You love wine tasting, but there is something sad about leaving a tasting room. If only you could linger, sip and swirl one more time, you might unlock the mysteries of that favorite bottle.
Perhaps it's time to host your first tasting at home. Unlike dinner parties, wine tastings require less planning, shopping and cleanup, leaving you more time to mingle with friends and expand your wine repertoire on your time.
We spoke to three wine experts accustomed to such soirees -- Napa's Alan Kropf of Mutineer Magazine, Courtney Cochran of San Francisco's Hip Tastes, and Jyll Jara of Va de Vi in Walnut Creek, Calif. -- for creative, manageable tips, from trendy themes to delectable pairing recipes.
Now, shall we meet your hosts?
Alan Kropf, founder and president, Mutineer Magazine
Theme: Reds from Napa's High Elevation Mountain Vineyards. Obviously, Kropf has industry friends in high places. These coveted wines fetch $50 or more, but he raises a good point: "Having everyone share the cost is a great way to experience these wines," says Kropf, a certified sommelier who has managed wine programs for Gordon Ramsay and the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Wines: St. Supery Dollarhide Estate Elevation ($65), Hess Collection Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($55), Spring Mountain Estate Syrah ($55).
Goal: "To understand the characteristics and differences between the various high elevation areas of Napa," Kropf says. "We also had some wines from the valley floor in the tasting for contrast."
Vibe: Less education, more chemistry. "Even if you know the trivia, wine is one of those things that is best understood through experience," says Kropf, whose tastings are structured with a sipping portion followed by discussion. "I like to invite a mix of novices and experienced wine drinkers to keep it fresh."
Pairing: Short ribs. "You can use the wines in your sauce to add another dimension to the tasting."
Courtney Cochran, founder, Hip Tastes
Theme: Varietals of "Mad Men." Cochran, a certified sommelier, looks for what's hot in the larger cultural scene when selecting themes for her sold-out tasting parties. With the cult drama back on AMC this month, Cochran suggests matching each character's personality to a varietal. Betty Draper? A bracingly acidic white. Roger Sterling: A big cabernet sauvignon.
What wine is Don Draper? "Burgundy," Cochran says. "They can be perfect, but when they're bad, they're terrible." Try Vincent Girardin Pommard Premier Cru "Grands Epenots" Vieilles Vignes ($56).
Wines: For Joan Holloway, a curvy syrah like QupÃ© Central Coast Syrah ($17); Loire Valley's Pascal Jolivet Sancerre ($30) for Betty; and, for Sterling, Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon ($70).
Goal: Fun. "Wine tasting in isolation is so befuddling," Cochran says. "The reason people will learn (about wine) at this party is because they'll experience the wines through these TV characters."
Vibe: This is a self-guided tasting. Give guests a brief rundown of the wines and let them discuss during commercial breaks. To add to the theme, ask guests to dress as their favorite characters.
Pairing: For the Burgundy, Asiago-Stuffed Dates with Bacon and Smoked Paprika. "This is an updated version of rumaki, a popular appetizer in the era, served by Betty Draper in Season 2."
Jyll Jara, interim wine director, Va de Vi
Theme: Reds: Lighten up, it's spring. "Our palates tend to prefer lighter wines in the spring, and many people think this can only be accomplished by switching to white wine," Jara says. Not true. "Light-bodied reds, like French cremant and Austria's St. Laurent, a relative to pinot noir, fit the bill."
Wines: Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose ($22); Michel Tete's Cru Beaujolais Clos du Fief JuliÃ©nas ($20); Weingut BrÃ¼ndlmayer St. Laurent "Ried Ladner" ($23).
Goal: To experience the food-friendly, excellent lighter-bodied red wines of the world, she says.
Vibe: Pure enjoyment. Jara loves hosting informal, nonindustry tastings at home for friends. One of her best themes: Bring your gifted wine (and see if they really like you).
Pairing: Chef Andy Phillips' Grilled Shrimp Piri Piri with Black Rice, Farro & Mushroom. "The acidity of these wines cuts through the texture of the shellfish," Jara says, "while the mushroom complements their earthiness."
- Eight to 12 guests is ideal. Each bottle of wine has 12 pours that are 2 ounces apiece.
- Send an electronic invite with specifics. Ask guests to bring one bottle of wine according to the theme.
- Provide one wine glass per person and plenty of buckets for dumping and spitting.
- Encourage guests to drink at least as much water as they drink wine.
When guests arrive, cover bottles with brown bags and write a number on each bottle.
- Provide pens and tasting notes templates for guests to write down their impressions.