How To Throw a Perfect Wine Tasting
Wine Pro David Stansfield shares his insights for hosting a wine tasting that’s both informed and delightfully informal.
The Wine Pro’s Tasting Tips
When David Stansfield isn’t crafting cutting-edge wine programs for top Vancouver restaurants, he’s holding court at Sunday School, his irreverent weekly wine seminar at Vancouver Urban Winery, for whom he works as in-house sommelier. And when he’s not busy with his “work,” he’s coordinating compelling tastings for pros and amateurs alike. Here, he shares his insights on how to host a wine tasting that’s both informed and informal—the perfect pairing.
1. Pick a theme Wine: buy some. Heck, buy lots. However, if you don’t pick a theme, you’re bound to get lost in the great big world of wine. Narrow your focus by picking a region, a grape, a style or a mood. For this tasting, I went with a region (B.C.) and a mood (summer wine). (See below for a few possibilities.)
2. Explore different styles within your theme The differences and similarities between the wines will provide the most exciting moments of discovery. You may be forced to try things you think you don’t like, but that’s sort of the point. You may just find your new best wine friend.
3. Four to six wines is just right We taste 10 wines in a sitting at Sunday School but we do so under the supervision of trained professionals. At home, four to six wines is just the right number. Enough to show variety and contrast, but not so much that you become distracted.
4. Don’t sweat the glassware While I don’t advise passing the bottle around for communal swigs, I also don’t think you need to worry about setting up each wine with its own glass as we would in a professional setting. One glass per person is perfect.
5. Taste as a team This one’s tough to pull off, but vital. Try each new wine as a group. This is how you learn, by drinking and then talking about drinking. Once you’ve tasted through all the wines, feel free to throw the bottles onto a communal table and see which bottles empty first as people go back to their favourites.
6. Don’t overthink it This is a wine party, emphasis on “wine” and “party.” It’s a way for friends to get together and discover new wines they want to drink, not dissect. Don’t be the guy who writes a sonnet about each sip. With each wine, simply take a moment to become aware of what’s in your glass. How does it smell? How does it taste? And—most importantly—what do you think? Now drink and be merry.
7. Advanced: blind tasting Blind tastings can be very cool but are a lot more work. They require more preparation and discipline than I’m generally good for at a party. Try them in a more controlled sit-down setting, not on a rooftop at sundown in Vancouver.
8. Have fun! Truly, this is number one.
The Wine Tasting Basics
1. Serve whites, then reds, and serve from lightest (pinot grigio) to darkest (Aussie shiraz or California zinfandel). Pink goes right in the middle.
2. Keep pitchers of water and rinse buckets handy so people can give glasses a quick rinse between wines if they want (especially when moving from white to red).
3. When tasting, sip the wine on its own first; follow with a sip paired with food to help you discover how the flavours change in the wine.
4. If possible, host the tasting away from the kitchen to avoid too many smells competing with the wine’s aroma.
5. A white tablecloth (or even white paper) aids in getting a handle on the colour of the wine.
6. Look at the colour, sniff the wine, then sip it and swirl it in whatever manner works for you. Repeat.
7. Cheeses and charcuterie are classic pairing foods. Trickiest foods to pair wine with? Artichoke, cabbage and asparagus.
Perfect Tasting Themes
Verdicchio, soave, arneis, greco di tufo, vermentino
Emerging Wine Regions
Greece, Israel, Arizona, Mexico, England
Champagne, Prosecco, crémant d’Alsace, Spanish cava, Okanagan sparkling
Pinot noir, gamay, Chinon, zweigelt, Valpolicella