We were so pleased that Farmington Woods was chosen as the venue for the April Wine Tasting Fundraiser for the Noah Wallace Elementary School. Diane Hacker, a co-chair of the event, was glowing in her summary of the evening: “People raved about the professionalism of the Farmington Woods service. We had over 100 attendees, and over 100 silent auction items mixed in with about a dozen tables of wine and spirits distributors, yet the flow of their presentation allowed us to enjoy the wine, chat with friends, and make our bids seamlessly. From the beginning of our planning in February, Trevor Coates and Cristin Cooke were fantastic to work with – flexible, accessible and full of good ideas.”
I know that many of you in the community are also interested in inviting friends to your homes for smaller tastings, so I thought it might be useful to give you some simple tips on how ‘staging’ can enhance the sampling experience.
The Décor: This is not the time for lavish decoration – the wine is the star. Avoid flowers, scented candles and potpourri – anything with an aroma that might interfere with the tasting experience. Cover your table with a white tablecloth, so that guests can appreciate the depth of color of each wine.
The Bottles: Remove or hide the label on each bottle. You would be amazed how much a kooky name can affect a taster’s opinion. Vineyards like ‘Cupcake’ and ‘Mad Housewife’ can both produce very acceptable wines. Conversely, a classy-sounding French name like Chateau de Neuf Poissons can still be swill.
The Glasses: Red wine glasses typically have a wider, deeper bowl than white, because most red wines need more exposure to oxygen to bring out their best taste. The glasses for white (usually younger) wines have narrower openings to allow the bouquet to gather and accentuate the tasting experience. Champagne and sparkling whites are served in tall, tapered glasses, or flutes, so that the bubbles can be directed to the top and last longer. These are designed for a full portion of wine – 4/5oz. per serving. For a tasting, a 2oz.portion is the guideline, and a single all-purpose wine glass will be fine for all but the most discriminating tasters.
The Wines – You can pick your own theme here – reds, whites, local vineyards, regional, imported – whatever. At a small party, four to six varieties should be plenty to challenge your guests without numbing their palates. At a larger event, there is more opportunity for variety.
Temperature: Chill dry whites to between 50 and 55 degrees, and reds to between 60 and 65 degrees. With the exception of sparkling whites, over-chilling white wine can stunt the flavors and aroma. Serving red wines too warm may dull their flavor.
Breathing: Another big topic, but generally speaking, you should know that ‘tannin’ is an element that makes wine taste dry. Wines are most tannic when they are young (under 2/3 years). ‘Breathing’ will diffuse the tannins. ‘Breathing’ means exposing the wine to oxygen, allowing the flavors to soften and release their aromas. Simply uncorking the bottle and letting it sit for a period of time does not do the trick, as the air does not reach more than the surface of the wine inside. You get a much better aeration by pouring the wine, and then taking a minute or two to swirl it around in your glass.
Decanting (optional): For those Downton Abbey fans among you, this is why Carson is frequently pouring wine from the original bottle, into a new crystal container. Not only is he giving the air a chance to help release the wine’s maximum flavor; but also this very slow and careful transfer allows the wine (particularly older wine) to separate from its sediment, which can impart a very noticeable bitter flavor. He does not pour all of it – the settled sediment remains in the bottle.
Palate Cleansers – It’s a treat to combine a wine tasting with tasty hors d’oeuvres; but just before you sample a new wine, neutralize your palate with a bite of crunchy French bread or a bland cracker. Lightly salted mozzarella is also excellent for ridding the mouth of strong tastes.
Spit or Swallow. At a winery or at any presentation where you may be standing and drinking for an extended period, the less you swallow, the longer you will be able to maintain your ability to discern the wine’s subtle features.
Notecards and pencils: Your guests have come to learn about wines and perhaps find a new favorite – so it’s a thoughtful idea to provide them with materials to write down the details.
A final word of advice: do not be intimidated by the ‘wine snobs’. The best wine in the world is the one that you like, no matter what it costs or how anyone else rates it.