Spending evenings discovering delicious wines with friends – there’s nothing better. Enjoying tasting the wines, learning interesting facts about them and surprising each other with your selections is a lot of fun. Many people tell me that they’re intimidated by arranging a proper wine tasting at home – they just don’t know where to begin – but they’d love to try rather than go out all the time. Don’t worry! That’s where I can help. Here are my top tips to arrange a successful (and, more importantly, relaxed!) wine tasting evening:
1. THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER
I know many people like to play it safe and stick to the more popular and well-known wines but half of the fun of the wine tasting experience is exploring new flavours and varieties. There are so many fantastic producers and regional variations around the world. Whether it’s an Italian grandmother making homemade wines, a small regional vineyard in Poland or one of the bigger global producers, they all have some incredible wines on offer so don’t be afraid to branch out. You never know what new and exciting flavours you’ll find.
2. SELECTING WINES TO TASTE AT HOME
One of my favourite ways to taste wine is with a horizontal tasting of one colour as it enables me to clearly analyse the differences and similarities. For example, one day I’ll taste 6 white wines from different countries, based on the same variety (e.g. 6 different chardonnays). I don’t include any red wines in this selection as it makes it more difficult to make constructive comparisons between the wines; however, I will taste them separately at a different session later that week.
3. PAIRING WINE & FOOD: MEALS VS. WINE TASTING
When wine tasting, it’s nice to have little canapés and snacks available to taste the wines with. Here are some guidelines to help you select the best canapés for your tasting:
Meat and fish are the best option as they have a relatively neutral flavour and won’t affect your palate too profusely. I especially enjoy tasting the wine with white fish or a lovely juicy slice of duck.
Avoid garlic and ‘troublemaker’ vegetables such as artichoke and asparagus, which are bitter. Onion is quite tricky too as it can be quite intense.
Avoid nuts. People don’t realise but, as enjoyable as they are, nuts can really affect the taste of the wine so if you’re drinking at a social gathering, purely for enjoyment, then yes I would eat them. However, if you’re planning to participate in a serious tasting where you’ll be judging the quality and characteristics of the wine, it’s better to avoid them.
Avoid cheese. I know that cheese is an extremely popular pairing with wine and, I agree, they taste sublime together. If you’re looking to arrange more of a wine-lovers evening (i.e. somewhere in between the two experiences), then cheeses would be fantastic. However, if you’re looking to taste and judge the quality of the wine itself, I recommend avoiding cheeses as they very much affect the taste of the wine; especially blue cheeses and semi-soft cheeses (e.g. Stinking Bishop), which are very pungent and intense as eating them will certainly change the characteristics of your wine.
4. THE WINE
Your wine selection will also affect your decisions. Are you planning to drink white wines? Champagnes? Red wines? Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to get started so, for those of you arranging a wine-lovers evening, here are some pairing suggestions to get your party off to a bang:
White wines & Champagnes
The wine: Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé (Sauvignon Blanc) from Loire Valley, France.
Pair with: French goats cheese, perhaps Crottin de Chavignol from Loire Valley as it’s very delicate. crisp and grassy.
Why? A classic combination. The cheese and wines work together in perfect harmony, especially these selections as the wines are very fresh and delicate so they won’t overwhelm the cheese.
I personally really enjoy tasting the Crottin de Chavignol with a refreshing and lively champagne; something very crispy so that it cuts through the creamy texture of the cheese. Delicious!
The wine: Pinot Noir from Oregon, USA.
Pair with: Roasted duck breast with a cherry chutney and sweet potatoes.
Why? Pinot Noir works miracles. Not only is it great alone but it also compliments an enormous variety of ingredients. It really is very versatile. That said, when you create the perfect pairing between the Pinot Noir and the ingredients, that’s when magic happens. If you taste the wine on its own or if you taste the food on its own… ok, they taste nice… BUT when you taste them together… woowwww! It makes a huge difference. The common denominator with this selection is that both have a freshness and fruitiness so, when you also consider that duck is a relatively delicate, yet greasy meat, it’s easy to see why they compliment each other so well.
Vegetarian? Try pairing the wine with a truffle risotto. It’s creamy, aromatic, mushroomy, earthy… so will work incredibly well with some aged Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
‘You don’t become a Master Sommelier overnight but wine appreciation is a love that lasts a lifetime. Something for everyone to enjoy.’
5. THE TASTING
There are many areas to consider when tasting wine. It's extremely interesting and there's always something exciting to discover. Here are some ideas:
1. Don’t rush. Take your time. Appreciate it.
2. Look at the appearance. What can you tell from the colour? Where might it have been produced? Vintage? (This isn’t the most important aspect but it can still be very interesting.)
3. Smell the aroma. Is the wine free of faults? If it is, smell it for a bit longer. Try to identify the individual notes, the grape… are there spicy notes? Which spices? Sweet notes? Fruity notes? Which fruits?
4. Sip it. Take a small sip. What can you tell about the quality of the wine? How does it taste? Crispy, rich? Which flavours can you identify? Fruits, spices? Is it sweet, savoury, rich, dry?
5. Drink it. Appreciate and enjoy it.
6. Look at the label. You can look at it at the beginning too but it’s always nice to have a longer look at the end. That way, you can have fun testing yourself by ‘blind tasting.’ You can try to identify the flavour and aromatic notes independently first, unaffected by the descriptions on the label; then look at the label afterwards and see how many match.
6. FAVOURITE WINE TASTING GAME
Many people think that wine tasting is quite serious but, unless you’re doing it professionally, it’s not at all. It’s all about the enjoyment and appreciation of the wine and time with friends. My sommelier friends and I play a game where we’ll each bring a special bottle of wine but we’ll hide the label (i.e. wrap it in a sock or aluminium foil) so that we can enjoy discovering the wines and having fun guessing what they might be, where they come from etc. At the end of the night, we uncover the wines and everybody is always surprised to see that it is / isn’t the wine that we thought it was. It certainly makes us laugh. So, trust me, just have fun and enjoy yourself. That’s the most important thing.
The great thing about wine tasting is that it’s never-ending. There are so many different wines across the world, different vineyards, production techniques, grape varieties, vintages… the wine world is constantly changing so it’s impossible to discover it fully. There’s something new to discover everyday, which is why we love it so much.