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Date Night! The Art of Hosting a Simple Wine Tasting

Hosting a wine tasting in your home is a great excuse to come together with friends and sample new wines. So many of us get stuck in a rut with the wine we drink. We order the same varietal and often select wines from the same winery because it is what we know. Attending professional wine tastings at wine shops and restaurants can be intimidating to the average wine drinker. Many fear that they don’t know enough about wines to make a judgment about them. One’s fondness to a wine is unique. It is no different than how a person perceives art. While you may love Renoir, your friend may prefer Seurat. They are both talented artists, but not everyone will see them the same way.

The best way to try new wines is to have a wine tasting party. Invite other wine enthusiasts like yourself, put on some music, sample a variety of good food and new wines, and let the conversation flow. It really is that simple.

Where to start? Plan your guest list. 12 to 24 people is a nice size group. If inviting couples, have every couple bring a bottle to taste. 12 bottles gives you a nice variety of wines to try in an evening. A 750 millilitre bottle of wine has approximately 24, one-ounce tastes.

What kind of wine should everyone bring? As the host, that is up to you. You could choose a varietal (like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir), a region (a wine from the Sonoma County region in California or a wine from Northwestern Spain) or something silly like choosing a wine based on the name on the label. Other options include a wine tasting based on the price of the bottle or have the guests bring their favorite wine to share.

Should we eat? Of course! To cleanse your palate, be sure to have plenty of crackers like water crackers, bread sticks or Tuscan bread. When sampling the same varietal, cleansing your palate makes it easier to differentiate between the tastes. Wine-friendly appetizers include olives, fruit (berries), hummus, sausages, cheeses, nuts and chocolate. The flavors from the different foods will alter how a wine will taste. If you are not crazy about a wine, try tasting it with food and you may get a different perspective. Because wine can be dehydrating, be sure to have plenty of water available for your guests.

What else do you need? Purchase inexpensive wine glasses. Don’t worry if the glasses are for white or red wines. As long as they are glass and you have one for each guest, you will be fine. You will need a dump bucket for your guests to pour out those wines that don’t appeal to them. An ice bucket works well for this job. Blind taste-testing is preferred because wine tasters often judge a wine by its label. The host can cover the wine bottles with bags as the guests hand them the bottle. Be sure to mark the bottle with a number so everyone can identify the wine they are tasting. Use random numbers so no one can guess the bottle based on when the guests arrived. Lastly, you will need pens and paper for each taster to make their notes and mark their favorites.

Putting it all together. As each guest arrives, place the bottle in a bag and mark with a number. If tasting red wines, uncork the bottles to allow the wines to breathe. Everyone can mingle and eat while they are waiting for the rest of the guests to arrive. When you are ready to taste, the host then goes around and pours everyone about one ounce to taste.

The wine will be identified by the number on the bottle. Each guest will rate the wine in their own way: smiley faces, scale of 1 to 10, notes about color or bouquet. Remember that you are among friends so there is no right or wrong way.

When all the wines have been tasted, the guests choose their top three. By a simple show of hands, the best wines are tallied and a winner is chosen. As the host, you may want to offer a prize for the best wine of the evening - a wine shop gift card or a wine accessory would be appropriate. When the tasting is over, all wines are removed from their bags and the guests can make note of their new favorite wines to add to their cellar.

Does an expensive wine make it ‘better’? Find out for yourself!

Many wine novices believe that the more money you pay for a bottle of wine, the better it is. Wine snobs endorse that myth by telling you that good wine cannot be purchased at a grocery store. Why not test that theory at a wine tasting party?

In this wine tasting, it is more convenient if the host purchases all the wine. Given that this is an expensive party, you might want to add up the cost of the wine and divide it by the number of people attending to share the cost. Pick four or six varietals (like Shiraz, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon). Choose a $10 bottle, $20 bottle and $40 bottle of each varietal. Be sure to wrap each bottle to cover the labels before the guests arrive. As the host pours the wine for tasting, they reveal only the name of the varietal. It is up to the guests to pick their favorite and to guess which is the most expensive. You are guaranteed to find some surprised faces in the crowd when the wines and the prices are revealed.

Pam is a freelance writer and wine enthusiast. She and her husband have found many of their favorite wines while sampling with friends. 

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