Real talk: I LOVE wine tasting. I plan many of my vacations around it, and my travels have taken me everywhere from Mendoza in Argentina and the Willamette Valley in Oregon to smaller, more off-the-radar regions like the North Fork of Long Island (not far from where I grew up) and the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario (yes, as in Canada, and yes, their stuff is totally kick-ass). This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Wine tasting is basically the ideal way to try a lot of different types without having to commit to one (plus, you learn stuff along the way!), and I want to do it pretty much all the time—especially with my friends who are equally vino-obsessed. So I talked to Brigid Harris, property director of the Prisoner Wine Company, which has a newish tasting room at its property in the Napa Valley (hello, motherland). She answered my burning questions about how to host an actually good wine-tasting party *at home*—and no, before you ask, you don’t need to be a master somm or understand fancy phrases like “terroir.” Here, all her answers.
First things first. How do I make a wine-tasting party actually fun and not stuffy?
Go in with a theme. “This is where your friends can actually get involved and help generate ideas themselves,” Harris says. And it could be anything, people! For example, you could have a rosé-centric bash and ask everyone to bring their favorite bottle and see what peeps like the most. Or if your guests are a bit ~fancier~, you can do a blind tasting where they bring their favorite varietal and everyone tries to guess the grape.
Okay, now tell me the “right” way to taste wine.
“If you’re gonna get really fancy, people talk about the appearance of the wine. Then they talk about the nose, which is how you smell effectively, and then the palate, which is how it tastes,” says Harris. Most people, though, are going to focus on that last part: the palate. People l-o-v-e to toss around phrases like “sweetness,” “acidity,” “body,” and “flavor characteristics” (aka whether you’re noticing fruits, spices, or any other flavors), but don’t be intimidated by these terms. Just use ’em as a guide and, from there, describe what you’re tasting (P.S. Chances are, everyone’s gonna say something different—that’s totally normal and fine!). You can also scatter little notecards for people to jot down their Deepest Vino Thoughts.
“Just have people go around the room and say, ‘This is what I thought about how sweet it was or how acidic it was, and these were the flavors I got from it,’” Harris says. “If someone says black licorice and then everyone goes ‘Oh!’ and they try it again and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I totally got that,’ that kind of brings the group together.”
Wait, I’m terrified I’ll run out of wine and my friends will never come to one of my parties again. How much do I need to buy?
A standard glass of wine is five ounces, and a good rule of thumb = two glasses per person. So if you’re serving five types of wine, aim for a two-ounce pour for each one. (A standard 750 mL bottle has about five glasses, BTW.) Plus, you want to allow wiggle room in case people want to “revisit” something they tried. (But drink responsibly, please and thank you!)
I’m not out here measuring my wine. How will I know what two ounces look like?
Well, it depends on the type of glassware you’re using. If you have an Olivia Pope–size goblet, for instance, two ounces will probs fill less than an inch of it; if you’ve got a narrower chardonnay glass, expect that to look more like an inch and a half or so. (Harris’s pro tip: “If you’re pouring from high above, it’s much harder to gauge how much you’re pouring than if you’re squatting next to the table or looking at it.”)This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
LOL, I’m not blowing my whole paycheck on different types of wine glasses. Can’t I buy one that’s good for any varietal?
Try a cabernet glass, aka your “standard” red wine glass, which has straight sides and tapers a bit at the top. “They can bridge between a chardonnay and a pinot,” Harris says. “It is probably in the middle and still provides enough space to get the aromas and the swirl and everything that you would need from the varietals.”
My friends love to eat. What do I serve at this damn thing?
Pairing wine and food can get real confusing real quick, so keep things easy by serving up something salty and acidic, like your basic charcuterie platter. “You get all the salty aspects and a kind of fatty component that really accentuates a lot of wines without getting too prescriptive,” Harris says. Craving something sweeter? Heads up: Dessert-y stuff will make a vino that isn’t sweet taste bitter. “You want to be careful about going down that path,” Harris says.
Do I really need to “cleanse my palate”?
Most tastings go from lighter- to fuller-bodied wines and from whites to reds, so it’s particularly helpful when you’ve been sippin’ on something heavier and want to go “backward” to try, say, a Riesling. “Our palates are very trained to the last thing you just tried,” Harris says. (Her hack: Sauvignon blanc, due to its acidity, is actually a great palate cleanser.) Another tip? “Good old bread,” she says, since it absorbs flavors.
Can we please talk about spit buckets? Are they even necessary?
You do you! But they’re generally a good idea if you’re serving more than a few bottles. Remember the two-glass guideline: “Let’s say you have a tasting where you’ve got 10 wines—you can’t really go with your two-ounce rule, because now all of a sudden, you’re talking 20 ounces,” Harris says. So you’ll either have to give people smaller tastes—or break out that bucket.
By Christina Amoroso