There are many different types of wine tasting parties you can conduct right in your own living room. The main goals of any wine tasting are to learn more about the wine and where it came from, learn more about your own palate, compare notes with fellow wine lovers and have FUN!
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Generally, your "flight" should consist of three to five wines. If you are serving full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, open the bottles about an hour before you expect to sample the wine to let it breathe.
Here are a few basic methods for comparing wines to one another:
Most tastings involve random wines. For a formal, more traditional approach to wine tasting, follow the five S's:
With this approach, you’ll have a glass for each sample of wine. Smell each wine and make notes. Taste each wine and make notes. Each person reports on each wine. Then unveil the bottle.
Guests may be unfamiliar or intimidated by "technical" tasting terms, so encourage them to describe wine in their own terms. Call us and we’ll send you a free "aroma wheel" with a list of basic descriptors for popular wines.
For a more light-hearted approach to your tasting, begin with an educational ice breaker. Ask your guests to take a jelly bean from a small bowl you provide with an assortment of colors (without looking!) Have them plug their nose first and place the jelly bean in their mouth. Ask them to describe the flavor. Then tell them to unplug their nose and describe the flavor.
This game plays up the connection between the olfactory nerve and the brain. Most people will respond, "Sweet, but unidentifiable" for a flavor description with their nose plugged. Only once their nose is unplugged are they able to describe the actual flavor (i.e. lemon, lime, etc.) After tasting the candy, be sure to cleanse the palate before sampling the wine.
Have each guest to draw a card from a basket with questions like, "If this wine were an animal, which would it be and why?” Taste each wine and comment back to the group. Award prizes for the most creative answers: wine charms, coasters, or a bottle of wine (unopened, of course!)
On Friday, Ann Littlefield and I participated in a very enjoyable visit from the members of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, who are currently touring the 2008 vintage to San Francisco (Jan. 21), Los Angeles (Jan. 22), Chicago (Jan. 24), Boston (Jan. 26) and New York City (Jan. 28).
I always enjoy the opportunity to compare a wide group of the best, organized by appellation, across an entire vintage. There is no other large-scale traveling tasting like this, that gives one such a complete picture of the vintage, in an important region like Bordeaux.
This year, 95 producers were available with selections to choose from, giving one the opportunity to taste 108 wines (including both the Blancs and Rouges from Graves and Pessac-Léognan producers). I was able to taste through everything in about two and a half hours.
The Winetasting.com team's conclusion on the tasting is that it is a relatively light vintage that favored the Left Bank, particularly St. Julien and Pauillac. For those Bordeaux drinkers like myself, who prefer lighter, more food-friendly Bordeaux, there are a number of attractive wines in this vintage with good acidity and balance. They should afford good early drinking, and will probably be showing up at pretty reasonable prices, compared to what we've been seeing from Bordeaux in recent years.
My favorite white Bordeaux was a usual suspect: the regularly excellent Domaine de Chevalier Blanc. My favorite Sauternes was represented by Aline Baly of Chateau Coutet out of Barsac, France. I had lunch with this charming lady at Morimoto's in Napa on Thursday afternoon, and I look forward to working closer with her and bringing some of her wines to you during the next year.
Most of the wines in this tasting are already quite approachable, and are consistent with wines that we have available at Winetasting.com from past vintages, such as:
Château du Piras 2004 Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux
Crimson color, powerful aromatic nose with touch of red fruits. Rich, full and round, with delicate tannins Finishes with a good length. Silver, Best Buy, 2009 World Wine Competition.
[BOR661] $14.99 - Sold out!
Aromas and flavors of cassis, berries and crushed strawberries. Silver: Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2006. Bronze, Recommended: 2010 World Wine Competition.
Chateau Pavie Macquin 2003, Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux
In his 95-point review, Robert Parker says: "Huge fruit on the attack is followed by a powerful, masculine wine with huge extract, high tannin, low acidity, and formidable power."
[BOR664] $81.99 - Sold out!
Both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast give high marks to this layered and powerful Bordeaux blend.
[BORWST9] $218.99 - Only 10 in stock!
