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How to Play with Your Wine

Most people tend to think that wine education has to be stuffy. Well, not in my world. While there is a lot to learn, there are also lots of different – and fun – ways to do it. Recently, I put together a holiday event to help guests learn about wine, and also have a great time in the process. With that in mind, here’s a guide for hosting your own unique wine tasting party.

I designed my party to have four flights of wines with two wines in each flight. While this concept can work for any size group, I set mine up for 8 to 10 people. Not only did that mean that I would only need one bottle of each wine, but it kept the gathering casual and low-key. I decided to add an element of competition to my party by serving the wines blind, so I wrapped each bottle in silver foil and labeled each one to indicate the flight and then A or B to indicate the order of the wines in that flight.

You will also need 2 wine glasses per person, and I find that it helps to label the glasses A and B so that people can easily keep track of which wine is in which glass. I also paired two different appetizers with each course so that people could see how the wines tasted with food and without.

When it comes to putting the wines together, I think the best thing to do is to try to pick a few themes that highlight several different styles of wines. This way you have something that will appeal to almost everyone in your group, and everyone can learn something new. I selected pairs of sparkling, white, red and fortified wines. Here are the flights I put together:

Flight 1: Can you spot the real Champagne?

Only sparkling wines from the Champagne region in France can call themselves Champagne. For this flight, I took two sparkling wines – one from New Mexico and one from France. The idea was to identify the “real” Champagne and to see what kind of similarities and differences we could find between it and the sparkling wine from New Mexico.

Flight 2: What does oak do to a wine?

This flight allowed me to demonstrate how aging a wine in new oak barrels can change the taste of the Chardonnay grape. I compared an unoaked Chardonnay from the Chablis region in Burgundy to a Chardonnay from California that had been aged in oak barrels. The unoaked Chardonnay had notes of lemons and limes with a crisp, mouthwatering finish while the oaked Chardonnay had aromas and flavors of toast, buttered popcorn and vanilla.

Flight 3: What does price mean?

For this flight I took two red wines – an inexpensive wine from California and a pricier wine from Bordeaux. Both were made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The goal was for us to discuss why some wines are more expensive than others and to see whether or not we could tell the prices of the wine by tasting them.

Flight 4: Do you know your Ports?

I am always looking for ways to introduce people to dessert and fortified wines. For this flight I compared a ruby Port (an easy-drinking, affordable style) to a Port from the 2000 vintage. Vintage Ports are wines made in years of outstanding quality and they have a lot of aging potential. The idea with this flight was to not only allow people to compare styles, but to see the quality differences between them.

Whether you use my flights or come up with you own, the overall goal of this type of party is to be both educational and fun.  Figure out how you want to “play with your wine” and you too can create an evening that is sure to be memorable.