Wine is one of my favorite beverages along with tea and water. Pinot Grigio is hands down my “go to” wine although wine guru Gary Vaynerchuk told me to get over myself and try new varietals. I’m trying Gary!
I’ve attended a few wine tasting parties thrown by my friend Danielle one of which was a brief intro to shiraz, it was a great night with some great wine. It’s always been a blast although I’m not sure we really learned much about wine even though we did fill out rating cards. I’d like to host my own this time so I turned to wine expert Wendy Crispell, who has designed and hosted many corporate and private events for NY celebrities, top business leaders and industry clients.
Hosting a Wine & Cheese Tasting
by Wendy Crispell
As a wine and cheese professional I believe wine is something that should be accessible to everyone. Many people are intimidated by the vast selection, unknown varietals, labeling jargon and differences in price vs. quality. I’ve noticed that most will stick with an old standby rather than taking the chance on trying something new or different. Hosting your own tasting is a great way to try new wines, explore unknown regions and just have great fun with friends!
The size of your tasting is best kept to 10-12 people with one bottle of each wine planned for a generous tasting portion. It’s best to stick with no more than 6 wines with a selection of white and red, you can also add in a rose or sparkling wine to add additional interest. Unless you plan on spitting more than this may overwhelm your palate. Have you ever gone to a tasting and bought a wine that you later opened and wondered how on earth you though this was good? Too many selections can cloud your mind and palate; you can always have a few extra bottles of 1 white and 1 red for sipping after you complete your tasting.
When planning your cheese selection mix up milk types (goat, sheep, cow) and styles from fresh and tangy to hard and caramelly. Plan on ¼ ounce of each cheese type per person as an ample tasting portion. You can also build your tasting around the cheeses of a particular country or region. For instance New York State has some incredible artisan cheese makers that would make a fabulous base for your tasting as well as supporting your local farmer. Many of these small farmers showcase their products at your local farmer’s market or specialty shop.
Make sure to plan accordingly:
1. Picking a Wine Theme: After making a guest list decide on your tasting topic and assign each guest a wine or cheese type. To make it extra fun you could meet up for pre-party cocktails having each participant write down their favorite wine region or country that they are most interested in exploring. Randomly select a topic and decide your line up of white, rose, red, sparkling or dessert wine. Go ahead and invest in a quality wine fridge to preserve the flavour and your guests will be kept happy through the night. If you don’t yet have one, try here for a list of the best wine fridges on the market at the moment.
2. Make a Cheat Sheet: After every one decides on their purchase, type up a tasting information sheet listing the different wines and cheeses in order from lightest to fuller bodied starting with white wine or sparkling first if you are including one. List cheese from soft fresher styles to more intense or aged varieties.
3. Have Enough Glasses: There is no need to have a different glass for each wine but select a glass large enough to swirl and oxygenate your wine. Bed, Bath and Beyond has some great basic glasses under $20 for a set of 12. If you are planning on having a few big red wines make sure to have something on hand to decant into. This need not be fancy crystal or an expensive investment; a simple glass carafe will do. The other thing that you should also make sure that you have enough of, is space for where to put the wine. This might involve buying yourself a new wine cabinet. The wine cabinets by IWA offer enough space to hold all your favourite wines and the cabinet is also a nice piece of furniture to have in your house. There are plenty of companies that can provide you with a wine cabinet, however, you just have to find the right one for you.
4. Get a Spittoon: Have a dump bucket or spittoon on hand for those that want to use them. Remember if you don’t like a particular selection you don’t have to finish it! It’s best to move on to the next and truly enjoy the wines more to your liking.
5. Cleanse Your Palate: Have lots of water and crackers or bread on hand to cleanse your palate between selections.
6. Prep Your Tasting Area: Wearing heavy perfume, burning scented candles or having any aromatics in the room will affect your tasting. Advise guests to avoid these elements. Have enough lighting to be able to visually evaluate your wines.
7. Don’t Over Pour: When you start your tasting pour just enough to swirl, taste and pair with each individual cheese. As we are all different not all will like the same selections or pairings. This will enable you to go back and try more of the wines you like rather than wasting them.
8. Have Fun: Tasting with others is a great way to discover new things and expand your culinary horizons.
Wendy Crispell, CSW, WSET Advanced, is a wine and cheese event specialist/consultant in NYC. She has designed and hosted many corporate and private events for NY celebrities, top business leaders and industry clients. She has studied in both the US and Europe making stops in the world’s creameries, farm markets and fine restaurants. She always carries a list of culinary must visits wherever she goes! For more information go to her website wendycrispellwine.com and to check out wine-tasting classes she’s teaching click here.