How to Host a (New York) Winetasting Party

Want to host a winetasting party? Well, it’s pretty easy!  This weekend, I did so here in New York, and it was a great success. Winetasting is not reserved for elite sommeliers. Even us amateurs can have a go. Everyone has an opinion on wine and those are all valid, so try it! Here is how we amateurs organized our own winetasting in New York (needless to say, what’s described here won’t be your most sophisticated event, but it sure is fun).winetasting the twenty-something way

One attraction for us in the winetasting was that we chose to taste and rate one of my father’s homemade wines alongside commercial bottles of the same variety. If you know a home-winemaker, try this with their wine.

1. Chose your wine variety

This wine tasting was for Malbec wine. I wanted to try a red wine that was popular (so we can easily find it), but not too well-known (so as to not be too boring). We tasted my father’s 2012 Malbec. Quick overview of what Malbec is (as explained by my father):

Malbec is a small, black-skinned grape variety native to the Cahors region of southern France, but today it is much better known as the most popular wine grape of Argentina. Malbec wine tends to be rich, ripe, jammy and juicy, and is generally aged in oak to enhance its structure and aging potential. The cooler climate French Malbec has more of a black cherry flavor, while the warmer climate Argentina Malbec has more of a blackberry flavor.

IMG_46303. Allow every guest to bring their own bottle of the specific wine variety chosen

One part of the wine tasting experience is the thrill of being able to chose your wine at the shop and (proudly) claim that you bought that specific bottle evaluated in this specific way. When you invite 9 people to a wine tasting dinner party, expect to allow each person to bring a bottle to taste. It is only fair to let each person directly input into the experience they are about to enjoy.

However, this means that your experience will be lengthy and, in our case, very drunken. The price to pay!

(I bet you can configure a way to reduce the bottles to try by negotiating with some people. In our case, we let the couples jointly choose and bring one bottle, reducing our number of bottles to 7 total).

Remember, it is good to have lots of variety in price and wines from different shops – makes it more fun with the diversity.

4. Disguise the wine bottles

Remember, this was a blind test, meaning that we were evaluating and comparing wines without trying to be influenced by knowing the maker. How we disguised wines was using The New York Times. Wrap each bottle, try not to remember which bottle you were handling, and then each bottle is referred to by that particular section of the Newspaper.

We had seven bottles to try, respectively identified as: In Transit, Calvary, Fork, November, Sailing, Kayak, Paris


Taping newspapers around the bottles. V. sophisticated way to disguise the bottles.

5. Have the proper wine evaluation supplies (paper and pens and glasses)

This was a basic winetasting by twenty-something amateurs in New York, so there was not much sophistication  in our supplies. We passed around pens and envelopes (I don’t have much paper in my apartment and did not really prep for that).

IMG_4726Glasses was another conundrum. We had mostly enough wine glasses, though not all were standard “red wine” glasses (we did use some white wine glasses *gasp*) and one was stemless. But we did not have many glasses left over to drink water (also essential when trying 8 bottles and not spitting). So mugs, cognac glasses  and Bodum cups were passed around.

Who really wants to attend a perfect winetasting where everyone has enough of the appropriate and standardized glassware for imbibing and staying hydrated anyways?

IMG_46996. Commence the tasting

Now you start the tasting and evaluation.

We tried each wine in random order, starting with In Transit.

Don’t pour too much! Without remembering that we were wine tasting seven different wines, the first poured glass was pretty sizeable for everyone and we basically finished off our first bottle right then.

Without having a “spit bucket”, this is not the way you should try eight different wines, prior to having dinner. So pour small amounts, enough to get an idea of the wine and become a bit familiar.


“In Transit” bottle

Don’t reveal your thoughts on the bottle to your ‘wining’ compatriots, lest you interfere with their experience and influence their opinion. Write down on your paper (in our case, the back of an envelope) your thoughts on the wine. You can write about anything, really. IMG_4696Classic winetasting forms will have evaluation sections for appearance of the wine, the aroma (bouquet/smell), flavor and overall impression, often with corresponding numbered scores.

