You love wine, you have a few friends who love wine and you've hosted countless dinners, lunches and special occasions where you have shared more than a glass of wine with your best company. So much wine and so little time! A few years ago, it was the foodies who were taking center stage. With the onslaught of social media and the saturation of food blogs in our faces at every power up of our computers or smart phones, self-proclaimed food critics and "home chefs" were also center stage.
While food is important and the food industry is key for not only feeding our communities, there perhaps is or was always something missing from the mainstream media - wine. Why? I have no idea. It is for most, over a nice meal or even casual one, the first libation we would love to enjoy with our food. It is consumed by many on a regular basis with increasing interest each year, but so many of us know so little about it. It might be time to educate our palates just a bit more. So back to our introduction. You love wine and you have friends who love wine; why not make a fun occasion of it and have a wine tasting at home, but where to start? Having a wine tasting in your home does not have to be all about fancy menus and expensive wine. Have your friends come over in clothes they can relax in or even their pajamas. If a few of you are new to wine and just want to taste various wines that are out of your comfort zone, this can be done with an easy budget. Start by selecting wines or a price range before purchasing, so each person can bring a good wine. This will avoid someone going cheap and having plonk show up at your door.
Tips for Planning a Wine Tasting at Home
Pick a Theme
We are all familiar with Old World and New World wines, so the next thing to do would be to, for example, choose a varietal. Chardonnay from Burgundy is very different from a Chardonnay from California or Australia or New Zealand. If Chardonnay is in your comfort zone, maybe choose a dry Semillon or a Viognier. If you are a big red Cab drinker, then try wines from various countries around the world of a Merlot or a Sangiovese.
If you are going with the Old World vs. New World wine tasting, the order in which you serve the wine is key. You don’t want a bigger structured California wine masking that from Burgundy. Serve Old World before New World. Serve cooler-climate wines before warmer climate wines.
Have a Blind Tasting
Find some cloth wine bags or use your kids’ brown paper lunch bags and cover the bottles. If similar styles of wines are purchased in various price ranges, this might be a good test to see what price your favorites fall under. It might be surprising to find that there are quite a few quality wines in affordable price ranges.
Do your Tasting Research
No one will want to be a geek at the gathering (though some might), but when you pick a wine or even a region, learn the story of the wine. It not only helps with the appreciation of the wine, but it is a small education both for your palate and your reference as to where styles of wines are from where and their tradition. Do this a few times over and choosing wine for your next dinner party to pair with special foods will be easy.
Food Pairing for your Wine Tasting
If there are a few of you consuming a few bottles of wine over this tasting, food is a necessity. You know you all won’t be re-corking the bottles after trying a glass from each bottle. Chances are it’ll end up being a slumber party. Cheeses from the same region or regions close to the wine regions of your chosen bottles are good to start with. Olives, fresh bread, tapenade, pate. Stay away from salads with strong vinaigrette or even vegetables like asparagus, broccoli or bitter greens. These are hard to pair wines with. While you can get a little fancy, if you’re new to the wine and food pairing game, it’s good to stay simple. But charcuterie, cured meats of various curing methods and meats of different animals are always a safe bet, and they are fun to experiment with and see what works best with different wines. It all helps too if you take a note mental note, or even, yes, take a picture on your phone of what you’re drinking and eating to remember for future reference. Consider making arrangements of:
Regional Imported Cheeses & Wine Pairings
- Gorgonzola Picante - Gorgonzola is a BIG cheese, but you don't want to go necessarily with a big wine. Stay away from big tannic reds. A sweet white is always amazing, but for something different, pair with Marsala and Vecchio Samperi Vent'Anni.
- Caprino (goat cheese) - pair with light wines with good acidity Sauvignon Blanc. The acidity of the wine will cut through the cheese, and it also balances with the acidity of the fresh cheese, making room for other interesting notes to come forward.
- Camembert - pair with light, fruity wines, that of white or even red. Bubbles work well too, but go for those with medium-bodied fruity essences. A Brut or Extra Dry. For red wines, try a Chilean Carmenere or a GSM blend. GSM blends are good out of Rhone Valley, but California and Argentina are doing some good blends as well.
- Mahon (Spain) - This is a cheese with a DO designation and it is worth trying. The texture is much like a Gouda, but it has more character than Gouda. It is sharp and fruity, so pair with a big red with earthy tones. Fruity wines would only wash out the good fruitiness of the cheese, so go with the opposite. Try Tempranillo or a Merlot if you want to go a little softer.
- Parmesan-Reggiano - This is always a favorite and you can't go wrong putting a few chunks on a platter at a get-together. A great Parmesan is aged with flecks of crunchy salt, sharp and flaky. The salt and sharpness and earthiness is amazing with bigger red wines, even those heavy on the tannin as the salt will knock-out the bitterness of the tannin structure.
There are a lot of wines to try; Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, an oaked Zinfandel... Find out for yourself which wine goes better to your liking. Also try these cured meats to pair with your cheeses.
Overall, the object of having a wine tasting at home is to have fun and enjoy both the wine and your company.