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A look at wine tasting parties

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By The Glass

SO MUCH WINE, so little time — this is a real dilemma among wine enthusiasts. Wine lovers are just so spoiled with the abundance of choices nowadays, albeit at individual budget constraints. The best way to cover more wines is to drink with others. Rather than some senseless inebriating parties involving kampai, binge drinking, and tequila shots amongst friends, why not organize a more subtle and even educational wine tasting party?

What is a wine tasting party? It is more about sharing and appreciating wines with other people that have same interest. You still can get buzzed, but at least there is some learning to come out of it (I hope…). It is primarily designed for wine enthusiasts.

TIPS FOR ORGANIZING WINE TASTING PARTIES:

1. Find the right venue — The venue is key because of the intricacies needed for wine appreciation. For one, unlike beer or spirits, for wine to be better enjoyed you need an odor and smoke-free area. Wine aromas are very volatile and odor like cigarette smoke can affect the “nosing” process. You also need bigger space… remember wine glasses are more fragile, and it is preferred that each wine is poured into a different glass, so you need bigger tables for all the wine glasses and adequate manageable elbow rooms for all the participants.

Then, there is the ambiance — the right sounds, the proper lighting and soothing interiors. Chill out or lounge music that is not too loud is ideal so discussions on wines can be heard without whispering or screaming. The lighting ideally should be bright (to see the color of the wine), but slightly dimmed lights are to me much more relaxing. And finally, the general interiors have to be very conducive. Barrels, bricks, wood and other such elements that are wine-suggestive and add to the general wine party feel. Barcino is one example and is among the growing number of wine bars where you can do wine tasting parties, buying different wines off their list.

On the other hand, a private party at home would still be the best, especially if that home has all the accessories, most important of which are the nice crystal glasses and good ample space.

2. Invite the right people — Wine tasting parties are really for wine people. If you have friends who just like alcohol, they will be bored to death listening to the wine-themed small talk in between sips of the different wines. However, for wine drinkers, no matter if they are neophytes or amateurs, this can be a great wine discovery experience.

My suggestion is to invite wine enthusiasts of similar experience, so that in specific wine tasting parties, every participant is roughly in the same level, and therefore discussions, opinions and comments are all relevant. Imagine if you get a hardcore “Old World” driven wine guy in a wine party featuring, for example, young Australian wines — it might get weird. I can see the following comments being thrown in the conversation. “Wines are all a bit too sweet!” “Where is the complexity?” “Why is the alcohol too high?” … and so on. Once you get a super-opinionated person in the fray, the wine tasting party may end up becoming a wine-bashing session.

3. Restrict the number of guests — The ideal number is from six to at most 12. Why? Well, the idea is for a single bottle of wine to be tasted by all the participants. The ratio for me in a more serious wine tasting party is one bottle per person. Again, a warning here… only those who can take this much alcohol should do this…. if your tolerance is lower, and you are driving… DO NOT.

Having said that, the concept is more like every participant to a wine tasting party either chooses their own wine from a wine list, or, in the case of wine tasting parties held at home or in private function rooms, it is all BYO (Bring Your Own), one wine per person. If there are six of you, every wine you try, you get a full glass of 125 ml, or if there are 12 of you, every wine is 62.5 ml (if poured precisely of course). I personally prefer 12 different wines anytime over six different wines. Also, more than 12 people is less intimate and harder to manage in terms of noise pollution and glassware logistics.

4. Decide on a theme — This the FOCAL point of the whole endeavor. While random wine tasting would be fun too, I think having a theme is a lot more interesting and could also make succeeding wine tasting parties more enticing for all the participants.

Most of the themes I know are based on price-points… especially if these are BYOs. So, if it is about P500/bottle of wine, everyone brings one wine belonging to that price-point. I guess in this case, it is all about fairness. No one wants to bring a P2,000 wine, only to share it with a participant who only doled out P500 for their wine contribution.

On the other hand, I have friends who base their wine tasting parties on Wine Spectator ratings. They will do 90 point and above wines from Wine Spectator. Again, everything depends on the availability.