Guy Davis is the founder and winemaker at Davis Family Vineyards. Davis caught the "wine bug" in the early 1980's, and after 15 years working in the wine industry, he crushed his first vintage under the family label in 1997.
Guy Davis in the vineyards
While working through college, you caught the wine bug tasting fine French wines with a Parisian restaurant owner after hours. What's kept you in the wine business?
Guy Davis: What turns me on most is seeing everything come full circle. I start my day walking down the hill to the vineyard. Then I might work in the winery tasting samples. That evening I could be wearing a sport coat pouring at an event with incredible food.
It's amazing to think it all started on a January morning pruning vines and ended with a delightful evening with people enjoying my wine. I'm one-third organic farmer, one-third artisan, one-third salesman. I stay the size I am, as a family farm, for that very reason. It's three businesses interwoven, and I love every facet of it.
As a "custodian of the soil", what is your biggest challenge in the vineyard?
Being organic or "earth friendly" alone is super challenging. There's no way to cut corners the way we do it ... everything matters.
Guy: My biggest challenge is getting it all done. I don't want to let go of any one part of the business. Being organic or "earth friendly" alone is super challenging. There's no way to cut corners the way we do it ... using gravity flow instead of pumps, not spraying the weeds ... everything matters. It's the compilation of 1,000 small things.
What is your favorite varietal? My guess would be Zinfandel, because it is the first vintage ever made under Davis Family Vineyards in 1997.
Guy: Actually, I don't have just one favorite varietal. We grow Pinot Noir in a cooler spot, Syrah in warmer areas, Old Vine Zinfandel and Chardonnay too, each in a different place to match microclimates. None of them are farmed identically. They're like my children. You can't say which one you love the most.
The Davis Family (from left): Cooper, Guy, Judy, Luke, Rebecca and Cole
Once they're in the winery, they're all very different too. Syrah likes interaction. It actually expands and has more personality with handling. With Pinot Noir, every time you touch it, it loses something. It's more delicate. My favorite part is actually not having one favorite and making a range of wines.
What is the most memorable wine you ever tasted?
Guy: The most memorable wines I've tasted have been at the winery with a person who had a thought about what that wine was going to be – someone who knew something about the sense of place. It's the connection with someone passionate and inspired that makes me remember the wine.
If you were to give up winemaking, what other career or hobby would you pursue?
Guy: [Laughs] I just hope I die doing just what I'm doing, right where I'm doing it!
Winetasting.com recently co-sponsored a "Home for the Holidays" event in Chicago, led by Shawn Rabideau from Celebrations.com. Shawn has been in the wedding/event production and design business for close to a decade and was featured this summer on the Bravo reality series Bethenny Getting Married?
Shawn demonstrated how to make his delicious Cranberry Mimosa Twist for the "mommy bloggers" in attendance.
"This is a recipe I created by accident a few Christmases ago," Shawn says. "I was tired of just champagne and orange juice, so I added some cranberry juice and thought, why not add vodka, too? And 'poof', this delicious drink was born! Hope you enjoy this twist on the old classic as much as I do!"
Garnish with 1/2 of an orange slice placed on the rim of the glass, or a bamboo cocktail skewer with real cranberries.
In place of Champagne, try Moscato d'Asti for a sweeter, low-alcohol version of this recipe. The Muscat grape shows aromas of mandarin orange that play nicely on the orange juice mixer. The combination creates a sparkling cocktail with less bubbles ... a light effervescence that Italians refer to as "frizzante". It's also typically a less expensive alternative to Champagne.
Plus, here's a non-alcoholic version for the kids!
Dim sum, meaning "to touch your heart" in Chinese, is the Cantonese dining experience of diverse small-bite appetizers cooked using a variety of methods (steaming, boiling, braising, stir-frying or baking) with an assortment of ingredients. It is usually enjoyed at a restaurant on a weekend morning, but you can have a dazzling finger food celebration right at home complete with sparkling wine.
With Chinese New Year right around the corner, kick off the year of the Rabbit on February 3 in style. The celebration runs for 15 days – now that's our kind of party!
