Wine Talk

Snooth User: Lushsot

Wine tasting help

Posted by Lushsot, Feb 22, 2010.

Hi, I am hosting a varietal wine tasting for 6 people. This is my first, I'm a total newbie as are all my guests. I'm wondering how many different labels I should have in my tasting and then how many bottles of each for six people. This will be a blind tasting and I want to throw in a Merlot or other varietal to shake things up. Also, this needs to be budget friendly so wines $25 and under. any help, ideas would be greatly appreciated. Oh yeah, and i was thinking of narrowing the scope by choosing a vintage across the board such as 2005. Thanks!

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Reply by chadrich, Feb 22, 2010.

Sounds like fun! I'd suggest a couple of things...
1)Zero in a little tighter on a theme. While doing all 2005 is fine, that still leaves things too wide-open, in my opinion. I'd do something like 2005 Bordeaux, or red wines from Oregon, or Merlot from each of several different countries.
2)For a group of 6 people, I'd choose 6 wines. Any more than that and people start to experience "palate fatigue". And a bottle of each should be more than ample for the tasting.
Let us know how it goes.

Reply by Lushsot, Feb 22, 2010.

Hi Chadrich, forgot to mention the varietal is Cab Sav that I'm going with this month (going to try to do this monthly for group of friends), so I have it narrowed down to that and will focus on a particular vintage, probably whatever is most available at the vendor I go to. Also, in keeping what you were saying, I may narrow to California. Thanks for the advice and the tip on how many wines to choose. I'll report back after this weekend's tasting.

Reply by dmcker, Feb 22, 2010.

Depends on how strict and formal you want to get, or whether you are mostly having fun (while learning about wine and your palate).

I'd consider warming up those palates with a single dry white. I like the 2005 cabs theme, but why not expand it beyond just California. And consider it more 'Bordeaux blend' rather than simply cabernet sauvignon. The group can possibly handle three flights of three each, so have the first flight two California cabs and a merlot, the second three French Bordeaux, two from the left bank (which focuses more in the blend on cabernet sauvignon) and one from the right (which tends to focus more on merlot or cabernet franc), and the third flight one from Australia (Coonawara or Margaret River areas) or South Africa (Stellenbosch or other area), one from Chile (Maipo or other area) and another from Washington State (Columbia River Valley).

Anything leftover you can drink or cook with the next day or two, but it's well likely there won't be much left. ;-) And you can focus on specific areas within California, or those other areas besides California, in more detail in the future if your group wants to get more detailed.

If you have any questions about specific candidate bottles, be sure to ask. Do you have time to source mailorder, or are you only going with your local merchant?

Most of all, enjoy the night with friends. Cheers!

Reply by Lushsot, Feb 23, 2010.

Dmcker, I love your ideas but they scare me. Haha! I think our group is going to be pretty informal, none of us really know how to talk about wine or describe what we're tasting at this point so I'm consulting a book "The Wine Club" by Maureen Christian Petrosky which gives you a varietal for each month of the year and explains a bit about each along with giving some terminology. I thought this was a fun way to help us along with our palates and learn to enjoy our already favorite drink even more. I'm going to keep this posting information for future meetings and will probably consult you on selections in the future. My group is meeting this weekend and I only have local merchants to go to who aren't really all that knowledgeable. If you do have any suggestions for Cabs that are $15-25 price range, I would love to try to find them. Thanks again!

Reply by GregT, Feb 23, 2010.

For my 2 cents, here are a few more ideas for you.

You can get 12 decent pours out of a bottle, so the ideal number of participants is 12 or fewer IMO. You have six which is fine. There's no reason people can't taste 10 or 12 wines, but there's also no reason they have to either.

Definitely have spit cups. You can get those big plastic cups for picnics. Don't expect everyone to both taste and drink.

I want a glass for each wine and want to pour them all at once. Don't drink one, then the next, then the next, and so on. You can't compare the wines properly that way. You should be able to taste every wine against every other wine. If you drink sequentially, wine B is always affected by wine A and never by wine E. So I don't do it that way.

I don't particularly like the idea of flights at a blind tasting either. There's no reason people can't rate 12 wines.

You taste blind to remove label bias, but if everyone is pretty new, there may not be much bias going in anyhow, so maybe you don't need to? Nonetheless, if you're going to do it, I think you'll have fun.

The way I like to do it is to have someone open all the wines and put them in bags. Tape up the top of the bag around the bottle and have a different person mark them A - Z. Pour them and assess them. I have 12 identical bottles for cases in which a bottle shape is a giveaway even tho it's in a bag.

That means everyone needs six or twelve glasses in front of him or her. If you don't have enough glasses, tell everyone to bring their own.

