Drink Up Some Knowledge

Follow these tips for setting up a fun, informative wine-tasting party.

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Before your guests arrive:

  • - Make sure each person has two glasses. Also provide a vessel into which anyone can tip out wine they don’t care to finish.

  • - Provide food. Your friends deserve at least a simple spread of charcuterie, bread and cheese, right? (It’s also helpful to taste wines with and without food.)

  • - Don’t make it serious by providing paper and pencils for jotting tasting notes. Just snap photos of the wine labels so everyone can remember which wines they liked—and didn’t.

Taste the wines in pairs
Urge everyone to be honest about the aromas and flavors they identify, no matter how weird they sound (from “asparagus” to “dirty socks,” every description should be welcome). And don’t be afraid to tell the group if you don’t enjoy a particular wine—friends, after all, are people you should be comfortable disagreeing with openly. Just following the consensus is no way to learn about your likes and dislikes—and it makes for a quick, relatively boring evening if everyone agrees all the time.

Most importantly, just enjoy yourself!

1. Compare
Serve two wines made from the same grape but from different places. For example: a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a Sancerre (also made from Sauvignon Blanc) from France’s Loire Valley. Does one taste fruitier, the other grassier? Does one taste better with food, and the other better on its own? Which wine you prefer may indicate whether you’re old-school (Sancerre) or too cool for school (Sauvignon Blanc).

2. Contrast
Pour wines that are as different as possible, like an oaky California Chardonnay and a sweet German Riesling. Be sure to eat some food with the wines here, too. Especially after the comparative tasting, you’ll see how vastly different wines can enhance the flavors of the food you’ve served—or make your favorite artisanal cheese taste like it comes from a spray can. (High-alcohol, overly sweet wines can clobber food.)

3. Go High and Low
Find a cheap and an expensive wine from the same region—say, a $10 Bordeaux red and one that’s $25. Don’t tell anyone which cost more. Reveal this after everyone’s weighed in. The results are often surprising—and can be the source of friendly jibes for years to come.

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