How to Host Your First Wine Tasting: Choosing The Right Wines

domaine-chandon-sparkling-winePreparing for your first wine tasting event can be stressful, particularly when trying to ensure that you have the right combination of wines in place for guests.

It’s a good idea to have a progression of wines, generally something seasonally appropriate that won’t overwhelm the taste buds of guests. The right combination of wines for a tasting event can also be combined with the correct foods, with water and plain, low to no salt crackers should be available for those that want to cleanse the palate. The ideal progression would be to move from sparkling wines, to whites, and then to reds, before finishing with sweet, or dessert wines.

Sparkling Wines
In terms of sparkling wines, some of the best choices include Prosecco and Cava, which can be a good alternative to Champagne. These options from Italy and Spain can be much more affordable, and an easier entry level for less experienced wine drinkers. I’ve found that, even with somewhat drier Champagnes, you can still risk overwhelming guests at the start of an event. Wines such as Prosecco Zardetto and Moet can also be a good idea for launching an event, and may be combined with lighter snacks such as biscuit crackers and mild cheeses, like gouda, brie, or mild sheep’s milk cheddar. It’s similarly worth noting that there are now many great sparkling wines being produced in Southern counties of the United Kingdom.

White Wines
The staple of most wine tasting events, good white wines can really make your event stand out. Some good ideas to go for include Chilean Sauvignon Blancs, which have a herbal and grassy appeal, as well as New Zealand wines like Clos Henris. Chardonnay can similarly be a sound choice if you want serve more tropical, slightly sweeter whites.

In the dry white wine category, Alsace Rieslings such as Domaine Weinbach are much lower in sugar than their California counterparts, and Pinot Gris varietals are a reliable go to for a dry white wine. Although much of California’s wine production has turned sweeter (in part because of the US preference for soft drinks and fast foods), areas like Oregon or Washington are are starting to produce high quality American Chardonnay that can be a strong choice. Chablis and Chenin Blanc are also great varietals starting to make a come back. Picpoul grapes are found in many blends out of the Paso Robles region, and make for a fantastic Rhône-like experience. Just make sure you find a vintage that can complement sparkling wines and reds.

Napa Valley Wines

Red Wines
You have a lot of choices to make when it comes to red wines for events; Sardinian red wine is one option, with Cannonau di Sardegna from the west coast of Central Italy being a good choice, if you want a wine that’s likely to be appreciate for its dry, complex taste. Full bodied red wines are very food friendly, and go with many main dishes that you might like to serve after the event. Argentinian red wines can be a strong choice for this approach, and you can combine dry reds such as Barbera and Piedmont vintages with fish and different cheeses.

Sweet Wines
How much you choose to focus on dessert wines at your event is up to you – it may be the case that you don’t want an overly sweet wine to end an event, especially if you’ve been tasting a lot of different vintages.

Madeira is a good choice if you want coffee and caramel flavors to taste, while raisin-like wines such as Passito are recommended if you want something lighter. Sweeter Rieslings are strong options, as well as Sauternes and Muscats, if you do want to go for a distinctive taste to finish off your event.

When organizing your first wine tasting event, it’s important to decide whether you want to blind test through vertical approaches, which can involve vintages, through to horizontal comparisons of different years. You should also consider whether you want to focus on a particular country, or whether you want to add in some more unusual wines from around the world.

Guest Author Bio:

Patrick Hegarty is a food and wine writer who regularly contributes to a range of food and drink websites and blogs. He has found that a decent sparkling wine is a great way to begin a wine tasting event.

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