After you've all scored them you can unveil. We usually do it from the least favorite to the most favorite and the person who scored each wine highest should defend his or her choice. Also the rule is that nobody gets to talk about the wine until everyone has completed his or her scoring. I don't want to hear that you taste cherries while I'm trying to figure out my own assessment. Talk about politics or religion until everyone has evaluated all of the wines. And we usually don't have food either. But the people are usually in the business or pretty knowledgable. That's a fairly dry and academic approach and some people hate it. They usually don't return.

Maybe you all prefer to talk about what you're tasting. I would encourage you to try tasting individually first and then discussing the wines after, because if you all discuss while you're tasting, everyone ends up tasting the same thing. Each time you say you taste X everyone else will nod and say "oh yes, I do too.". But again, that's OK if that's what you want to do.

Don't limit yourself to tasting varieties only. In other words, CdP can be say, 80 pct grenache and 15% syrah and it will just say CdP but in the US you can have 75/25% and still just call it grenache. So you're drinking a blend anyway even if you think it's monovarietal. Your idea of tasting cabs and including merlot is good.

Another piece of advice is don't look for cabs that are in the $15 - $25 price range. Instead, use that as an average. That way you can have a $50 and a few $15 cabs. Cost of the tasting comes out the same but it's far more instructive and interesting. It's even more fun with European wines because they have heirarchies. So if you taste CdP, throw in some "lowly" Cotes du Rhone wine at 1/3 the cost.

I wouldn't even read that book. Not that I even know it, but the idea is that you should taste and discern for yourself. I've seen and heard people at tastings announce that they find black currant and tobacco in a wine. No they don't. It's not there. They've learned that they're supposed to find it in cab, say, so they claim to, but if I can't find it, how can they? They end up spouting what they read. The best tasters I know are entirely self-taught and they've developed their own vocabularies.

For suggestions in your price range, BV Rutherford is a classic Napa cab, not too big, not too shy, rather elegant. Moving up, they make a wine called Tapestry that's about $40 but I've been seeing it on sale for $25, so that may be a choice. It's a blend tho. Buehler is another unsung hero. Stelzner another. Right next to them is Stags Leap. Those would be interesting because the vines are on the same hill and the prices are quite different. Montecillo is at the south end of the valley and doesn't get enough respect. Another understated example of good Napa wine. Newton and Beringer also make good wine in the $25 range. In fact, Steltzner makes a claret that's about $15, so you can get something like Stags Leap for $40 and see what you think. If you're throwing a merlot in, you might want to put the Stags Leap merlot in the lineup. That's all juice from Napa. It's not "industrial" in that there are millions of cases produced. I'd drink all of them. Louis Martini and one of the Cameron Hughes wines might be other choices coming in at the lower end.

All those are Napa. If you want, select 1/2 from Napa and 1/2 from Bordeaux. Pick a specific region like St. Estephe or St Julien.

I don't like the idea of mixing reds and whites at tastings. Moreover, if I'm doing a tasting I always drink reds first. It's different from your dinner where you start w a fish course, move to birds, then heavy meat, matching wines to the food. At a tasting, the focus is wine.

Good luck and let us know what happens.

Reply by Lushsot, Feb 23, 2010.

Hi GregT, you're even scarier than Dmcker, but I'm seeing a pattern here. Screw the book, don't just taste from one region, say what we're thinking whether it's accepted terminology or not. Okay, so I have to rethink my whole approach. We are going to have food, things that are supposedly good with big reds but according to your approach, we'll eat afterword and then we can sip on some wine with the food to see how it pairs. So, I'll work with cabs and cab blends, probably CA and France, I think I can find some at a local vendor that will work and I'll throw in a Merlot. Thanks for all the suggestions, hopefully I can find some at my local Total Wine or BevMo. I'll continuing digesting all this info and let you all know how it goes. Thank you so much!

Reply by amour, Feb 23, 2010.

You must include SOUTH AFRICA, please.
So many to choose from........2005 STELLENBOSCH ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON RED (RUST EN VERDE) ???........finely integrated oak and fruit elements.
or PINOTAGE....Neil Ellis 2007 STELLENBOSCH ($20. US)...a rich PINOTAGE.
and so many other choices!

Reply by mmrmaid, Feb 23, 2010.

great idea, but i'm wondering if you can even FIND any 05 napa cabs that aren't well beyond your price range? the 05 vintage was very highly rated, and it's almost impossible to find it ...even high end steakhouses like morton's are onto the 07s and 08s by now...that being said - if you do find some reasonably priced 05 napa cabs - tell us where!! : )

Reply by Lushsot, Feb 23, 2010.

Hi Amour, I will add this to my list to take to the wine shop and see what I can come up with. It should shape up to be an interesting tasting after all this great advice I've been receiving. And, even if I can't find one of your selections for this weekend, I will definitely find one online and give it a try. Very excited to expand my knowledge and enjoy some great wine.