Me, I prefer more specific themes. I suggest you choose a theme that can be as general as a country, a grape varietal, or, like in the horizontal tasting, as specific as a region and vintage. Here are two of my favorite themes that you can explore:

a.) New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. This party will be delicious and hedonistic for white wine fanatics. You can have Sauvignon Blancs coming from everywhere in New Zealand’s south island: Marlborough, Nelson and Christchurch.

b.) Spanish Tempranillo Crianza level. Oh this would be a sensory pleasure. Crianza is an oak-aged Spanish wine regulation that requires a two-year holding period for the wine prior to release, of which six to 12 months of this period is with oak aging. Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorato wines require 12 months of oak aging, while the rest of the Spanish D.O.s or regions require a minimum six months. This theme will revolve around only tempranillo as a grape, and Crianza as an aging and oak treatment benchmark. Tempranillo is a super versatile varietal that can be “grassy” at times, “black currant” in some, and “minty” in other regions. It will be like tasting different varietals if one can get Temranillo Crianza level from La Mancha, Toro, Ribera del Duero, Valdepeňas, Valencia, and Rioja. Rioja and Ribera del Duero D.O. wines may not be 100% tempranillo, but this varietal is still the majority in these two regions.

Because with wine themes outside of the price-points, wine prices will obviously vary, I suggest therefore that everyone just bring an official receipt for the wines they bought, and then all the receipts can be added up and the result be divided equally among the participants for equitable sharing.

5. Have food. Food is always important in wine tasting parties. For one, it lowers alcohol potency and allows for longer drinking time without getting “buzzed.” Second, food can be the cleanser to the next wine. Here I’m not looking at a wine dinner where gourmet food is paired with different wines. This is a lot more formal than a wine tasting party. Food and wine pairing is, of course, very important in wine appreciation, but we want to cover more ground. In wine dinners, both the wine and the food are in focus, and that is a lot to discuss. I would rather put emphasis on wines.

First, food should not include rice. I love rice but it just does not go well with wine, and the same with other saucy Filipino food — at least not in a wine tasting party. It is preferred that cocktail foods be served. Tapas would be the best — and do not forget to have plenty of bread.

The key is not to be overfed, but to have food to sustain longer drinking. Other good food suggestions include a cheese platter — more neutral cheeses like Manchego, Edam, Gouda, etc. are excellent. For cold cuts, I like salamis, hams, sausages, and the like. But remember to always avoid the saltier ones. Me, I like cheese pizzas when I do wine tastings — it is informal, it is fun, and it is filling too.

6. Take down notes and discuss the wines. Unless you have an exceptional memory, I suggest that you take notes on every bottle of wine you taste — your own opinions, and comments made by your party mates during the wine tasting. Sometimes we experience “olfactory verbal” gap, which the other participants may get too verbal. So, it would be a real learning experience if we get to jot down these notes. It is always nice to have references when you go out and buy wines. That is one reason why the more wines you try, the more you form your own opinion.

And in the wine discussions, always listen to all the varying opinions. Many comments may appear like biases, especially when it come to personal preferences, but these are is still noteworthy. Some wine drinkers are just partial to oak, others like the sweeter, fruitier style, and some just like them downright masculine and viscous. But whatever these preferences are, in discussions, they can be put in better perspective. That to me is the fun part. Everyone can appreciate good wines, but the degrees and biases are so fascinating. I enjoy this a lot, and it also allows me to profile my tasting mate’s wine preferences in case I need to give them gifts of wine during the holidays and special occasions.

7. Plan the next one. I guess this step is only possible if everybody enjoyed the first wine tasting party. If the tips above are being followed I see no reason why any wine enthusiasts would not agree to a second or third, or even more regular wine tasting parties. As I always say, there are just so many wines that even in many lifetimes, we can barely taste a small fraction of what is available out there. These wine tasting parties simply allow us more opportunities to try many more wines. It has a “multiplier” effect that is beneficial to wine enthusiasts. Plus, it is very cost effective, and also you are with peers as wine passionate as you are. What more can you ask for?

The author is a member of the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, e-mail the author at protegeinc@yahoo.com.

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