Looking for a way to entertain friends and give them good information at the same time?
No, this does not involve Tupperware, Oprah's Big Give or a chain letter. I'm suggesting a wine-tasting party.
Wine-tasting parties can be fun, if managed properly. And your guests will leave your house saying things like, "I never knew zinfandel could be red," or "Wow, I sure was fooled by that $7 merlot."
Holding such a social event requires planning. First, calculate how many people you will invite to invade your house. The body count is important. You can pour an adequate "tasting" portion for 14 to 17 people from one standard-size (750mL) bottle. With 25.4 ounces in the bottle, that will give each person roughly 1.5 ounces each of wine.
Doesn't sound like much, but if you're going to be tasting eight or 10 different wines, it adds up ... as does the alcohol intake. Be discreet.
Figure out a theme for your event. You can do "All Australian" or "All Sonoma County" or "All Chilean." Whatever. Or you can take one type of wine - pinot grigio, for example - and offer selections from various wine-producing areas. Or pick a broad selection of different types of red wines or white wines and see which one draws the biggest scores.
Oh, yes, there is scoring involved.
I suggest chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling, pinot blanc, sauvignon/fume blanc, viognier, gewurztraminer for whites, and merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet franc, zinfandel, sangiovese and pinotage for reds. There are others, of course. Use your imagination ... and the help of a knowledgeable wine shop owner or manager.
Here's a checklist of things you will need: Wine (duh), glasses, plain crackers or bread and bland cheese - nothing spicy or pungent - napkins, scoring sheets and pencils, pitchers of water for palate cleansing, containers for folks to deposit their unconsumed wine and coffee or tea for afterwards.
Serious wine parties involve blind tasting. That's when you wrap the bottles in foil or some other covering (old Christmas wrapping paper or the Sunday comics will do), and pour them anonymously. That's always fun because nobody knows what she or he is drinking and cannot be influenced by the label or price tag. Guests make judgments based only on what they smell, see and taste. It's always fun when some self-proclaimed wine "expert" picks his or her favorite ... only to discover it's $7 a bottle.
Party holders need to number the bottles and serve them in the right order. Keep a master list for yourself to make sure things go right ... just don't let the guests spot the list.
If you are renting glasses make sure you check them before the party. A friend rented six dozen glasses and found half of them had not been washed. Luckily she had time before the first guests arrived to run them through the dishwasher.
There are a couple of important points to remember. First is that wine contains alcohol. Some people can tolerate more alcohol than others. Caution your guests to monitor their intake. It's a wine tasting, not a wine slurping.
The other consideration is serving temperature. We drink our red wines too warm and our white wines too cold. Pull the whites out of the fridge 15-20 minutes before serving, and put the reds into the fridge for about 20 minutes before serving. It helps improve flavor and aroma perceptions.
If you're not using scoring sheets, just have fun. Taste each wine and discuss it.
For more devoted winos, score on five characteristics: color, aroma/bouquet, flavor, finish and overall impression.
1. Color: Is the wine bright and clear? Is it an appropriate color? A white wine showing signs of brown-gold is probably over aged. A red wine with brown-brickiness also may be over the hill.
2. Aroma/Bouquet: Simply, does it smell good? Does it have a fruity, wine smell, or does it remind you of old gym socks?
3. Flavor: Don't make this complicated. Does the wine taste good? Let your taste buds be your judge ... and trust them.
4. Finish: That's the last flavor-texture sensation as you swallow the wine. Did it leave a favorable memory?
5. Overall Impression: What's your overall take on this wine? This is, by the way, not a compilation of the previous four categories.
I suggest a four-point range for each category, with 0 being absolutely awful and 4 being perfect. Not many of either around. Break the scores into smaller parts - i.e. color, 3.5; flavor, 2.75.
After all the wines have been served, total up the scores and unwrap the bottles.
And when the party's over, check your house for an over-served guest who's snoozing in the family room, clean up the glasses ... and enjoy the leftovers.
Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? E-mail him. His column runs on the first Wednesday of the month.