“He who knows how to taste does not drink wine but savours secrets” – Salvador Dalì.
When you think of going to a wine tasting, does it bring a feeling of happiness or worry? Are you happy because of the different wines you’ll taste and discover, or do you worry because you don’t want to look and sound like you don’t know anything about wine? These same two feelings can occur when you are planning a wine tasting of your own. There are various ways to set up a wine-tasting event. Let’s look at three different ways you could organize and enjoy such a get-together.
Meet Up Event
I’m part of a local wine tasting group that I found online through meetup.com. This very informal group started in January 2018 at the home of the Peggy Seville and Paul LaBrash, a couple who are interested in socializing over wine. Group membership has seen steady growth as an increasing number of people become interested in wine. Throughout the year, upwards of 170 people have expressed interest in being part of the group. Each monthly meeting can have 24 or 30 participants depending on the size of the venue. When there is not enough room for all who want to attend, the extras join a waiting list.
Each month, Peggy and Paul help a different host. The monthly hosts open their home to the group. Once a member has responded via the meetup invitation for that month, the host sends his/her address to the respondent. Each attending member brings a bottle of wine, per the theme, an appetizer and two dollars that goes towards the monthly subscription cost for meetup.com and monthly prizes. The host provides glasses, napkins, and plates.
During the evening, each person votes on his/her top three red and top three whites from the contributed wines. The person who brought the top wine in each category receives a wine-related prize—a travel wine glass, themed napkins, etc. There is no formal group discussion about the wines, but attendees discuss many different aspects of wine throughout the event.
The monthly hosts design their get-togethers. One host suggested a blind-tasting evening, and he disguised the bottles in bags so that we only knew if the wine was red or white. This required the host to rent a large number of wine glasses, and it took a bit more time and left little opportunity for socializing. Another host provided handouts for those who wanted to learn a bit about the type of Italian wine we were tasting that evening. Running in the background, she also had a slideshow from a trip she had taken to Italy.
Lots of food choice to go with the blind tasting of wines. © Lori Sweet
Peggy says that there are both pros and cons of organizing this type of wine tasting. The pros include meeting new people and forming new friendships. The bonus is, of course, discovering and tasting new wines. The big con is that the host is responsible for other people’s drinking. Peggy has a disclaimer on the meetup site and always provides phone numbers for taxis. To date, there has not been an issue, but it is still something on the mind of the organizers and host.
Ladies Who Lunch
Despite the name, this get-together isn’t all about the lunch. The group started in the winter of 2015 and was the brainchild of Juanita Fritz-Millett. As she explains, “I am passionate about wine and wanted to share my knowledge.” Each month a group of ladies get together for a wine-and-food-pairing lunch. Juanita always hosts the luncheon, and she picks the wines and gives suggestions for food pairings. She chooses these dependent on the time of year, country, interest in exploring a specific grape, or something she noticed in the liquor store. Participants decide whether they would like to contribute $10 and food or a flat $30. The money goes towards the purchase of the wines.
A lesson in the different types of sparkling wine in the world. © Lori Sweet
Juanita has a great deal of wine education. She has taken a one-year course to become a sommelier and has obtained her WSET-3 credentials. She has worked in vineyards and in the retail liquor industry, and she has taken many wine-education trips. She has a real passion for wine, and, as she puts it, “I signed up for one course, and the rest is history.”
Tasting a Petit Chablis from the Burgundy region of France. © Lori Sweet
Juanita agrees that there are pros and cons in organizing this type of wine tasting. The pros were extensive for her. Ladies Who Lunch gives her a chance to share her knowledge and enthusiasm about wine. It is a chance for everyone, including her, to taste wines they may not choose to purchase on their own. People discover new and interesting wine and food pairings, and they form new friendships. Juanita’s biggest con is that there are more ladies interested in participating than there is room. She feels the ideal number is eight so that everyone can sit around the table and participate.
Wine Tasting Party
Maybe you don’t want to be involved in a monthly or ongoing wine-tasting event but would like to plan a wine-tasting party as a get-together. Natalie MacLean, who runs Canada’s largest wine review site (nataliemaclean.com) gave me more advice. The author of two books and a course instructor, Natalie has a podcast and is also a frequent guest on several talk television shows where she discusses wine.
She suggests inviting between six and twelve people to your party. With this number, plan to sample between six and eight bottles over the course of two or three hours. Samples of two-to-three ounces each should be enough to give guests a good sense of the wines you serve. The wines can be ones you provide, or you could ask people to bring a favourite wine of their choice.
When planning your party, Natalie says, you have to consider how many glasses you’ll need. If you do not own enough glasses or would rather not rinse between tastings, you can rent stemware. You can even ask people to bring their own glasses. While I have never been to a social wine tasting where a spittoon is provided, it indeed is a consideration. As Natalie points out, “Nobody should have to swallow wine they don’t like or be forced to drink too much.”
Make sure to provide water as well as food. You can serve anything from a full meal to a well-stocked bread basket to a number of nibbles.
For centuries people have been coming together over wine. Regardless of what type of wine tasting event you participate in, the end goal is to enjoy. If you discover a new wine you would like to try again, all the better.
What will your next wine tasting get-together be?
For more information, check out these links: