Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 3 January 27, 2016 – The Wine Tasting Party

If you have never hosted a wine tasting party, consider doing so, you will have lots of fun, and you will usually find at least a couple of good new wines to add to your list of favorites.

The ideal size is 8 to 10 people, or 4 to 5 couples. Each person brings a bottle of wine from a preselected list put together by the host or hostess. Any more or less people means there is either too much or too little wine per person per bottle. Everyone wants a good taste from each bottle, usually 2.5 – 3 ounces per person, which is exactly what 8-10 people get from a 750 ml (26 ounce) bottle.

As the host of the evening you will need a good corkscrew, wine glasses, baguettes or crackers with mild cheese or other finger food, pens and writing paper for everyone, a jug of water to rinse glasses between wines, and an empty jug for the rinse water. You will need to decide on an average price per bottle of wine (I suggest $20, but this could just as easily be $15 or $25). So everyone is expected to pay for one bottle of wine. As host you can now visit the local liquor store and select 8-10 wines for your guests to purchase, averaging $20 per bottle. I suggest a theme evening such as Bordeaux red, or Australian dry whites, California reds, etc. You can choose to either assign one wine to each person and have them all go to the liquor store individually, or you can buy all the wines yourself and charge everyone $20 at the door. Don’t worry about feeling tacky by collecting $20 from everyone upon arrival, they will have a good time, and you have saved them the effort of a special trip to the local liquor store.

Do not select your wines from the specialty section of your local wine shop, select wines that will be available at all local wine stores, even if you are buying all the wine for everyone. You want the wines to be widely available so that your guests can find more of that great wine they tasted at your party at their own local liquor store. When selecting your list of wines, try whenever possible to include one “ringer” or wine from another region, just to spark conversation and controversy.

Serve up one wine at a time, serve it blind (I suggest the label be concealed to remove any bias a guest may have towards a label they know and either like or dislike). Ask everyone to taste then write notes as to whether or not they liked the wine and why, and have them give it a rating on a 1-10 scale. Ask everyone in turn to give their comments and rating on the wine just tasted before proceeding with the next wine. This may sound much too formal and stuffy for a party, but just watch what happens next. On the first wine everyone makes notes and honestly rates the wine, in discussion you quickly realize some people have completely different likes and dislikes. After the discussion is over on that wine, the host reveals the label and price, those who liked the wine will note the name for future purchase. Keep the notes and discussion short, you want to manage your time carefully, you do not want to spend 30 minutes on each wine, otherwise a 10 wine evening will take 5 hours, 15 minutes per wine is your target.

Someone always wants to be the clown, so he decides by the 3rd wine to get extreme in his evaluations, and this gets everyone else going. By the time you get half way through the lineup, the notes become more abrupt, and the discussion becomes more animated, a lot more animated. By the time you get to the last 2 wines almost no one is writing notes, but they make up for it by having lots more to say. Make sure people go home with their notes and before they leave ask them to recap which wines were their favorites and which ones they would buy again for themselves. That will tell you how successful the evening has been, always satisfying for the host to know.

By the end of the evening everyone has tasted up to 10 wines, and everyone has at least 2 or 3 new wines they liked enough to buy again. Also, and just as important, you have 7 or 8 others that you have tasted and would not buy again. If 5 couples each took turns hosting one wine tasting party and the wines are not duplicated, you will have tasted 50 different wines. If a different wine region is featured at each of the 5 parties, you can very quickly acquire a solid tasting background on several different regions. This can be very useful to you in gaining tasting experience in wine regions you do not know very well.

Some regional theme suggestions as follows:

Bordeaux red / Bordeaux white (dry) / Bordeaux white (sweet)

Burgundy red / Burgundy white

Italian red / Italian white / Barolo and Barbaresco

Cote du Rhone red / Cote du Rhone white

California red / California white

Australia and New Zealand red / Australia and New Zealand white

Spain and Portugal red / Spain and Portugal white

Alsace and German whites

Miscellaneous others

You can also consider doing an all red tasting of reds from many different countries, or all all white tasting the same way. You can do a tasting focusing on one grape type, such as a Syrah/Shiraz tasting, or an all dessert wine tasting. The options are numerous.

