Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wine Tasting 101: Ideas and Games for your Wine Tasting Party

The Art of Wine Tasting

A wine tasting is the perfect party to have a couple of games ready to play. Some should of course be educational (after all, the guest are learning about wine!), and some can just be plain fun! Here are some ideas and games for your Wine Tasting Party.

Wine Tasting 101: Using the Senses and Wine Tasting Terminology
Enjoying and understanding wine is all about using your senses - sight, smell, taste and touch. Although this is a party, a little education on terminology and tips on how to evaluate wine can be very useful. Here's some summarized information I gleaned from the book, The Wine Experience by GĂ©rard Basset.
1. Sight - How a wine looks even before it is smelled or tasted is very important in the evaluation process. Here are categories to gauge how a wine looks:
  • Clarity - Is the wine clear, cloudy, opaque?
  • Brilliance - Is the wine bright, sparkly, or dull?
  • Color - Hue: For instance, in a white wine is the hue yellow, greenish yellow, brownish yellow? Variation: Does the color vary when tilted to the side of the glass? Intensity: Is the color intense?
  • Consistency - Fluidity/Viscosity: What is the fluidity or viscosity of the wine? This is when folks swirl the glass, and look for "legs".
2. Smell - The classic wine tasters swirl of his glass is not just for show. There is rhyme and reason for doing this! Swirl your wine carefully in the glass and then take one, two or three large sniffs before evaluating. Now use these categories to rate the smell:
  • Condition - In this category, you determine wether or not the wine is drinkable. Is it corked or still fresh?
  • Intensity - Intensity is the measurement of the smell strength. It can range from: close, weak, moderately open, open, powerful, to extremely powerful.
  • Character - This is where you describe the family of smells (i.e., fruit, floral, animal, mineral, plant, etc.) Be sure to see the other wine tasting game ideas below to help in this category.
3. Taste/Palette or Touch - Of course, this is the best part, right? It's amazing how much we can actually determine from a wine by tasting it. This section will challenge even the most sensitive folks-- here are the many categories for evaluating a wines taste/palette
  • Sugar - What is the sweetness level of the wine: bone dry, dry, off dry, medium dry, medium sweet, sweet, or very sweet.
  • Acidity - What is the acidity level? Acidity in a wine creates a fresh, crisp feeling on the tongue. Is the level low, moderate, reasonable, marked, or high?
  • Alcohol - Alcohol adds a slightly sweet taste to a wine and when it is at higher levels, it gives a warm almost burning feeling. Alcohol levels range from: low, moderate noticeable to high.
  • Tannin - Tannin is mostly in red wines, and it produces a puckering or drying effect on the palate. It can be weak, soft, smooth, firm or rough.
  • Carbon Dioxide - All wines have some level of Carbon Dioxide in them. It produces a similar taste to acidity. Some words for wines with higher levels of Carbon Dioxide are refreshing, zesty, prickly.
  • Body - A wine with body gives the feeling of weight in the mouth. The levels range from think, light, middleweight, full-bodied, to heavy.
  • Structure/Texture - This is a combination of the wine's body and texture. It ranges from coarse, solid, tight, juicy, supple, round to flat.
  • Flavors - The flavor should be the confirmation of what the nose smelled.
  • Balance - Just like the word's definition, balance is when a wine has harmony between all the elements mentioned here. Is it one sided on one element, or well rounded?
  • Length - This seems to be a very esoteric judgement, but I'm sure many wine gurus can help define this description!

Work that Nose! - A Smelling Game
Once while indulging in a wine tasting weekend in Sonoma, we happened upon a winery with a great tool for helping with wine tasting. They had several jars set out filled with items that contain flavors typically found in wines. It was really helpful to smell each jar separately and "refresh" my memory of these odors. It was very helpful too when tasting the wine to give some vocabulary to describe what was tasted and/or smelled. Here are some everyday items you can place in glass Ball jars (with lids) for folks to smell at will!
  • Honey
  • Lavender sprigs
  • Fresh cut herbs
  • Vanilla Beans
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Vinegar
  • Oak Bark/Wood
  • Maple Syrup
  • Fresh Dirt
  • Dried cranberries
  • Black Licorice
  • Dirty socks!

It's All About the Descriptive Words
It's amazing what words some come up with to describe a wine! One may mistake the description for an online dating ad! Here are some useful links to descriptive words for wine that you can print out and have around for guests to use.

To have fun at the party, have each guest pick one of their favorite wines and write up a description of it. The funnier, or more descriptive adjectives, the better! Once complete, have each person read their description and folks can decide which wine they wrote about.

Guess that Wine - Sorting through Marketing Hype with a Blind Tasting
Blind tastings are always fun. Depending on your guests' wine sophistication, you can either provide no hints to what they are tasting, or provide hint. You may specify the variety, or regions, or years... but another fun hint mechanism is to hand out a list of the wines description as written by the vintners Marketing team. This may be found on the back of the wine label, or on the wine/vintner's website. It can be amusing to see how accurate everyone thinks the descriptions are, and/or what is thought to be just marketing or advertising hype!