Blind, bagged and unbiased
By Susan Valentine
Have you ever wanted to host a wine tasting party but weren’t sure how to go
about it? Whether you’re a novice wine taster or have a sophisticated palate,
wine tastings are a great way to get friends together to experiment and learn
about new wines or to introduce them to some of your favorites.
There are few different ways you can go about the affair, but before we get into that, you’ll need to assemble some basics: lots of wine glasses, water, a dump bucket (for discarding unused wine), brown bags (or foil), tasting note cards, bread or crackers, and of course, wine. And you’ll have to come up with a list of your fav friends that you’d like to share the experience with. Once you have these together you’re ready to decide what type of wine tasting you’d like to host. There are many ways you can organize your tasting depending on your expertise and your guests’ penchant for experimentation, but here are a few to try:
Vertical: A vertical wine tasting is an ideal way to try the same varietal from the same producer over several different vintages. This will give you and your guests an idea how subtle changes in climate will affect the wine from year to year, even though it’s made by the same producer. In the Hudson Valley you might consider a wine like Cabernet Franc from 2005, 2006 and 2007 for your vertical tasting.
Horizontal: Horizontal tastings are fun because you can ask each of your guests to bring their favorite bottle of the same varietal – for example, a Chardonnay or Merlot from different wineries. By tasting five or six different versions of the same varietal, you can learn how each winemaker crafts his/her wine in his/her own particular style, and how it differs regionally. You might want to try a NYS-themed horizontal tasting, and compare the same wine from the Hudson Valley, Long Island and the Finger Lakes.
Blind: Here’s where the brown bags (or foil) come into play. In case you were wondering, they’re to wrap around each bottle in your “blind tasting.” With the bottle completing obscured (even the shape can be a give-away) your friends can make unbiased, uncalculated judgements about the wine without letting things like the name – or price tag – influence their critique. You can bag reds, whites or rosés – mix it up and keep your friends guessing. Just remember to number the bottles so your friends can make good notes on those little cards I mentioned earlier.
Old World vs. New World (Or here in the Hudson Valley, “Classic Labruscas” [native varietals] vs. “New Hybrids.”) This can be really fun and quite tricky since you’ll need to brush up on some local grape history. Or you can consult any local winemaker to help you select, for example, a native Niagara or Catawba to contrast with some hybrids, like Seyval Blanc or Baco Noir.
Which brings us to a few other points. In general, you’ll need about two ounces of each wine per guest and you’ll want to be sure everyone cleanses their palate between wines with plain, unsalted crackers or bits of bread. Taste in order of light to dark, dry to sweet, young to old. Plan about about two to three hours for your wine tasting from start to finish, don’t forget to appoint a designated driver, and most importantly, have fun!
Susan Valentine has been a student of wine for over 15 years. Having studied at WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) she has also spent considerable time exploring the vineyards of Italy, Napa, and the Hudson Valley. Her newest venture, EventPlannerHudsonValley.com is an event planning site featuring the only comprehensive Hudson Valley event calendar.