Champagne and other sparkling wines are the perfect choice with dim sum, because they are such versatile food wines. With dim sum, you usually enjoy a wide array of foods served on a lazy Susan all at once, not course by course as with a Western meal. You don't progress through various wines as you progress through various courses. Therefore, when selecting a wine, choose one that pairs with the main dish.
Asian chefs strive for balance and contrasts of textures, and of hot, sour, sweet and salty tastes. Wines with bold flavors, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, fare less well with Asian dishes than wines with more balance and nuanced properties. These include wines with moderate alcohol, crisp acidity, softer tannins and perhaps just a touch of sweetness. Avoid heavily oaked wines as they kill the freshness in the foods that makes dim sum so special.
If you don't have Champagne (or the budget for it), Alsatian whites also work well with the diverse marinades and sauces of Asian dishes, especially the spicy hot ones. The flavors in difficult-to-complement Asian dishes work magically with the powerful fruity elements of Riesling and the amazing floral qualities of Pinot Blanc.
The smooth texture of the crabmeat filling works beautifully with the complex texture of Champagne, which is known to match well with unusually textured foods. In addition to crab, caviar, oysters, shellfish, and salmon are natural matches with Champagne.
Combine crabmeat, steak sauce, egg yolk, garlic powder and cream cheese until it forms a paste-like consistency. Place rounded spoonful of mixture in center of each wrapper. Bring 4 corners together and pinch to seal. Deep-fry at 375 degrees until golden brown. Serve with sweet-and-sour sauce. Leftovers keep for only a day.
|Photo by Steve Copley|
Finally! A New Year's resolution you can keep!
Don't concern yourself with resolutions like going to the gym or cleaning the spare bedroom closet. This year, resolve to expand your wine knowledge and experiences. Here are a few tasteful wine-loving experiences to add to your "to do" list.
1. Host your own wine tasting party.
Trying new wines in a festive setting is much better than by yourself one bottle at a time. With a wine tasting party you can compare and contrast several wines amongst friends without wasting a drop.
2. Take a wine-related trip.
Who says you need to visit Bordeaux or Tuscany? Sonoma and Paso Robles are great weekend wine destinations right here in California. Or, try a hidden gem like McMinnville in Oregon, or Washington's Yakima Valley. Be sure to take advantage of Winetasting.com's concierge services when you're in Napa and Sonoma counties. Call (800) 435-2225 for more information.
|Wine tasting with friends in Sonoma - Photo by Eric Chan|
3. Talk to a sommelier at a local restaurant.
Sommeliers receive loads of training and speak to wine-loving patrons on a regular basis. They are experts in their field and often an untapped resource for wine information. Their brainpower and palate are yours for the taking.
4. Drink outside the box.
Try a wine from a different region than you normally choose. Taste an Argentine Malbec or sample a Shiraz from South Africa. Think local, too. East Coast vineyards in the New York areas of the Finger Lakes, Long Island, or even Virginia might offer an interesting change of pace.
Expand your horizons with 6 wines from around the world
International Wine Collection (KIT146)
5. Introduce a friend to your favorite wine.
Make an occasion of opening or trading a bottle with a fellow wine lover. The best way to stretch your wine dollar is to share bargain hunting tips and learn about wines to avoid. (We've all tasted a few duds in our time.)
6. Scope out a nearby "bring your own wine" restaurant.
Most major cities have them, and you stand to save some serious cash by bringing your own beverage. Restaurants wines can be three times distributor's cost and twice that of retail. Be prepared to pay a corkage fee of $10-15 in most cases (and tip accordingly.) Chat it up with fellow patrons. Chances are, if they brought their own vino, they're as hot on wine as you are. Offer the waitstaff a glass if you are bringing something high end.
If any of you can remember my learning experience with Bordeaux, you should remember that they have a thousand appellations. Fortunately for us, there is only Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, and that covers everything.
The Loire is France's longest river. The Loire Valley is made up of the following regions: Central Valley, Touraine, Anjou-Saumur and Nantais. Most Loire wines feature light, simple fruit flavors with lots of acidity and crispness.
