7 expert tips for organizing the perfect wine tasting
As a professional writer and blogger, I focus on travel and wine regions. I find the two to be a nice mix of history, culture and scenery – and wine, of course. In fact, it was through writing trips that I came to deepen the study of wine with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Soon after I finished this course, I started organizing tastings for various event companies. Today, I continue to study and lead tastings for public and private events.
By learning just a few key things and some basic wine knowledge, it’s easy to organize a wine tasting at home. Here are my top tips.
1. What type of wine to serve
There are many possible themes or concepts for organizing a tasting. One idea is to choose a favorite grape like Cabernet Sauvignon, for example; a wine region, like Napa Valley; wine color – red wines only; sparkling wines; or a particular vintage. As you can see, the possibilities are endless. Anything that interests you can become the theme of a fun tasting event. It might even be the best bottle of wine at $ 10! Once you’ve decided on a theme, the next decision is how many bottles to buy.
2. How many bottles to buy
The first thing you need to determine is the number of guests who will be attending. A 750 ml bottle of wine makes about five 5-ounce glasses of wine. But for a tasting event you’ll only pour 2 ounces, otherwise you’ll have a sleepover or send people home by taxi. After each guest has tasted each wine, you can then offer a glass of wine of their choice. If you are unsure of the 2 ounce amount, you can use a shot glass until you are comfortable without.
3. Wine temperature
For a wine to really shine, it must be served at the right temperature. Why is temperature so important? It can either enhance the flavors or alter them. It is that simple.
Wine should be served chilled – the degree of cooling depends on the wine, of course.
Red wines should be served at 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Note that it is a bit cooler than average room temperature. If your red wine is light, perhaps a fruity Grenache blend, you can chill it in the fridge for 90 minutes. If it is a more full-bodied tannic wine like Bordeaux or Tannat, 45 minutes is enough. If it is too cold, the flavors will subside. If it is too hot, the wine will taste very alcoholic.
White wines vary from light unoaked wines to more full-bodied California chardonnay. Light wines should be served cooler: 50 degrees is the optimal temperature for a Chardonnay, and 45 to 50 degrees for a light white wine or rosé. Sparkling wines should be served between 40 and 50 degrees. The right temperature enhances the acidity and delicate floral, citrus and fruit notes of white wines.
If you forget to cool the wine, you can put it in the freezer. I do this all the time when I have a tasting demonstration in a store and they haven’t chilled the wine in advance. Make sure to set a timer or you might end up with a frozen, muddy mess on your hands. Note that 30 minutes is best if you are chilling the wine in the freezer.
You can also put equal parts ice and water in a bucket to cool your wine. Wait at least 30 minutes if using this method.
Another item that, while not as critical as the temperature, may or may not improve your experience is the right wineglass. A minimalist approach is to have separate glasses for red and white wines. You will also need a flute for sparkling wines. The larger bowl of the red wine glass helps to capture the aromas. The small bowl of the white wine glass helps keep the temperature cooler for longer. The flute glass makes it possible to sublimate the bubbles and aromas of sparkling wines. When choosing stemmed glasses for wine tasting, avoid colored glasses. A simple transparent glass is preferable to observe the color of the wine.
I believe you should drink from whatever type of glass you like. But do not use stemless glasses for white, rosé or sparkling wine. The warmth of your hands will warm the glass and the wine.
If you want to splurge on stemware, Riedel and Zaltos make some beautiful glasses that are definitely worth a shot. To really look like a pro, serve your sparkling wine in a tulip shaped glass.
5. When to decant the wine
Most white wines do not need to be decanted. Ditto for the rosé. Very tannic and young red wines will generally benefit from decanting. Sometimes a cheap red will also taste better after decanting. If when you open a bottle it tastes a bit unpleasant, try decanting it before pronouncing it hopelessly and pouring it down the drain.
Learn more about settling
Decanting wine is simply a matter of opening the bottle and pouring it from the bottle into another container – the decanter.
However, knowing when to decant a wine is not always easy. Usually, this involves removing sediment from an old bottle of wine. It can also be useful to decant very tannic red wines like Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, for example. Decanting simply exposes the wine to more oxygen, which helps soften the tannins. It doesn’t take long either, usually 30 minutes is enough.
A quality Cabernet Sauvignon can be aged for up to 10 years or more. If you have a 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, and want to open it in 2021, it is considered a young wine. If you decant the wine, it will help soften the tannins and allow the aromas to develop.
Have you ever been to a restaurant where your wine was served in a tall, slender vessel called a decanter? It’s a carafe. You should be able to find it at big box stores like Target for around $ 5-10. Nicer but still affordable decanters can be purchased at places like Crate and Barrel. A pitcher can also serve as a carafe in a pinch.
If decanting is something you’re interested in, but you’re not sure about it, try experimenting with a cheap Cabernet Sauvignon or Rioja. Taste it immediately, then let it air out for about 15 minutes and taste it again. Then give it another 15 minutes. It’s fun to notice the subtle changes.
6. Foods that go well with wine
As any true wine lover knows, the best food pairing is cheese. Why? Because cheese is generally fatty and wine is acidic. The acidity of the wine and the fat of the cheese are a perfect marriage. However, not just any wine and cheese will do.
When pairing wine and cheese, a rule of thumb is to pair wine with cheese from the same region. A good Chianti goes well with a Pecorino Toscano, for example. Brie goes perfectly with sparkling wines, especially champagne. The creaminess of the cheese is counterbalanced by the acidity and the strength of the sparkling wine. Champagne has hints of yeast that pair well with the buttery flavor and texture of brie. The tangy flavors of goat cheese pair well with crunchy white wines like Riesling, Albarino, and Sauvignon Blanc, to name a few.
Other good food options for a tasting include cold cuts and bruschetta with simple toppings like tomato and basil. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries go well with most white wines and some red wines, such as pinot noir. It all depends on how the wine is made and where it comes from. Fresh vegetables, stuffed eggs, and seafood are also good choices.
It’s a good idea to have plain water breadsticks or crackers to cleanse the palate.
If you want your tasting event to have an educational twist, organize it around learning how different flavors pair with wine. Tannins, sugars, salt and acids in food affect the taste of wine. Try pairing salted nuts, bitter chocolate, lemon, and honey with different wines to see how the tastes change. Try to taste the same wine with all of these foods and see how the food totally improves or kills the wine. It’s a super fun and easy way to learn a lot about wine in a very short time.
7. Wine accessories
Corkscrews are absolutely essential, and there are many variations. Choose what works best for you. Personally, I like and use a classic waiter corkscrew. I have never broken a cork with a cork, and I can only think of one time when I just couldn’t get the cork out of the bottle. They also have a small serrated knife for cutting the capsule.
A lot of people like electric corkscrews or winged corkscrews. There is also a lever corkscrew. They all work great, so just pick what’s easiest for you. I like the server corkscrew for the reasons I mentioned earlier, plus it’s very portable; however, it takes more effort. If you have trouble with your wrists or weakness in your hands, an electronic device is probably the best choice.
Finally, have some fun cocktail napkins, a pitcher and glasses of water to keep everyone hydrated, and just have fun! You can close your eyes and put a pin on a map and probably hit an area that produces wine. A world full of flavors awaits you.