Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Repeat

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By Deirdre Bourdet

tastingParty.jpgWine tasting parties always seem like such a fun, good idea, particularly this time of year as the evenings get chillier, and harvest-themed wine events get pricier.  If only someone else would throw one... but actually, hosting a wine-tasting is a snap when you keep it simple.

Step 1: Pick a tasting theme--like oak vs. no oak Chardonnay, Napa vs. Sonoma, Old World vs. New World, or some other contest fraught with passion and potential conflict.  If you need thematic inspiration, or suggestions for generally-available wines at all price points that are good examples of regional or stylistic wines, check out Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Immer (now known as Andrea Immer Robinson). 
Step 2: Pick a date and call your friends.  Make them bring their own set of wine glasses, so no one has to drink from a Dixie cup.  I like to do themes that involve a series of one-on-one wine comparisons--not only is it easier to note the differences between the wines, it requires only two glasses per person.

Step 3: Buy your wine.  I prefer to keep things simple and stay in the 4-6 wine range, with maybe one other modest wine at the ready for easy drinking once the tasting portion is over, or to kick things off when your guests arrive.  Bear in mind that most people don't remember much after the first eight tastes, anyway.  For tasting parties of this scope, I typically budget 10 pours per bottle--basically a half glass per person of each wine.  (A standard tasting room one ounce pour doesn't go over well at most house parties, in my experience.)

Step 4: Strategize some easy, wine-friendly snacks that suit the flavors or textures you'll be exploring in the wines.  If you're tasting Chardonnay, some triple cream cheeses are a must--but popcorn is fantastic too!  If pinot noir is the theme, score some smoky cured meat or other earthy, carnal goodness. Generally speaking, earthy flavors like mushrooms, legumes, and anything from the onion family pair fantastically with both red and white wines, and also help you pick up on the earthiness in the wine itself.  (Hummus and Chianti is a pretty amazing combo, for example.)  Above all, make sure you get plenty of starchy, alcohol-absorbent vehicles for consuming your snacks--and keep water and spit cups handy (here's where the Dixie cup comes in).

Step 5: Swirl, sniff, sip, and have fun.

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