Wine Tasting Parties

One of my "jobs" as the Founder/President, and Sommelier for the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiasts Club is putting together the monthly tastings. One of the most common questions I get is, "How do you figure out what to buy for the tasting?". I thought I might give you some insight into how I go about picking the wines, the quantity, and also keeping the tastings relevant, and new.

The Arrowhead Wine Enthusiasts (AWE) is mostly a social organization built around wine and food. We have an average attendance of about 40 people per tasting, but have many people following our club on Facebook,, and of course, The Sommelier Update. While we are a social group, I do pick wines, regions, and varietals that help grow our members' appreciation of wine. Each meeting includes education (for those that are interested) on the wines served, and guidance in tasting and food pairing.

The first step in determining what wines to buy, is to know your group. I know that our group tends to lean towards red wines over white. They tend to shy away from overly sweet wines. They are "so-so" on Sparkling and Rose wines. They like to experiment with new varietals, but also like to compare them to the standard varietals they drink most of the time. Keeping this in mind, I typically buy twice as much red wine as white. I usually serve two white wines, and three red wines, or I might do one rose and two reds and two whites. When I do sparkling, I do all sparkling, but a mix of different styles. When it comes to quantity, the first thing to determine is how long your tasting is going to go. Our tastings typically run about two hours, so with forty people, that means I'll need about 23 bottles of wine (usually 4 bottles of each white, and 5 bottles of each red). I will usually have a little leftover (better than running out), which we auction off to the highest bidder, at the end of the tasting. On nights where we meet in restaurants, the tasting only goes a little over an hour, and we encourage people to stay for dinner. On those nights, I cut back and buy one bottle less of each. I should point out that we have measured pour spouts on each of the bottles to control the pours and slow down the drinking, and really encourage tasting. Typically no spit bucket.

As for the wines I pick...many times, the host will determine a theme they would like to do. For example, France, or Australia. Sometimes, it gets more specific. We recently did California wines from the Sierra Foothills (a real challenge to find five good examples, since most of these are small production wineries, and limited distribution...but I was able to find five good examples, after going to four different wine stores). When we do have a theme, I try to find classic examples for that country, or region. I have three to four different wine shops that I think have very good variety, and very good prices (The Wine Club, The Wine Exchange, and Hi-Times...all in Southern California, and with internet sites). If the theme is a large region like France, then I try to give a tour of France. For example, I might visit Burgundy, Bordeaux, Loire, Rhone, Alsace, or I might throw in some examples from lesser known regions like Cahors, Savoie, Provence, or the Langeudoc. Again, I try to find classic examples for those appellations. I feel that I can throw in some more unusual varietals if I have some more familiar wines. For example, most are familiar with merlot. If I have a right bank Bordeaux, and red Burgundy (Pinot Noir), and can add something a little different, like a Jura (Savagnin grape - yes that is spelled is not the same as a Sauvignon). This way, the participants try what they are familiar with, but also get to try something they probably have never tried (or for that matter, heard of). Since most of the wine shops I buy from have websites, I create a "wish-list" of wines for my tasting, and arrive at the stores and start looking. The best stores know me when I walk in, and always ask what this meetings' theme is. I share my wish list, and give them my ideas, and always seek their advice on what they have tried lately that might be a hot buy. I am rarely steered in the wrong direction.

Also, when I purchase wines, I try to make sure I have a nice progression, and different flavors. For example, with white wines, I try to make sure I have one lighter, and one that is a bit more full body, or I might have something that is more fruity to compare with the second wine which might be barrel fermented. I always try to have a progression, and set the wines up from left to right. As they progress through the tasting, I encourage them to taste the wines with different foods, and see how they work, or don't work with certain things.

Hopefully this will give you a level of comfort in creating your own wine tasting parties. Use my food paring tips in some of the previous blog posts, to encourage your guests to bring matching appetizers, entrees and desserts....and have fun. Wine shouldn't be pretentious. It is social, it is fun, and it is there to be explored. If you ever need some ideas, or help, feel free to contact me here. My passion is to help you enjoy the world of wine as much as I do.

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