The best way to learn about wine is to taste wine. It’s no fun tasting alone, so why not start a wine tasting group this fall? You’ll learn more by tasting with a group and I I’m willing to bet you’ll have a lot of fun along the way. My own wine tasting group was a big step on the road to my appreciation of and passion for wine.
Here are some tips for starting your own group:
Think about who you’ll want to invite to join your tasting group. Consider friends with more or less your degree of wine knowledge that are interested in learning in an informal setting.
Make the group manageable. Practically speaking, one bottle of wine provides enough tasting portions for up to twelve people. Depending on your living situation, six to ten may be more manageable in New York.
Settle on how many times the group will meet. Is it going to be once a month, once every two months? You’ll want to pick a schedule that works for everyone and stick to it. Allow about two hours for each gathering.
Establish who will pick the theme and coordinate the group for each meeting. Some tasting groups rotate the host and the host is responsible for the theme and the food assignments. Other groups hire a wine professional to lead the group and then he or she determines the direction of the tasting and maybe even the food pairings.
The Food & Wine
Decide whether or not food will be integral to your tasting group experience. Some groups go as light as crackers, while others plan a full-fledged meal with different member’s assigned responsibility for the various courses. Serving food inspired by the same region as the wines you taste will greatly enhance the experience.
Discuss with the group how much you’re going to spend on wine. Setting a budget range or a spending limit will help level the playing field, both with your members and the wines.
Do some research. If you don’t hire a wine professional to lead the group, have each person look into the wine they’re bringing. It doesn’t have to feel like a homework assignment, but knowing the basic facts about where and how the wine was made and a little color commentary about the producer will increase your understanding and encourage conversation.
It may help to have the wines listed on a sheet where you can take notes about the aromas and flavors you experience and, most importantly, if you like the wine and would buy it again. That said many people take photos and notes on their smart phones today so this may not be necessary.
You may want to come up with a rating system just for kicks and to help you remember which wines you liked. For example, use a 5-star system and have members discuss their favorites, least favorites, and star ratings at the end of the tasting.
Have enough ─ and appropriate ─ glassware on hand. Your wine glasses don’t need to be fancy but thin, clear glass or crystal with a long stem and a large enough bowl to swirl the wine will make a difference. Some names to look for are Spiegelau and Riedel but even Crate & Barrel or Williams Sonoma will have suitable glassware options. Offer at least two glasses per person. Make sure to provide a bucket or other vessel to pour any unfinished wine in when you’re moving on to the next bottle. If possible, have even more glasses so that you can keep the wines and re-taste.
Most importantly, have fun and learn a little along the way. Explore wine regions, grapes, the same grape varietals from different regions, vintages, price points and just plain be adventurous. Cheers.