Like most things in life, the more we do something, the better we get at it. Regular wine tasting sessions are the best way for anyone to learn about the subject. We can learn a lot more and at a faster clip if we invite like-minded friends to taste the wines and share notes, and compare them to notes written by the wine makers and wine writers.
There are lots of information on the internet on how to organise a wine tasting. So, instead of repeating the A to Z of hosting one, I will highlight 8 things. These are important, intuitive but often overlooked in the excitement of organising a wine tasting party at home. They address some of the questions and limitations you may face in a home setup.
1. Host the tasting in a well lit room with a white table setting
Use a room with clear lighting so that you can see the wine clearly. Your eyes can tell you a lot about the wine in the glass; whether it is young or old, high in alcohol or not, or if it may be faulty. For example, the wine may look cloudy when you expect it to be clear, indicating that something may be wrong with it.
It is helpful if you have a white table cloth so that you can use it as a backdrop to look at the wine. If you don’t have a one, you can use normal A4 sized white paper for the same purpose.
2. Ban colognes, perfumes and fragrances
Some wines have very delicate notes of flowers and fresh fruits. They can be overpowered easily by other scents in the room. Don’t light incense or put out flower arrangements. Likewise, remind your guests not to put on cologne and perfume.
3. Provide each person with one good wine glass
If you have a lot of wine glasses at home and a large table, you can give everyone a full set of glasses, one glass for one wine. But if you don’t have enough to go around, one good glass per person is sufficient. A good piece should be clear with a stem so that you can swirl the wine without holding the glass bottom. I use Schott Zwiesel Ivento glasses regularly which are cheap and good.
After each tasting, don’t rinse the glass with water. The residual water will dilute the next wine. If the tasting sequence is correct, there’s no need to rinse out the previous wine. You can just pour the next wine into the same glass. For purists, you can rinse the glass with a little of the next wine before you actually pour the tasting portion. The tasting sequence is explained in point 6 below.
4. Provide water and crackers
Provide some water and crackers to help freshen the palate during the tastings. I usually get hungry after a while as the acids start to play on my stomach so the crackers help keep me going. Don’t serve any other food during the session so that your palate is not affected by other flavours.
5. Prepare two bottles per label for tasting
It’s always good to have a backup bottle in case the first bottle is corked or has other faults. One 750ml bottle has about 25oz. The tasting portion is around 2oz, so each bottle can pour about 12 glasses. This is perfect for a group of up to 6 persons, as everyone can have a second serving if needed.
6. Tasting sequence
To avoid palate fatigue, wines should be tasted from whites to reds, lighter to fuller bodied, drier to sweeter. Here is the suggested sequence including sparkling and dessert wines.
7. Don’t forget to chill the reds
Red wines should be chilled before the tasting. This keeps the alcohol under check. Wines warm up quickly even indoors in Singapore and you don’t want the alcohol to dominate the wine aromas. Put the red wines in the refrigerator for half an hour before the session.
8. Bring along a notebook
Many people attend tasting sessions without bringing along their notebooks to jot down their impressions. By judiciously writing and keeping all your notes in one place, you will see that your wine vocabulary actually increases with time. There are a lot of smartphone apps now that allow us to jot down notes quickly and organise them into themes. I use Evernote for this.
I hope these eight points are useful for you to plan your next tasting session. They are by no means exhaustive so please leave your comments below on what else we should consider. If there are any other aspects with regard to organising a wine tasting session that you will like me to explore in my next post, please leave me your comments too.
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