E.G. Appearance of the wine: “Consider clarity, brilliance and appropriateness of color. Downgrade for haze or opacity. Tip the glass and observe the wine’s color at its edge against a white background (piece of paper); for both reds and whites, a brownish tint on the edge is a sign of oxidation, which is bad. If you have a sparkling wine, consider persistence of the bubbles and pinpoint size; smaller bubbles are signs of better quality than larger bubbles.”

We reviewed a proper evaluation form prior to starting, but in getting down to it, we did not refer to the criteria much. Everyone’s evaluation form differed greatly.

IMG_4690I used smiley faces for the wines I pretty much liked, a check for the great ones and a frown face for the ones I did not prefer. Everyone had their own way of remembering their favorites and least-liked. And each person had different (unique) ways of describing them, some of which include:

In Transit”: slightly acidic, maybe sour. “Calvary“: Very Catholic. Smooth. I like it; “Kayak”: intense smell, not very full of taste; “Sailing”: rough, but on second thought, not so bad!; “Fork”: I like this one!; “November”: I like this one too! smooth!; “Paris”: Strong. Acidic.

In Transit“: Easter (3/6); “Calvary”: Presidents Day (2/6); “Kayak”: Halloween (3/6); “Sailing”: Labor Day (4/6); “Fork”: April Fools Day (1/6); “Paris”: Valentines Day (4/6)

“In Transit“: immediate bleu cheese notes, full-bodied, tart, yum, 4th sip- I’m in transit (1); “Calvary”: I’m bored. Not good. Stale. Next!! (7); “Kayak”: Umm between In Transit and Calvary. #boring (5); “Sailing”: Ugh this is just like Calvary. Snoozefest. I guess it gets the job done (6). “Fork”: Ohhh, fork! Hi! You are a nice surprise! (3); “November”: Oh (Expletive) you’re good, but I don’t know how good…; “Paris”: omg starting and ending with bleu cheese. (Expletive) Are you better than ‘In transit’?

In Transit” : Tastes like the movie Reality Bites; “Calvary”: Tastes like Sleepless in Seattle (unexpectedly good); “November”: Tastes like When Harry Met Sally; “Fork”: Tastes like The Breakup

“In Transit“: tastes dry and slightly oaky, like a grandfather’s pipe, kind of acidic. Not too excited about it, I don’t think; “Calvary”: Purple as (expletive), much smoother. Legs? Okay, tastes Lutheran; “Kayak”: It’s whatever. (writing becomes incomprehensible); “Sailing”: NO. Burns on the way down. Tastes like demon juice; “Fork”: Dull, like rusty hard hammer (writing is not too clear), thumbs up; “November”: deep purple. Rich and mysterious, like the legs of an octopus; “Paris”: I feel like m (writing becomes incomprehensible).

7. Discuss your thoughts!

IMG_4712Now is the time to share your thoughts!

IMG_4685We circled around the table, and each person declared his or her opinions on their (a) top three favorite wines; (b) least favorite wine(s) and (c) voiced which wine we thought was my father’s amateur version.

So which one was my father’s wine? *drumroll*

It was “In Transit”! So, you might be wondering, how have others (perhaps more professional) ranked this wine that we tried from the family Cantina? Well, in 2011, this specific wine won 1st place in the red wine category at that year’s Door Peninsula Winery Amateur Wine Competition. So, that’s pretty okay!

Thing was, I had figured this was my father’s wine from the very start. Not only am I very familiar with the taste of his Malbec, which is always deep in berry flavor, spice and is thick on the tongue, but I also noticed some tartrate crystals in my glass. If you don’t know what those are, check out this post.

In the end, the majority of people ranked “In Transit” in their top three. A few of us liked it best. Two people ranked it as their least liked wines.

 8. Eat!!!!!

Then you MUST eat a big meal and finish off the rest of those wine bottles!


broiled red pepper, tomato, sage and bay leave sauce for the gnocchi


blueberry walnut salad



“Kayak” wine

If you don’t drink too much while you taste, you’ll have plenty of wine to enjoy during your meal. Also, you’ll know which wine you liked best and can drink more.

Now, go forth and host your own winetasting!! And while you do it, impress some of your peers by telling them cool facts you learned about wine from The Inquisitive Vintner (and his daughter sometimes).

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