Loire Valley Wine Map by Loire Links - Click to Enlarge
The Loire Valley has quite a bit of land in varying climates so let's start smack-dab in the middle with the Central Valley. I know that most of you have passed at least a dozen wines with the name Poully-Fume (pronounced "Pwee-foo may") and Sancerre ("Sahn sair") on the bottle, never knowing that you were passing Sauvignon Blanc. I know because it has happened to me on numerous occasions before my journey in wine started.
The main grape varieties in the Central Valley are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Both Sancerre and Menetou-Salon are known for cultivating Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, while only Sauvignon Blanc is grown in Poully-Fume. Sancerre is a white wine with dry, high acidity and herbaceous notes and flavors. This wine is not made for aging, so if you were gifted a bottle and are saving it for a special occasion, remember that every day you wake up is an occasion for Sancerre.
The main grape varietals from Touraine are Cabernet Franc for their red wines, and both Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc for their white wines. The red wines from Touraine are mostly a blend of Cabernet Franc, Gamay (remember Beaujolais?) and Malbec. However, in most wine stores it will be found as Gamay de Touraine, or whichever variety is the greatest in the wine.
This is white wine land only. Chenin Blanc is the only grape that is grown in the area. The wines in the region can vary from extra dry, sweet or sparkling. I am not a big fan of Vouray, as I feel that it can be acidic with a chalky undertone.
This area is responsible for producing red wine and some rosé wines that are made from Cabernet Franc. Chinon makes Loire's most prestigious red wines. These are fragrant wines that are juicy with mild tannins and crisp acidity. I refuse to chill my reds, but when you are dealing with high acidity wines, you might be better off chilling them to alleviate some of the bite.
This area produces the superstars of Loire, because this is the heartland. As with the other various areas, you can find Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, as well as Gamay and Groulleau. Groulleau is a grape that is indigenous to Anjou. Groulleau and Chenin Blanc blended together make some of the most famous rosé wines. Saumur is known for their production of sparkling wines. The only sweet wines that you may find in Loire are still made from Chenin Blanc, only they are affected by Botrytis in order to fully develop the sweetness that will offset the acidity of this wine.
Muscadet sur Lie
Photo by Michal Osmenda
This is the South-Eastern area of Loire and home to the only region that exclusively produces Muscadet and Muscadet sur Lie made from the Melon Blanc. All of these wines are dry with green apple and a more rounded-out acidity texture.
During my studies of the Loire Valley, I have found only the white varietal. Although I did not have a breakthrough food pairing, these wines do well with melon and, dare I say, fish. However, it will depend on how the fish is cooked. I don't suggest fried fish. Not that I know firsthand. (Wink, wink.)
Very early in my wine experience, I was exposed to Riesling. However, it was only recently that I learned that not all Rieslings are sweet.
I also learned that Riesling is the best wine to pair with almost any Asian-inspired dish. As someone whose favorite food is Thai, I should have known that. Believe it or not, I have never enjoyed a glass of Riesling with my Thai dish. Oh my, how quickly we learn! Riesling has a lullabying effect on those spicy Asian/Pan Asian dishes, and the various types of Riesling have just as much variety as the spices and flavors of most Asian dishes.
Due to the varying temperatures and rainfall in Germany, many of the wines from that region are susceptible to noble rot -- a fungus that can enhance and sweeten the grape's flavors -- which helps Germany make some of the best late-harvest Rieslings in the world. Riesling is the "it" grape for Germany.
German wines are divided into two categories: table wine and quality wine. Within these two categories there are many German wines that range from mouth-puckering dry and acidic to syrupy sweet luscious wines with candied fruit flavors.
Deutscher Tafelwein is the lowest classification. These wines must reach a natural alcohol level of 5% and the use of chaptalization (adding sugar to increase the final alcohol content of the wine).
In the early 80's, Landwein ("country wine") was introduced as the equivalent of the French Vin de Pays. The wines must come from one of the specified 19 areas of production and they can be either Trocken (dry), Halbtrocken (off-dry) or Classic, which is middle of the road dry.
