One of the great pleasures of being a wine fan is the company you keep. My wine-tasting buddies are some of my best pals.
If nothing else, we give the lie to the idea that wine fans are snooty or snobbish — especially after a few glasses. To me, wine tasting parties are lots more fun than book clubs. And you can really learn a lot about wine.
Let me try to share the fun. Let’s throw a Brown Bag Wine Tasting Party. Here are some tips.
▪ First, choose a theme. Maybe Italian reds or German whites or California roses. Set a price range. It can be whatever you and your friends want, although I’d suggest at least $10-$15 so you’re not drinking mass-produced jug wines.
▪ Ask each guest to bring a bottle concealed in a brown paper bag or gift bag with their name on it.
▪ Ask them to Google the website of their wine so they can give a three- to four-minute talk about it, always without revealing the name or grape.
▪ Buy plenty of inexpensive plastic glasses from the supermarket. Get the six-inch-tall ones so you can swirl the wine. Hint: Some wine shops will rent you real wine glasses; it’s a nice touch.
▪ You can supply Sharpie ink pens so each taster can write the number of each wine on each of his or her glasses.
▪ Also, supply small notebooks and pencils so tasters can take notes. There’s no point to this if the next morning comes and you can’t remember which wine you liked best. After a few parties like this you can have a nice repertoire of wines you like for future entertaining.
▪ Pour all of the wines. Give generous portions, still leaving room to swirl the wine. This coats the inside of the glasses and brings out more of the aroma.
▪ Taking turns, have each guest give that little talk. Tell the general area where the wine is from, a bit of its history, maybe what foods it goes with.
▪ Swirl the wine, then take a long sniff. Write down your idea of its aroma. Don’t worry, this is all totally subjective. Then take a sip, roll the wine around in the mouth for a while, breathing out through the nose.
▪ Finally, swallow or spit. This might depend on how many wines you’re serving. Write down the wine’s flavor — raspberries, black cherries, bitter chocolate and such for the reds, peaches, lemons or vanilla and such for the whites.
▪ Take another sip, gurgle again and swallow or spit. Write down the wine’s finish, or aftertaste that lingers after you swallow, noting how long the flavor stays on your palate.
▪ Now take turns describing what you smelled, what you tasted, how you liked it. After enough parties you might start to guess the grape, the region (if it’s Italy, is it Tuscany or Piedmont or Umbria?) even the producer. This takes a while, but the homework is pleasant.
▪ Finally, tear off the bag, write down the name and move on to the next. Then plan the next tasting. Is tomorrow too soon?
▪ Now, since I hate to close without some wine tasting notes, here are some wine tasting notes.
▪ 2012 DaVinci Chianti Riserva DOCG, Italy (sangiovese): deep red hue, aromas and flavors of black plums, black cherries and black pepper, soft tannins; $23.
▪ 2015 13Celsius Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand: light, crisp and lively, aromas and flavors of white grapefruit and minerals; $17.
▪ 2013 Clayhouse Cabernet Sauvignon, “Red Cedar Vineyard,” Paso Robles, California: dark purple hue, hint of cedar, aromas and flavors of black cherries and anise, full bodied, ripe tannins; $14.
▪ 2014 Murphy-Goode “The Fume” Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast, California: orange-blossom aromas, flavors of lemons, limes and peaches, crisp; $14.