When planning your wine lineup you should always ask your wine store for help with your selection, their wine expert will have tasted most of the wines already and he will know which ones will be in stock in future and which ones are end of line.  This is a great way to taste many wines from different regions, to fine tune which ones you like, and which ones you do not. This can also give you a lot of information on many wines that you will often encounter on your local restaurant wine lists. And you will enjoy the learning experience with your tasting guests.

Go for it! And if you have any questions just ask me. I will also be posting blogs of some of our own wine tasting parties starting soon, so keep an eye on this site,  Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 2 January 23, 2016, Addendum to Post # 1, ratings

A couple of readers noted that I had failed to rate the wines I reviewed in my first post, my apologies. So please find below my ratings of those great wines tasted, and both storage and purchase recommendations:

Blog Pics the great 4

  1. 1985 Chevalier Montrachet, Jean Chartron – tasted August 2015, rating 89 points on a 100 point scale. Very good but no longer great, it has started to decline. If you still own this wine, drink up before it leaves you behind. You cannot safely buy this wine now, it may no longer be good.
  2. 1952 Chateau Latour – tasted August 2015, rating 90 points. This wine is soft and delicate, still quite pleasant to drink. If you still own this wine, drink now and over the next 2 years. You might get lucky and find the wine still drinks well 5 years from now, but that will depend on how long you have owned it and how well you have stored it. If this wine was available for purchase at auction I would not buy it, that would be too risky.
  3. 1978 Chateau Lafite – tasted August 2015, rating 94 points. This wine is full of life and will deliver a great drinking experience for another 10 years easily. If you want to purchase this wine at auction or privately you can be confident that the wine should still be great, provided it has been properly kept. You will see this wine for sale between $600 and $1,000 CDN, obviously at $600 this wine is a bargain compared to the price of new releases.
  4.  1971 Chateau Y’Quem – tasted August 2015, rating 92 points. The bottle I tasted had a mid shoulder fill and the wine itself was slightly oxidized as a result. The wine was still excellent and showing no other signs of decline, no doubt this vintage will last another 10 years plus easily. Although you could purchase this wine at auction for $1,000 CDN or less, my suggestion would be to purchase the 1975 vintage at a similar price, or buy the 1983 or 1986 vintage at a lower price in the $600 to $750 range.

Buying an older wine at auction can be risky, and this will be the subject of a future post I will make. For now my advice if you cannot attend the auction in person to inspect the bottle personally would be to get as much detail about the wine’s provenance from the auctioneers. You want to know how long the current owner has owned the wine and how well the wine has been kept, in other words are the auctioneers familiar with the seller, have they had previous good experiences dealing with that seller. Avoid buying a wine that has changed hands too often.

Cheers, Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Blog # 1 November 2015 – Great Wines I Have Known

Planning a special evening and a special dinner around a great wine can be complicated. Doing the same with four such wines in the same evening is an even greater challenge. There are so many variables to take into consideration ranging from “will the wine be good” to “what food will compliment the wine best” to “having a suitable backup wine if needed”.

My wife and I recently hosted a dinner for four where the other couple are good friends of ours who know and appreciate fine wine (always important when you go to open a bottle of your best), and they had recently done me a huge favour for which this dinner was to show our gratitude. We had also recently moved and I needed to find a special occasion in order to open some of our older bottles which showed signs of aging.

I selected a bottle of 1985 Chevalier Montrachet by Jean Chartron, a 1952 Chateau Latour, a 1978 Chateau Lafite, and a 1971 Chateau Y’Quem, to be consumed in that order with an entrée, main course and dessert. The Lafite was meant to be a backup in case the Latour was a disappointment. I had a feeling the Montrachet would be tired and dried out, as might be the Latour, since 1952 was  generally a poor year in Bordeaux except for Chateau Latour. The Y’Quem had oxidized, the colour being brown/orange, the bottle fill being only mid shoulder and the cork showing signs of recent seepage. So the evening’s lineup was full of risk with lots of ways that we could have more than one disappointment. It also meant that I had to have more than one backup plan, and that the dinner menu would have to be carefully constructed.

