Opening a window to the wine world is easier than you think.
Deep ruby colour. Aromas of rich dark currants, stone fruit skins, flowing blackberry, but lots of fragrant tobacco, rich soil, and white flowers. Dense but lively acidity stabilises the wine nicely with the robust tannins. Grippy with notes of ripe cherries, laden with mocha, charred bay leaves and roasted hazelnut.
Have you ever wished you could describe wine like that after a swirl, a sniff and a sip? Well, maybe not that 'pretentious' but studies have shown that being able to describe the complex and subtle notes in wine actually make it taste better. If you think about it, this makes sense. If you have the vocabulary to describe what you're tasting, your brain is more able to discern the subtle flavours and bring them to the forefront.
Descriptions of wine seem to make more sense when a selection of wines are tasted alongside each other. It's hard to recognise subtle notes when you are sipping from just one glass of wine as there is nothing to compare it against. But when was the last time you opened five bottles of wine for yourself?
The solution? Grab a few bottles and invite some friends over for a night of wine and fun – when the pandemic allows or decide on wine selections and do a tasting via Zoom. Here are a few tips on how to host a wine tasting at home.
Choose a theme
Variety. Perhaps the easiest way to get to grips with grapes is to stick to a tasting flight of one variety from different parts of the world, or wines from one particular country or region. For example, if you're a fan of the grassy, herbal flavours of sauvignon blanc, try comparing one from New Zealand and one from Chile alongside a white Bordeaux, a Sancerre, and one from a bit closer to home like Adelaide Hills.
Value. Another way to achieve a successful tasting flight is to stick to a dollar amount for each bottle. This gives a lot of variety and you may find some excellent wines at a great price point.
Region. Choose a specific region and taste several wines that are produced in that wine-making area.
Blind tasting. Pop the bottles into hessian wine bags, pour the wines into decanters or pitchers, or simply wrap each bottle in foil. Just remember to label each with a number so people can make notes on each. This is a great way to taste wine as it removes any preconceptions. If you regularly frequent a bottle shop with knowledgeable staff, have them select and wrap the wines so even you don't know which is which!
BYO. Having each guest buy a bottle can definitely work out very well too!
How much wine should I buy?
This depends on how many guests you are entertaining. Five to seven wines to taste is a good number for small groups. One bottle of wine can comfortably serve five people with a decent serve. So, if you are hosting 10 people, two bottles of each wine will suffice. However, if you go for a smaller serving of 60ml per glass, one 750ml bottle can easily serve 12. To save allocating guests a certain wine to buy, you could always purchase the wines yourself and ask for a contribution.
A good rule of thumb is to have more wine than you think you'll need. Leftovers are rarely an issue!
Think about the music and the atmosphere
- Compile a playlist to have on in the background.
- Think about scents. Scented candles, aromatic flowers and perfumes can detract from the aromas of the wine.
Good wine glasses need to be on the list. A good wine glass enhances the inviting aromas, textures and flavours of the wine, allowing you to really figure out the subtle, but important, notes. The best wine glass for a tasting is a large, universal wine glass (suitable for red and white) with a slender stem. Allotting one glass per person is fine but two glasses make it easier to compare wines and avoids too much cleaning in between bottles.
Remember to have spit buckets available for those who don't want to get too tipsy!
Palate cleansers like water crackers or a simple bread is a must. But if you want to go all out and explore some food and wine pairings, you could always do a little research on how acids, tannins, and sweetness in foods interact with those in wines. For example, try tasting salted nuts, dark chocolate, or soft cheeses alongside each wine to see how they react and compare.
Always let your guests know what food will be available - you don't want them arriving with an empty stomach when the only thing you'll have prepared is nibbles.
Serving the wine
- As a general rule, most wines (apart from a fine, top-notch red) don’t need to be opened early to let the wine breathe.
- Fill the wine glass to just below the halfway point to ensure there's room to swirl the wine and let the aromas develop before tasting.
- If you're stuck on an order for the wine, a good option is price points. Start with the cheapest wine and go through to the most expensive.
Tasting the wine
Now the fun bit we’ve all been waiting for. After swirling and sniffing, take a good-sized sip and think about the taste, flavours and texture. Does the white have a vibrant freshness? Which flavours are highlighted in the red? Keep the four key wine descriptors in mind if you're new to wine tasting.
Acidity. This refers to the fresh, tart, and sour attributes of the wine. Fundamentally speaking, all wines lie on the acidic side of the pH spectrum, and most range from 2.5 to about 4.5 pH (7 is neutral). A higher acid wine will taste crisper and more tart on the palate, a lower acid wine will feel smoother and rounder on the palate.
Sweetness. We probably all know how to interpret sweetness. The opposite of sweet in wine tasting is dry, but wines can also be medium-dry or off-dry. Wines are considered dry if they have below 1 per cent sweetness, wines above 5 per cent sweetness are noticeably sweet and dessert wines start at around 7 per cent sweetness.
Tannin. High tannin wines are astringent, maybe even bitter. Wines with lower tannin levels are smooth and soft (arguably more 'drinkable').
Body. The 'weight' and viscosity of the wine, how it feels in the mouth, the sense of alcohol in the wine. A full-bodied wine feels heavy and coats the side of the glass when you swirl. Light-bodied wine has a closer consistency to water. Medium-bodied is in-between.
Great wines will have complex flavours but at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of taste, having fun and how much you enjoy the wine.
Do you remember the first glass (or box) of wine that you really enjoyed? Do you have a go-to grape or vineyard?
– With PA
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