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Randall Murray: Everything you need to enjoy wine in Georgia heat
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Here are a few clues that it’s summer in northeast Georgia:

  • The humidity is as high as the temperature;
  • You sweat (uh, ladies only ‘glow’) so much you feel as though you’re growing mushrooms in your armpits.
  • You don’t ever want to leave the house, except to go shopping in a large, air conditioned store.

So here’s a nifty way to keep up your social life while staying indoors ... have a wine-tasting party. It’s not all that difficult and you can keep the expense down by asking your guests to chip in a few bucks to cover the cost of the wines.

 First calculate how many people you will invite to invade your house. The body count is important. You can pour an adequate “tasting” of wine for about 15 people from each standard-size (750-ML) bottle. With 25.4 ounces in the bottle, that will give each person roughly between 1.5 and 2 ounces of each wine. Doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re going to be tasting eight or 10 different wines, it mounts up ... as does the alcohol intake.

Go above 15 people and you have to get a second bottle, so while the body count increases arithmetically, the bottle count increases geometrically. And I failed “Statistics.”

 Then figure out a theme. You can do “All Australian” or “All South African” or “All Sonoma County.” Why not match Chardonnays from around the world — Santa Barbara County in California, Chile, Australia and a white Burgundy from France. (White Burgundies are made from the Chardonnay grape.)

You can do the same with Cabernet Sauvignons from around the world: Napa Valley, Argentina, South Africa, Spain, northeast Georgia or a Bordeaux from the Medoc or Graves.

With the tsunami of good dry rose wines on store shelves, that’s another grouping to consider.

Those are just suggestions. Make up your own lineup. It’s your party. Plan what you want. Prowl the aisles at your wine store.

Here are some things to put on your checklist of items to have on hand:

  • Wine ... duhhh!
  • Glasses (if you have a big crowd, think about renting them)
  • Plain crackers, bread and bland cheese to clean out the mouth between wines (and to help soak up some alcohol as the party progresses)
  • Napkins
  • Scoring sheets, if you want to make it a challenge ... pencils come in handy, too
  • Pitchers of water for cleansing the palate and rinsing glasses
  • Containers for folks to sling the undrunk wine into or the rinse from the glasses. We call them dump buckets.
  • Coffee or tea ... for afterwards

 You can take this very seriously and conduct a blind tasting, or just pour and chat. Blind tastings can be fun, or they can lead to headlocks and ear-pulling, depending upon the crowd. Wrap the bottles in aluminum foil or brown paper to cover the label. Don’t forget to cover or remove the label at the top of the neck ... and hide the corks. Before you do the wrapping, however, write down the names, vintages, etc., of the wines in the order they will be served. But keep that list to yourself.

Number each bottle and make sure the wines are served in the correct order. The scoring sheets also should bear numbers for each wine, with space for scoring in different categories and for comments. A considerate host or hostess will print out a list of the wines, in the order they were poured, so guests can take them home.

The fun part of a blind tasting is seeing the reactions when the labels are uncovered. Remember: Folks are making judgments based solely on their sensory evaluations of the wines. They are not influenced by the price, the label, the place of origin, etc. It’s just them and their senses. Some budding wine snobs never fully recover from giving 19.5 points (out of 20) to a Barefoot Merlot. But, hey, they can use the humility.

What the scores mean:

EXCELLENT: 17 to 20 points

VERY GOOD: 15 to 17 points

GOOD: 12 to 15 points

FAIR: 10 to 12 points

SWILL: Under 10 points

Don’t serve the whites or roses too cold. Take them out of the fridge or cooler 20 minutes before serving. And stick the reds in the fridge 20 minutes before serving.

I hate to tinkle on your parade, but there is a cautionary here. Wine contains alcohol, so please be aware of the consumption quotient of your guests.

When the tasting is done, add up the scores and argue about them. Then send everybody else out into the steamy clime to head home.


Wine of the Month

Penfolds Max’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

The wine: Dry, full-bodied red table wine.

The grapes: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The source: Various vineyard regions in Australia.

The verdict: Max Schubert is an Australian legend. A winemaker at Penfolds, one of Down Under’s best wineries, Schubert experimented to make better, drier red wine in the early 1950s. It was a flop and he was told to stop. He kept at it, however, keeping his winemaking a secret for years. Finally when the wine he called Grange Hermitage had bottle aged, he unveiled it again. It was a massive hit, and became Aussie land’s best red wine … bar none. How good? A bottle of the 2010 Grange (“Hermitage” was dropped years ago) is listed in New York for more than $800. This wine, clearly not a Grange, is a tribute to Max. And it’s a good one. It lasts long in the mouth, with tantalizing flavors of coffee, dark chocolate and spice. The bottle is shrink-wrapped in red plastic, which is a tad too cute. But what’s inside the bottle is handsome. I almost hated to open it recently, because this big fella will age well for another 6-8 years.

The price: About $28.

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