We decided to start the evening with an assortment of paté and a double smoked cheese, accompanied by a very simple and plain 2012 Oyster Bay Chardonnay. That allowed our guests to get comfortable and the all important socializing and “catching up” to take place before the main event was to start. As an entrée my wife served up pan fried scallops on a bed of kale in a lemon dressing. The tart lemon dressing was meant to offset and minimize any sharp or flat weakness in the old Montrachet. The wine was very interesting, it definitely was on its last legs, it had a woody tinge to it that is typical of a once majestic, but now over the hill old Chardonnay. But this was still balanced, and had enough fruit on the palate to be tired but still very pleasant. As the wine warmed up in the glass it improved, and more fruit emerged. Unlike many older wines the nose and palate did not fall apart after 10 or 15 minutes. The food combined very well with the wine, and the tart lemon enhanced the flavours of the wine on the palate. This was both a surprise and a success.

1985 Chevalier Montrachet Domaine Jean Chartron

As we finished the last of the Montrachet I barbequed our filet mignon that my wife had marinated in a thick basil vinaigrette dressing, while my wife tended to the vegetables, very simple boiled baby potatoes and carrots served in a butter sauce. Opening the 1952 Latour was not easy, the cork was disintegrating, even as I delicately used my “Ah-So” two pronged cork remover (this is a necessity for older wines as many corks do not age as well as the wine).

Blog Pics Ah So cork remover

The all important first taste told me the wine was still very good, what a relief. With a medium rare filet mignon topped by a bearnaise sauce, and the boiled baby potatoes and carrots in a light butter sauce, this was a perfect fit with our 52 Latour. The wine was soft and delicate, round but still carrying lots of fruit. There was nothing on the dinner plate to compete with the subtle fruit flavours in the Latour so the combined effect was very complimentary to the wine. Our guests were blown away with the food/wine combination.

Chateau Latour 1952

As we lingered on the last of that wonderful Latour, I debated in my mind whether we should open the 78 Lafite or proceed immediately to dessert, after all the Lafite was there primarily as a backup in case the Latour was a failure. I opted to open it, and boy was that a great decision. In my view the Lafite was the biggest success of the evening. This was a full bodied wine, lots of spicy cedar on the nose and palate, a huge lingering cedar aftertaste and not a hint of fatigue anywhere. This wine will still carry another 10 to 15 years in the bottle without losing a beat, so anyone who thinks the 1978 vintage for Pauillac wines is past its prime (as some wine critics are prone to say) should taste the Lafite. I consider myself fortunate to have another two bottles left in my cellar.

Blog Pic Lafite Rothchild 1978

There was no food to consume while we enjoyed our Lafite, so this allowed us to focus all our attention on the wine. Although it was not planned that way, this worked out very well. We were all mesmerized by the sheer power of this wine, the robust cedar flavours, full bodied palate and aftertaste. Every taste brought new pleasure, and our guests commented “Oh my God, this wine is fabulous” and “I have never tasted anything this good”. Perhaps that was a little exaggerated, or maybe it was the ambiance of the moment, but it really was a special moment in time we will all remember.

Alas it was time for dessert, so we served up a chocolate cake with plenty of icing and chocolate while I uncorked the 71 Y’Quem. The first sip told me this wine was like licorice, an orange blossom fruit bomb with plenty of caramel, slightly oxidized but heavenly nonetheless. The initial flavours gave way to an avalanche of secondary fruit flavours, peach, apricot, mango, melons and more. The wine was sweeter than the poor chocolate cake, completely overpowering it, but then again it is hard to imagine anything that could rival the flavours the Y’Quem was giving off. 1971 was not considered a great year for Sauternes or Chateau Y`Quem, and this bottle itself was not in the best of condition, but it was a total success anyways.

Blog Pics 1971 Chateau Y'Quem

We were stunned, and completely blown away with the sum total of these four memorable wines. And I was quietly breathing a sigh of relief that all had gone off without a hitch. When I look back on the magic of that evening I am amazed at how many things could have gone wrong. But the point is simply that nothing did go wrong. A little bit of careful planning, a lot of tender loving care storing our treasured wine gems, good friends to share that special moment in time, some luck and good fortune, and we all have a memory that will stay with us forever and always bring a smile when reflected upon.

Blog Pics the great 4

 

Good wine, good food, and good friends all combined that night to create great memories. I have many other wine memories and given time I will gladly share these with you. Reg.