A great way to learn about wine is to stage a wine tasting party next time you and friends get together. I recommend concentrating on one varietal or type such as Chardonnay or Merlot so as not to confuse your palette. Have everyone bring a favorite bottle then put them in brown paper bags to cover the label and identify them only with a number or letter. It’s a good idea to limit the tasting to no more than 6 wines.
Pour them out (you can usually rent extra wineglasses locally at a party supply store at a decent price). Use a grease pencil or small stick-on label to mark each glass with the corresponding letter or number so that you minimize any chance of confusion. Be sure to pour each glass no more than 1/3 full to allow each taster plenty of room to swirl and swish the wine to develop its aroma. Provide each taster with a simple score sheet so that they can individually note what they like about each wine then have them rank the wines in order of preference. Do this part quietly and individually and after everyone has finished their own ranking, have one of the group total them up. Once the group ranking is known, individually reveal each wine from the bottom to the top of the ranking, discussing them as you go along (be sure to have some plain French bread and maybe a simple cheese on hand to help clear the palette as you taste thru each wine).
You’ll find it’s a lot of fun and a great way to discover new wines that you might not have tried before. Like food, preferences in wine are very individual so there really is no right or wrong answer (if you have a “wine geek” or “cork dork” or wine “expert” in your group, be sure to remind them of that before starting!).
The one additional thing you can do to make the experience even more instructive is to have someone do a little research on the varietal that you’re tasting to briefly report on its history, geographic location, etc. Two of the very best resource books for this purpose are the Oxford Companion to Wine edited by Jancis Robinson and Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible. Both are available thru bookstores and of course on-line.They are wonderful references to have at home if you think you want to know more about wine.
About the Author
Many refer to Chef John Ash as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine”. In 1980 he opened his namesake restaurant, John Ash & Company, in Santa Rosa, CA. It was the first restaurant in Northern California wine country to focus on local, seasonal ingredients in the quest to create dishes that complemented the wines being made in the region.