Wine and cheese are natural companions and planning a party around a wine tasting theme is a great way to learn how certain foods compliment certain wines. It is also a good excuse for gathering a group of people together to uncork a few of your favorite bottles or even to experiment a bit and try something new.
Select what wines to choose by deciding what kind of experience you want your guests to have. Will you stick to old favorites? Will you try to learn about “new” varietals you haven’t tried before? Will you compare specific varietals of old world wines to their new world counterparts? Do you want to introduce your guests to wines they can enjoy socially without the need for food? How many different types will you serve? (The standard is between four and six different wines.)
If you are not an expert in wine varietals and vintages you will want to make a list of all of the things you like and dislike in a wine being sure to be as specific as possible. Once you have decided on your wine and cheese party theme you can take you list to your favorite wine retailer and explain what you like and what you want to accomplish with your tasting and come up with a list to delight the palates of you and your guests.
How much wine to purchase for your party will depend upon how many guests you are inviting. You can get ten to twelve “tastes” from a bottle of wine depending on pour size so you will want to have at least two bottles of each wine for every dozen or so people expected. This way there will be ample enough wine to go around and guests will be able to revisit the wines they liked later.
If you have not tried the wines before the party be sure to find out if any need to be decanted before serving. This is extremely important because if a wine needs to be decanted for an hour you will have to open it well ahead of your guests’ arrival for it to have oxidized appropriately for enjoyment. (Experimenting with oxidation is another good idea for a wine party theme.)
The wine seller can also help you choose the proper order in which for your wines to be arranged for tasting. You will not want to skip back and forth at random as some wines will not compliment each other or may be heavier or more or less refreshing than others. Wine tasting usually begins with bubbles such as Champagne, Cava or Prosecco. Even if you are not including some type of sparkling wine in your tasting lineup it is a good idea to have a few bottles on hand and chilled for your guests to enjoy a glass upon arrival while waiting for the tasting to begin.
Tasting order should be white wines first, then reds, and then dessert wines. You could also finish with a nice sherry or liqueur or even a bit of Pineau de Charentes. Be sure to serve your wines at the proper temperatures for optimum enjoyment. If a wine is too cold it will not offer up any bouquet and will have very little to offer in flavor as well. If a wine is too warm it may feel too acidic or tannic on the tongue. Even red wine varietals could stand a few minutes in the fridge to cool off as room temperature can vary in different parts of the world.
You may have to do a little research in order to choose complimentary cheeses for the wines you have picked for your tasting party. Try to select quality artisan cheeses if possible instead of mass produced cheese that is readily available at the supermarket. Whenever possible, look to cheeses that are from the same regions as the wines you have chosen for your party.
In addition to cheese you should provide your guests with crackers or bread such as a few sliced baguettes so that they can clean their palates in between tasting the different wines you have selected. Cheese is not necessarily a substantial support for wine drinking so consider having a few other food items for your guests such as a green salad and perhaps a bit of pasta. These additional food items will not only keep your guests from becoming tipsy, they will appreciate the opportunity to try the wines you have selected for your party with and without actual food as this can help them plan their own wine and food pairings in the future.
You will also want to have plenty of water on hand both for drinking and for rinsing of glasses. Rinsing a glass with water will insure that a particularly aromatic or pungent wine does not leave any left over influence in the glass to interfere with the experience of the next wine being tasted. It also saves you from having to perform a rinse with the next wine which leaves more in the bottle for drinking.
Even though wine tasting portions are only an ounce or two, if your guests are lightweights they may not wish to actually drink all of the wines being tasted so a dump bucket (or two) might be handy to have on hand. A simple ice bucket will do for this purpose. This could be useful as well if a guest does not care for the taste of a particular wine and wants to pour it out.
Handing out fact sheets or tasting notes will give interested guests background information on the wines being tasted and help them to remember them later should they decide they would like to purchase them. Most tasting notes are available online from the winemakers and your favorite wine retailer can help you with this as well.
If you have decided you want your guests to come away from your wine and cheese party with an increased knowledge of wine you should provide them with a tasting sheet where they can record their impressions of the wine’s color, smell and taste as well as how it paired with the particular cheese you chose for it.
Smell, taste, and appearance are the three key factors in experiencing what wine has to offer. Always have your guests taste their wines in an actual glass that is clear and free of cutwork designs. Plastic cups may save you a lot of dishwashing but they just do not offer the same experience.
Wine tasting can be a delightful adventure for the senses and with a little planning you can throw an awesome wine and cheese party your guests will remember fondly for years into the future.