If you are shopping for a German quality wine, make sure that there is a QbA on the bottle, which stands for Qualitätswein bestimmer Anhaugebiete ("quality wines produced in specified regions"). This indicates that the wine is from one of the 13 quality regions and the wine has not been blended with any other wines. The label will show the region and the style of wine that it is.
Prädikatswein ("quality wine") is the top classification of German quality wine. It was formerly referred to as Qualitätswein mit Prädikat ("quality wine of distinction) and abbreviated to QmP.
There five styles of Prädikatswein:
A very delicate Riesling that is made light in body with crisp acidity. Kabinett is known for their green apple and citrus fruit flavors. The finest Kabinett Rieslings come from the Mosel region of Germany. The wines from this region will have a greenish coloring with flinty and citrus notes.
This is a late harvest Riesling that has slightly more body and can have more pineapple or exotic fruit aromas and flavors. Spatlese can either be Trocken or Halbtrocken.
This is the highest Padikatswien because it is made from individually selected, overly ripe grapes, but it is still considered a dry wine with richer fruit flavors than Spatlese. I find that some Auslese have a longer finish.
Rare expensive wines made from grapes affected by noble rot, which produce a highly acidic, flavorful wine.
This wine is literally made from freezing the grapes until all of the juice is solid. When the grapes are crushed, we are left with a syrupy wine that is high in fruit flavor and high in acidity, without the assistance of noble rot. I have only had the privilege of trying Canadian Eiswein, and let me tell you: I love sweets just like the rest of us, but I was not expecting that kind of sugar cane sweetness.
Please note: Do not pour this wine as you would any other white wine. In this case, "a little dab will do ya."
The grapes have been so affected by noble rot that they turn into raisins and produce very sweet wines from individual grapes but only from the finest vintages.
Although Germany is widely known for sweet wines, their focus recently has been on producing dryer wines to satisfy the needs of the consumer and resume their place in the hearts of many.
Prost! (That's "cheers!" in German.)
Join Francis Sanders and David Griffin for these upcoming wine tasting events, featuring our Corked the comic tie-in wines:
Saturday, May 5, 4-7 PM
Spring Fling, Ralph's Derby Street Wine & Spirits
94 Derby Street, Hingham, MA 02043
The fond memories of time spent over a glass of bubbly need not end when you empty the bottle. Keep a little something from a special holiday celebration – a token reminder of the wine you shared with friends or family on a memorable occasion. Build your own Champagne chair keepsake!
1. Untwist the wire and remove the cage from the bottle.
2. Put the wire that attached the cage to the bottle neck, in the center of the straight wire section and pull it carefully out from between the main cage wires to leave a stool.
If you prefer not to have twisted wire at the top of your chair back, cut the wire on one side of the twist instead of in the center of the straight wire section (as shown in the photo).
3. To shape the back for your miniature wire patio chair, use pliers to straighten out the piece of wire you cut from the base of the chair in the previous step. Some people prefer to shape the back of the chair into a heart. If you want this style, you need to cut off the twisted wire so that you are working with a straight piece of wire. In these directions, the twisted section of wire at the forefront of the photo below was not used as the design at the top of the chair back.
4. When you have straightened the wire, bend the wire down to form the sides of the chair back.
5. Line up one side wire from your chair back with the twists on the back leg, and twist the wire into the back leg so that the wire twists blend together instead of crossing over each other.
6. Repeat this twisting process with the wire on the other side of the leg. In the chair shown, the top of the back was set to a height one inch above the seat before the back wires were twisted into the back legs.
7. To finish the miniature chair, cut any extra wire at the base of the champagne cage legs and file the cut edges of the wire and the ends of the twisted wire at the back, so that the wire does not catch on clothing or skin.
8. Squeeze the legs slightly onto the metal seat cap to keep the seat cap in place. You can add a cork seat cushion or back, or set wires/paper clips in the back of the chair to fill it in (a heart shape of wire works well).
9. Sit back, relax, sip and admire your work.
"Like" us on Facebook and let us know how you did. We'd love to see a photo of your completed chair!