Wine is the star in group tastings
And if you taste blind (the wine wrapped in a bag) you learn more. It adds to the excitement and fuels the conversation.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port; $22
FROM THE same family-owned vineyards that provide the grapes for Graham's vintage ports, this nonvintage blend emulates the vintage style. Opulent black fruits, aromas of bark and bramble, spice and toffee, make this a delicious, everyday port for sipping with cheese or chocolate. (Distributed by Odom-Southern)
THE TIME and effort required to organize and manage a wine-tasting group may seem daunting. But the rewards make it well worth trying. There's an important difference between drinking wine on your own and tasting wine in a structured group setting. Drinking is for fun, for dinner parties, for nights on the town, when wine plays a valuable supporting role. A group tasting is a different sort of social occasion, where wine is the star of the show and attention is focused on each bottle.
I've been in several groups over the years, and they are as unique as the individuals in them. But certain practices abide and are worth considering when setting up a group of your own.
A dozen people can share each bottle comfortably with generous 2-ounce pours. Remember, you will be spitting. A monthly meeting is frequent enough to keep the ball rolling, and not too often for most schedules. Choose a topic in advance; for example, a specific region, vintage or varietal blend.
Rotate the hosting duties, and when it's your turn, send out an email confirming the date, the topic, the place and time, with an RSVP request. The host may provide some light food, but each group member is responsible for bringing a suitable wine, concealed in a brown bag, and their own glass or glasses. Number the wines randomly. You may pour them one at a time, or in small flights of four or five. Pour, sniff, taste, discuss, vote on favorites and then reveal labels. Fun!
Why taste blind? You learn more. It adds to the excitement and fuels the conversation. The host may toss in a ringer — a wine (hidden among the rest) that is not from the assigned topic, but might fool people.
A recent event added to my appreciation of the power of group tastings. By pooling our money, we were able to acquire a set of vintage Graham's ports. Every declared vintage from 1963 up through 2007 was represented — 14 in all (vintage port is produced on average only three times a decade).
These required very careful decanting, as many of the corks were quite fragile. When all 14 had been opened and poured, the scent in the room was heavenly. After some discussion, we decided to taste the oldest first, a flight of four that included 1963, 1966, 1970 and 1975. In the second flight we poured 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985 and 1991. The third and final flight included 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2007.
The importer kindly sent tasting notes and tech sheets for each wine. But by and large, they spoke for themselves. The first flight's wines were lovely shades of rust and mahogany, the scents ethereal, mixing fruitcake, spices, candied orange peel, toffee and more. My favorite was the 1970, a supple, concentrated wine with much life ahead.
In the middle flight, the classic 1983 won my heart with its aromatic finesse and details of Kahlua, amaro, plum cake and maple syrup. But the chocolaty 1985 and meaty, concentrated 1980 were close behind.
When we reached the last flight, they seemed incredibly young and fruity, even the 1994, already 17 years old. The 2000, another classic vintage, with its luscious mix of fruits, spices and powdered sugar, was irresistible. All in all, it was a magnificent tasting, and a tribute to the power of group purchasing. I hope you will be inspired to join or start a tasting group of your own.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.