Learning about different wines is a great way to expand your taste horizons and grow your appreciation of various blends. The best way to do this is through a wine tasting, so why not host your own? You don’t need to be a connoisseur – these guidelines will see you through.
The first step is deciding on how many guests you’d like to invite to the soirée. A good rule of thumb is no more than you can seat at your table – a small party of eight to 12 people is ideal. Keep the learning experience more relaxed by inviting a wine-fundi friend to guide the group through the process. If you’d prefer to oversee the tasting on your own, do some research to make it an enlightening evening. If you’re going to a restaurant, check the limit on group sizes and book in advance.
Location is all-important. Should you opt for a lavish wine tasting at a restaurant, or have something more customisable at home?
At home: Home tastings are more intimate and personal. And, while far more preparation is needed on the host’s part, you can pick your own theme, decide on how the night will be conducted and whether you’re going to include food pairings or not.
At a restaurant: If you’re looking for more structure and formality, where you don’t have to plan much or clear up after, go for a restaurant. Gerakaris Family Wines in Craighall, Joburg, has a tasting room KWV Wine Emporium in Cape Town has a variety of tasting options – try a five-wine tasting priced from R45pp; see kwvwineemporium.co.za. If you’re in Joburg, Gerakaris Family Wines in Craighall also has a tasting room, where you can taste the winery’s lovely wines; see gerakaris.co.za
While the theme is usually based on the wines you’ll be sampling, there’s no reason not to jazz it up. You may decide, for example, to give guests a dress code to complement the theme. Creativity is key, but w&h wine expert, Kim Hoepfl, has pointers for the basics. “Set a budget for how much you want to spend, then pick wines according to their features – most obvious would be red or white,” says Kim.
Once that’s decided, look at varietals, which are wines from a single-named grape, such as Cabernet or Merlot. You can also try wines from one farm or one region. “A fantastic theme is vertical testing, where you taste wines of different vintages from a single farm to see how each has aged over time. Another great theme is ‘price versus quality’ where you’ll learn that price doesn’t always mean a better wine,” she adds. If you’ve opted for a restaurant, remember you can’t dictate the theme, so shop around to see what tastings are on offer.
Food pairing isn’t a must, but it boosts the overall experience. Plus, it’s better not to drink on an empty stomach! It’s best to begin the night with snacks – pair crackers and stronger cheeses with stronger wine like Merlot. For mains, there’s the red meat/red wine, white meat/white wine fail-safe, but it doesn’t always hold true. “Stay away from vinegar like in salad dressing, as it changes the taste of wine on your palate,” warns Kim. “Match creamy wines, such as Chardonnay, with chicken and cream-based sauces.” For acidic wines like Sauvignon Blanc, pair with fish in a lemon sauce. If you need some inspiration, visit winefolly.com
- Look at the colour of the wine, as it gives you an idea of the age. White wines become darker and red wines become lighter over time.
- Swirl your glass to introduce oxygen into the wine, which helps open the aromas up.
- Smell the wine. Begin by holding the glass a few centimetres away from your nose, eventually letting your nose go into your glass.
- Take a sip of the wine, but don’t swallow. Roll the wine around in your mouth over all of your taste buds so you can fully experience the flavour and taste.
- Note the wine’s aftertaste when you spit it out. How long does it last? Did you like it?
- Write down your experience. As host, you could brief your guests on the proper terminology before you start, or simply give them freedom in describing what they taste and smell when judging.