness, a heavier mouth feel than other white wines, and not much in the way of tannins (the astringent taste you get in the back of your mouth, mostly from red wine). You can get basic information like that from almost any wine web site or basic wine guide like the Windows on the World book.

Talk about the similarities and differences. Use English, and not wine speak. Talk about what food you’d serve with the wines. Finally, at the end of the discussion about each wine, asked who liked it and who didn’t. You’ll be suprised to see so many diverse opinions. This is good, and is one of the things that the Wine Curmudgeon loves about tastings.

Does it help if you know that California chardonnay is usually oakier than French chardonnay, or that chardonnay from warmer regions is a little less fruity? Yes. Does it make a difference? No. The point of all this is to taste wine with your friends, not to hold a lecture class in wineology. A tasting should be a give-and-take, the people in the room sharing their opinions.

A couple of other pointers:

? Count on one bottle of wine for every 15 people or so. You’re pouring a tasting pour, about one ounce, and one bottle is usually more than enough.

? It’s OK to use cheap wine. It’s even encouraged. Ask your guests how much they think the wine cost. Most will be surprised to find out how much good, inexpensive wine is available.

? It’s also OK to have the guests bring the wine (asking them to stick to the theme). This introduces a wonderful note of unpredictability, as somone opts for a $6 chardonny while someone else goes for the $20 bottle.

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