kushman on wine
Tips for hosting a tasting event at home.
WRITTEN BY RICK KUSHMAN
ILLUSTRATION BY SOPHIA PAPPAS
Plenty of good reasons exist for having a home wine-tasting party/casual evening, starting with this: It’s fun. But the best reason may be that you can learn a lot about your own wine tastes, about wines you like, and about styles you like. Or hate.
Before we get into details, here are two crucial suggestions:
1) Don’t invite any snobs. They ruin everything. They’ll try to change opinions to validate theirs.
2) Don’t vote. Don’t pick a most popular. It will calm everyone there.
One key aspect to remember is that everyone can like different wines and for different reasons. There is no right or wrong. Everyone has different tastes. This is about you and your guests discovering what you each like, not what’s most popular. Now, some helpful hints:
- Don’t be random. Don’t have guests bring just anything. Pick one or two similar varietals — two whites such as Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, or two reds such as cabernet and pinot noir — and get a few different styles of each. They can be from different regions or price levels or have different intensities. (You can get help from a wine shop. It’s worth the effort.)
- Either assign guests to bring one style each, or get them yourself and have everyone chip in on the cost — unless you just won the lottery and want to cover it. My suggestion: Get them yourself so guests won’t be emotionally invested in the wines they brought.
- Taste blindly. Put a bag over each bottle. Any bag will do.
- Have everyone take notes on their answers to these questions: Do you like it? Hate it? What do you like/hate about it? Keep this simple and clear — for instance, “It’s the texture/flavor/smell/some particular note in it.” Don’t have them try to name the flavors or berries or anything, just answer why they like or don’t like it.
- Do. Not. Vote. This isn’t a competition. It’s about each person finding his or her own favorites. Wine being wine and having its weird psychological impact, people will want their favorite wines to win, or they’ll want to have voted for the most popular, thereby showing they aren’t heathens.
- Instead of voting, discuss. Before you un-bag, talk about each wine. Your thoughts on why you liked/disliked it might spur thoughts from your friends. It’s OK to totally disagree. You should disagree. It’s like talking about favorite colors. (Mine is yellow.)
- Reveal the wines. You’ll see which styles you really do like. If you liked/disliked all the styles of one grape, that’s good information, too.
- Finally, take cell phone pictures of the wines you like. Then turn your phone sideways and take pictures of your dislikes. Now you have a cheat sheet. Plus, a wine store guide or restaurant sommelier can use those pictures to pick out other wines you’ll like.
Do this a few times, and you’ll have a good repertoire. And you’ll keep having excuses to taste wine.