grapes and wine

Home Wine Tasting 101

I found this in my database archives.  I wrote it about three years ago and decided to dust it off for a new audience.  Since I’m involved in two home wine-tasting clubs – woo hoo Vegas Wineaux Wine Club! – I found this to be more relevant than ever. Enjoy this (Wineaux) blast from the past!

Whether you’re a guest or a host, there are some ideas that I’d like to share from my experiences in the fun world of home wine tastings. I have talked to a few people, overheard comments, observed, and listened to what people like (and don’t) at tastings. I hope these few pointers will be helpful.

Use what works for you and discard the rest! Let me know what you think, and don’t be afraid to add some of your own.

1. Please don’t wear cologne! Even if you smell wonderful, those who are trying to find the true nose of a great wine won’t appreciate your fragrance. Plain ol’ soap and water are fine.

From personal experience: Don’t brush your teeth immediately before drinking wine. It’s the whole “I-just-brushed-my-teeth-and-then-drank-orange-juice” thing. Crest will crush your palate.

3. Whenever possible, try to remember to bring your own glass(es). While there are a few exceptions (compulsive wine-glass hoarders like me), most people don’t have a large inventory of wine glasses. Bringing your own will make things easier for your hosts (less washing later), and give you your preferred choice of glasses if there are multiple wine types. I found a great tallish padded lunch case that I use – along with a cardboard insert – to carry either four regular glasses or a couple of big Reidels. About twelve bucks at Target.

4. If you’re hosting, consider a “pre-wine” for those who arrive early and pitch in to help. That is kind of a tradition with one club I belong to, and it not only encourages people to arrive on time, it also allows the host to share a couple of those treasures he may have stashed away.  A pre-wine is usually a wine that is light, low in alcohol, but tasty and refreshing.  And, generally, cheap.

5. While gourmet meals are always appreciated, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t forget that Costco, Sam’s Club, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods (especially Henderson or Town Square), and a host of others offer a variety of pre-cooked or high-quality convenience foods to serve during tastings. Veggie and fruit trays are available at every market, and breads and cheeses are always welcome. As the host, your company is as important as, well, your *company*!

6. If you have a small place, host anyway! If you have to limit the number of guests, then so be it. I have an its place, but am fortunate enough to have a big back yard. I know others who have homes so large that you could move in with a third-world country and never be noticed. And still others who have tiny places perfect for their needs. Host, and host what you can. No one will feel put out just because you can’t accommodate the crowd that wants to hang out with you at your place! Believe me, they’ll find another tasting … !

7. As a guest, don’t be shy about throwing in a couple of extra bucks to help cover some of the cost of food as well as the wines. I’ve been to some pretty awesome tastings where the food was to die for, and wanted to help cover some of the costs. I’ve also appreciated when people decided on their own to throw in a couple of extra dollars when I’ve hosted. Not only does that encourage more people to host (or the people who love to host, to host more often), but it makes it easier for folks to make the decision. Of course, when everyone brings food, that makes it a lot easier all around.

8. Whether a host or a guest, try to have flyers or other information about the wines that you’re serving. I have placed info about wines online from time to time and have had flyers on some of the nicer ones. I still have flyers (very handy if the PC craps out) from tastings I have been to in the past; and in at least one case, that resulted in more Zinfandels than I ever thought I’d own! (long story) And you might want to have recipes for your food creations available, too!

9. If you want to serve a wine that may be a little pricey, don’t be afraid to get measured pourers! I was introduced to this wonderful concept by Fritz Reese at the wine class he teaches at Community and finally bought some of my own. These pourers ensure that everyone gets some wine (a *real* taste, LOL), and they can be removed after everyone is served when people can pour as much as they want. I found them on Amazon dot com for about $14.00 for four 1-1/2 oz pourers. They are easily hand washable, but don’t do well in garbage disposals. Don’t ask.

With that being said, if you have a truly old, fine wine, the process of pouring with one these pourers will stir up any sediment unless you’ve already decanted the wine.

10. After all of these suggestions, don’t be afraid to host! Not feeling sure? ASK SOMEBODY! There are several people in my life who have had to tolerate the panic attacks I have before each tasting, and I couldn’t have gotten through it without them. Not because it’s difficult, but because panic is what I do and I do it well. Their help was invaluable and made the hosting experience easy, fun, and educational for all my guests. There are those of us who’d be more than willing to help out and give a hand wherever necessary. Just ask! If you’re still not too sure if you want to host at your place, don’t be afraid to “co-host” a tasting. I’ve done it and it’s been a success every time.

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