Consider inviting a few friends over and hosting a home wine tasting. A blind tasting is even better, and no, I’m not talking about anything weird involving blindfolds. Here’s one idea of how it could work. Invite five or six couples over and everyone contributes $20; that would give you a budget of about $220 to $280. Decide on a theme – “Wines From the Naramata Bench”, “The Golden Mile”, “BC Pinot Noir”, “Oaked vs. Unoaked Chardonnay”, “White Pinots”, the possibilities are almost endless. Buy seven or eight wines and leave them in their brown paper bags. Remove the foil cap and use masking tape around the top of the bottle to secure the bags (keeping their identities a secret – the ‘blind’ part). For screw top wines, secure the tape just below the cap part. Once the bottle are all wrapped, mix them up and ask another person to label them with a felt marker, A, B, C, D, etc. You will know which wines you bought, but now you won’t know the order (double blind – the plot thickens).
With what’s left of the budget (or out of the goodness of your heart), buy some food to enjoy after the tasting part – French bread (baguette), a selection of good cheese (Parmesan and Brie are always a hit), perhaps some cold cuts and a veggie plate. Alternatively, ask everyone to bring an appetizer. Now you are all set. If you are planning on a strictly social affair that’s about all there is to it. Open the wine, pour (just a small pour so you can ‘taste’ the wine) and pass on to the next person. Try them all and then unwrap the bottles one by one, discuss which one each person liked best and enjoy the food. Parties like this are always a lot of fun. You get to sample wines you might otherwise never try and often find some good bargains to boot.
If you have some ‘wine geeks’ in the crowd you can step it up a notch and provide a sheet of paper (or you can download a variety of wine scoring sheets if you are so inclined) and a pen or pencil so each person can rate, or rank the wines and make whatever notes they desire. A spit bucket on the table (empty large yoghurt container works well) helps for the serious taster. Try to keep things relatively quiet until everyone has finished, and then unwrap the bottles one at a time and go around the table so everyone can comment on the wine. This is a more formal approach and can be more educational. Provide everyone with a list of the wines and their costs at the end of the session, then go on to having fun.
Here are a few things to help make your tasting a success. Make sure the wines are served at the correct temperature – cool, not too cold, for whites and not too warm for the reds. Open red wines well in advance – an hour or two is a good idea. Do a little research about the wines; people are always interested in the story behind the wines. Rent glasses if you like (about eight or nine per person – one is for water), have people bring their own (can be a bit of a hassle) or use two or three per person and only do two or three wines at a time. Make it easy and make it work for you. You can change this anyway you like. One word of caution though is, if you have everyone bring a bottle of wine, you can end up with duplicates or all low-end wines, or some other disaster. If one person buys all the wine, you are likely to end up with a better selection.
Having a home wine tasting is an inexpensive and fun way to learn more about wine with a bunch of your friends. Stuck for an idea for a theme? Let me know, I’ve got a million of ‘em!