Reply by Lushsot, Feb 23, 2010.

Hello mmrmaid, I pulled 2005 out of my arse but hey can I pick years or what? :-) I'm sure I would have found this out on my visit to the wine shop but good to know so maybe I won't make a total fool of myself. Ah, so much to learn...

Reply by dirkwdeyoung, Feb 23, 2010.

Hello, Lushot:

I think there is a wine tasting and then there is a wine "tasting." Which means one is where a group of serious people really try to get into some depth and analyse close differences between a set of wine. I think it is quite an intellectual excercise. You may not eat anything at all and spit out your wine, cleanse your mouth, etc.

Then there is a party where people also "taste/drink," a selection of some wines specifically chosen to introduce some interesting varieties, serve complementary food bites and generally have a good time with wine at the core.

A formula that I have used with success (success being defined as a group of people had a good time and experienced some learning) is as follows:

Three French Reds:

One Bordeaux
One Burgundy
One Beaujolais, or one Loire Red like Chinon, or a southern wine,Syrah e.g.

Three French Whites

One Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc)
One Burgundy (Chardonnay)
One other white from anywhere, Cotes de Gascogne, Loire e.g. Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, etc.

The advantage is that these wines are all noticeably different, so even neophytes will be able to percieve differences and feel like they are learning something. Another advantage is that this can be used to point out differences between major wine varietals:

Bordeaux Mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, but if you want Merlot try St. Emilion
Burgundy mainly pinot noir
Beaujolais Gamay, or Loire Cab Franc, etc.

and so on with the whites.

It depends on the level of the common denominator and expectations of your group. Even nice to put up a map on the wall, so people can identify the wine with the area and then the learning even has a geographic dimension, which I like. Although mainly French wines are a blend, there are dominant grapes in each region, so this approach can help to explain the naming system in America, which is mostly around one type.

You can also adapt this same system to any area, because they all offer enough varieties on each Red and White, but it could be a nice theme to do one night all french, one night all Italian, another all Australia, or South Africa for some real fun variety.

cheers, Dirk

Reply by dmcker, Feb 23, 2010.

It's all a question of the fun of the chase, and your group enjoying itself. Hopefully enough that you'll all want to keep doing it over time. And can move on to several other varietals, regions and winestyles, too.

I can see Greg and I would have fun tweaking tastings we might do together if we were geographically closer, but to explain myself a bit more, I figured this was more a group of enthusiastic amateurs, with potential aspirations beyond, than of hardcore semipros. Thus, smaller, more digestible and initially discussable, chunks of sensory experience and information to be handled at one time. Three bottles at a time is good, I thought, though the wine from earlier flights should stay in glasses until the end so comparisons across the whole range can be made later, too.

Discussion is essential early on in a taster's development, I think, though a few moments of silence is good before the discussion. We all learn from the dialectic that comes from presenting/attacking/defending/compromising, even in our sensing of wine.

Not too much food during the more focused stage of the tasting. Bring it on afterwards, where the wines can still be consumed, and styles of matching recognized. If you want to have something to chew on during the first stage, perhaps some bread and butter and mild cheeses during the tasting, but those will affect the tasting. Some people prefer tasting biscuits, but I just use wellmade baquettes.

And regarding the white to start off with, Greg, I believe I recognize a pronounced prejudice here! You've remarked on your issues with red before whites before, but I'll have to agree to disagree. Our palates are all a bit different, after all. I've always enjoyed that French custom of 'un petit coup de blanc' to start the evening off. A glass of white, still or sparkling, to both cleanse and stimulate the palate before stepping out the door to an evening of dining and wining (or more). In this instance it can serve the dual purpose of being consumed while people are gathering and preparing to sit down (or stand up) for the tasting....

Reply by Lushsot, Feb 23, 2010.

dirkwdeyoung and dmcker, you are correct, this is to be a fun, informal event for enthusiastic amateurs. I'm taking all this under advisement and will now go armed with info to see what I can find. My plan is for this to be a monthly get together so will have plenty of time to sample different regions, varieties and even if the group falls apart, I'll still sample on! I let you all know all the details post party. :-)

Reply by GregT, Feb 23, 2010.

Screw fun! This is serious business!!!!

OK, looking at it, D has a point. I suggested a more formal and academic approach. If D didn't live as far away as it's possible to live on the same planet, we might have wine together from time to time. As it is? . . . .

Anyhow, a couple items. Do what feels comfortable and have fun. That's rule number one.

My point of whites/reds is that the whites typically have high acidity and they're welcome and refreshing after you've tried a few dozen or a hundred reds, as I just did. If you drink a white, then go to a red, any red you drink is really going to suck. And if you drink wine sequentially, that wine will get screwed in your scoring.

