Hosting your own wine tasting

I have been getting quite few requests to write about how to hold a wine tasting in a home or club, so I thought I'd give you a few tips on how to do so. It really does not matter if you are in a wine and dine or wine club — the parameters are the same.

The first thing to think about is the type of food you will be serving, if you are serving food at a wine tasting. (There are two ways to do a tasting, with food or without food, and most wine tastings or evaluations of wine have some sort of food to go along with them).

Try to choose a snack or palate cleanser which will clean but not become residual on the palate. I am not a big fan of cheese at wine tastings but I do know that they are very popular. The problem with cheese is that it coats the palate and becomes a detriment to the nuance of wine. Cheese is fine for pairing during a dinner party but for evaluation I just don't think it works. Also, try to avoid overly spicy foods or foods with sugar or heat. My favorite cleanser is either sourdough bread or no-low salt crackers. These seem to do the trick.

The second thing to think about is how to choose the wine for the tasting/evaluation. There are many wonderful ways to choose wine for a tasting, and the vast variety of wines now available to the consumer is superb and lends itself to many areas to consider. Let's look at a few:

1. Tasting by vintage — looking at a particular year. An example of this would be the superb 2008 vintage in the Willamette Valley. It is possible to taste many varietals from this vintage and marvel at the wonderful examples of each. This was true of the 2006 vintage as well, when there were great vintages and wonderful fruit quality across the board. One can also taste/compare a single vintage from different viticultural points on the globe. I have attended numerous tastings of pinot noir, for example, made in different sites from the same vintage and found the tasting to be quite rewarding.

2. Tasting like varietals from the same viticultural areas — Here is the classic tasting of a few or many of the same varietal coming from the same region. This would be much like tasting 10 Napa Valley cabernets from the same vintage in an afternoon or evening. When I hold a tasting like this I try to keep the wines around the same price point. This allows us as consumers to figure out which wine might be the best for us at a set price. It's pretty fun to have a group of, say, $10 wines from the same area to compare and see not only which wine suits our palate but which wines might clearly be the best of the bunch.

3. Tasting only white wines, rosé wines or red wines — This is really how to do it. It crosses purposes to switch from white wine to red or rosé wine during a tasting because none of the wines truly get the full attention they deserve. Rosé wines tend to get lost in the shuffle at big wine events as they don't have the "stuffing" to compete with reds and tend to pale against the woodier white wines. I attended a tasting some years ago where the really lovely rosé wines took a back seat to the big reds and the rich chardonnays. In fact, a great tasting would be to taste a variety of American and European rosé wines. You'd be surprised at the variety of great rosé offerings there are out there.

4. Tasting dry wines before sweet wines, low-alcohol wines before high-alcohol wines — Try never to taste sweet wines before dry wines. It is much like tasting a raisin before a grape. Regardless of how sweet a grape is, after the raisin the grape will always taste somewhat bitter. The same holds with high alcohol versus low alcohol. The alcoholic taste in the mouth doesn't go away sufficiently after a few sips to taste the nuance of the low-alcohol wines. This is why port wine tastings are always held solo and never with other wines.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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