How to hold a wine-tasting in lockdown
Whilst we are all expected to #stayhome and #staysafe during the coronavirus pandemic we are all missing our friends and looking for new things to do. Connecting with your friends over wine in a wine bar or restaurant used to be the fun way to stay in touch but, with that not currently possible thanks to Covid-19, video chats with a glass of wine in hand have become the new norm these days.But to increase the fun with your wine-loving friends and take things to the next level, how about organising an informal wine-tasting with friends via Zoom, HouseParty or other face-to-face social networks? Connecting with friends, enjoying a glass (or two) of wine and expanding your wine knowledge all at the same time. Bringing people together over a glass of wine with a wine-tasting whilst socially distancing.
Organising your own lockdown wine -tasting
Firstly get some of your friends on board and find a time suitable to all. Make sure you are all signed up for the same social networking app and know how to use it. I'll have to leave the technical details up to you I'm afraid though I have managed Zoom so it can't be too tricky! Once that's set up …
Agree on how your wine-tasting will run so that there is some sort of order without it being too formal of course. For example, think about …
… how many wines to taste
I would suggest 1 to 3 wines each depending on how many friends are participating. Even with just one wine each per call there will be plenty of discuss - and you'll have time to catch up with your friends' news as well.
If you are tasting more than one wine each you may want a wine mat to place your glasses on in the order in which you are tasting. I have been to so many wine tastings where someone - and I include myself in this - forgets which wine is which. You can download an A4 sized three glass mat here.
A piece of white paper will come in handy - see why later. It would be useful to have a glass of water to hand - and a spittoon if you are tasting several wines and / or if you are taking it very seriously. An ice bucket or jug with a couple of sheets of kitchen roll work just as well as a proper spittoon - the kitchen roll minimises noise and avoids splash-back!
… which wines to taste or themes for your wine-tasting
In these coronavirus times shopping for wine can be difficult with restrictions on going out and even limits in some shops on the number of bottles you can buy - so it's more likely that you'll be tasting different wines from your friends. You don't all need to be trying the same wine to enjoy your socially-distant wine tasting - but try to go with a theme so that you can discuss the similarities and the differences between your wines. For example …
- wines of one specific grape variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Even if they are from different parts of the world you'll find similarities when you compare them as well as differences.
- wines from a particular region like the red wines of the Rhône
- even better if you can each have wines of one grape variety from the same region such as white Burgundies (Chardonnay), red Burgundies (Pinot Noir) or Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
- or you could take things further still with a cheese and wine tasting. Try three different types of cheese such as cheddar, goat's cheese and brie with two or three different wines. You'll find some combinations will work really well - and others not so well.
How to taste wines in your lockdown wine tasting
Some general tips to help you make the most of your wine-tasting, whether face-to-face or in lockdown.
First look at the colour of the wine
… and this is where that piece of white paper comes in handy - hold your glass at an angle against the white background to get a better idea of the colour. Most people ignore this step and launch straight into sniffing or tasting the wine but in fact the colour of wine can tell you things about the age, grape, style and even origin of a wine. For example with age a white wine becomes darker whereas a red wine's colour breaks down and so it becomes lighter. You can read more about this in my blogpost on the colour of wine and what it tells us.Secondly sniff your wine
… first swirl your glass to aerate the wine especially if the aromas are not forthcoming. Swirling opens up the aromas. Try to describe them to your friends. If you are someone who finds it hard to name the aromas there are a number of options for you:
- I'm a big fan of the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) whose Diploma I have and you can refer to their website for their Systematic Approach to Tasting. There are different wine lexicons for different levels of expertise with Level 2 a good starting point
- you might want to refer to an aroma wheel - just search in your browser for wine aroma wheel and you will find lots of examples
With both these systems you can start big e.g. are the fruit aromas from citrus fruits or tropical fruits for example and as you hone your tasting skills you will find it easier to be more specific and distinguish lemon and lime or pineapple and mango aromas and flavours for example.
Thirdly, taste your wine. You will get more out of it if you suck some air in at the same time. Like swirling your glass to open up the aromas, taking in air will release further flavours - your WSET SAT lexicon or your aroma wheel may help here too. Also think about the intensity of flavours and the complexity. As a general rule the more complex a wine's aromas and flavours, the better the wine. Most entry level or commercial style wines are fairly one-dimensional. Spit out only if you want to.
Going more in-depth when tasting wine
- the alcohol level
- the acidity - does the wine have mouth-watering acidity
- the sweetness - is it dry, off-dry, medium or sweet?
- tannins mainly for red wines can be detected on the teeth
Whilst you are tasting the wine also think about
- the body - is it light-, medium- or full-bodied?
- the texture - is it silky or creamy or nothing special?
- how long the flavours last in the mouth after spitting out or swallowing. A long (pleasant) finish can indicate a good quality wine and
- perhaps most importantly whether you like the wine or not.
Share your views with your friends and think about why your similar wines might taste different, for example why a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc might taste differently from a Sancerre. But most of all, have fun.
And if you would be interested in taking part in a remote tasting with me let me know - I'll have to sort out the technology but I'm game if you are!
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