On the other hand, if you're having some friends over and you have some apps, that's a different story entirely. So what I'm saying is that if you do a formal tasting, forget about the "normal" sequence and go with the sensible one. Don't be bound by tradition. If you're doing a tasting where you have friends and fun and eat and drink, that's different.

Since you suggested you're doing cabs, I think that's an excellent idea. It's a great way to learn about a vintage and a grape. You don't have to do that, but I like the approach.

Then again, do I have any idea what I'm talking about?

Not at all. Enjoy your learning experience and let us know what you found out!


Reply by Lucha Vino, Feb 24, 2010.

Have fun. I am hosting a party this weekend for some friends that will be a Wine Tasting Party. Maybe, more like a Wine Sharing Party. The only criteria I set was "bring your favorite wine that costs less than $15." This is all about getting together and having a good time. It will be interesting to see what kinds of wine people have discovered at this price point.


Reply by Lushsot, Feb 24, 2010.

Hey vellovino, I hope you have a great time with your Wine Sharing Party! In my group, I think the majority of people drink wines that are less than $15 and we find quite a few that are worthy. Let's be sure to compare notes after our festivities!

Reply by Lucha Vino, Feb 24, 2010.

Will do Lushsot. I am focusing my wine exploration in the $15 and under range too. I will post "results" from my party on Sunday. I'm really curious to see what my friends bring to share. And after reading all the details on this thread I am hoping that this might lead to a bit more organized tasting party.


Reply by Lucha Vino, Mar 1, 2010.

Lushsot - How did your wine tasting turn out?

My wine sharing party was lots of fun. So much going on that I did not write anything down and "sampled" enough that my memory is slightly impaired!

The interesting thing about my party was that I asked my friends to bring their favorite wine that cost under $15. Only one person actually brought their "favorite" wine. The others all bought something that looked like it would be interesting to share.

Everybody made good selections. Some were wines that would have cost more than $15 but were on sale for less, others were full price wines that met the pricing criteria.

Here is the list of wines that we shared:

Zerba Wild Z 2007 Walla Walla Valley - A bordeaux style blend

Killer Red 2004 Syrah Columbia Valley

Coppola Diamond Collection 2007 Black Label Claret Cabernet Sauvignon

Cupcake Vineyards 2007 Central Coast Merlot

BV Beaulieu Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

I supplied the first two wines and have to admit that I did the same thing that many of my friends did. I was at Costco shopping for party supplies and the Zerba looked like a wine that most people would enjoy. The Killer Red was on sale for a Killer Price - $80 for a case with a $25 rebate from the wine maker. I could not resist!!

Reply by Lushsot, Mar 2, 2010.

Hi Vellovino,

Glad to hear your party was a success!  I did manage to write down some thoughts during our blind tasting but came to the realization that I was using the same three words over and over for lack of knowing what the heck I was tasting! (fruity, oaky, cedar) Need a lot of work on the palate but had a great time and did learn big picture things about what I like and don't like as did all my guests.  We all picked a different wine as our favorite and were able to tell the difference between the French Bordeaux and the California Cabs.  Here's the list of wines we enjoyed, price point averaged to $20:

Angeline Cabernet Sonoma 2007 $11.99

Ch Les Bernedes Medoc 2007 $11.99

Ch Lilian Ladouys St Estephe 2004 $24.99

Ch Tour St Joseph Haut Medoc 2003 $19.99

Dom Alfred Syrah Edna Valley 2005 $19.99

Martin Ray Cabernet Napa Reserve 2005 $24.99

Muirwood Cabernet Res Vaquero Vyd 2007 $15.99

My favorite was the Martin Ray Cab and then the Muirwood Cab, I realize I definitely like the California Cabs as opposed to the French Bordeaux.  I threw in the Syrah as a wild card and none of us picked it as being different from the rest.  Shocking. All in all had a blast and everyone was excited to continue to learn more so we scheduled another party for May 1.  I think I might incorporate some of the ideas from another forum on palate such as smelling berries and various other things that might turn up in the wines I choose for the next go around.  Happy tasting to you!

Reply by amour, Mar 5, 2010.

So  much  to  learn...and  that  we  all  like.

Since  I  did  not  get  in  early  on  TASTING,

here  I  come.

The object of my type of TASTING

is to LEARN about wine.

The tasting is usually controlled and seated.

A modern lecture setting, I like.

The lecturer has ability and knowledge.

Wines are carefully selected.

The economics is looked at in advance......important and will

influence what wines are selected.

HOW MANY WINES?   10 - 20  or  6-10

Outstanding representatives of their type and price.


If  the  types  are  mixed, then  the  wines  must be clearly grouped.

Heavy and sweet wines tasted last.

With  a  large  range  of  wines  and  a   small  number  of  tasters  allow  1  bottle  to  8 persons.

At  a  casual  tasting  party,  allow  at  least  half  bottle  per  head.

Am  I  being  too  generous?

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