When wine pros gather in tasting groups, it’s not to ooh and ahh over exceptional bottles. OK, we do that too, but in the best-possible scenario, it’s just called “drinking.” A tasting is intended to sharpen our knowledge of a particular wine category by exploring the differences between individual bottles within it. In order to successfully corral these wines, it’s important to declare a theme. Usually, that means keeping one aspect of the wines constant, so that the other aspects can be compared.
Ask each of your invitees to come with a bottle in tow that fits your theme. Naming a maximum price point will also eliminate the possibility of someone feeling cheated because he or she brought a prized or rare bottle while others brought simpler or cheaper versions. Below are three easy examples of constants to make the most of your tasting experiment. More advanced tastings might be “vertical” – exploring vintage variances through wines from a single producer – or “horizontal” – exploring the winemaking styles of different producers within a single region in a single year.
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1. Keep the grape the same
Pick a grape that’s grown in many different regions around the world – like Pinot Noir, which can be found everywhere from Burgundy, France to Aconcagua, Chile. Encourage your guests to bring a bottle from a region they’re less familiar with so that you don’t end up with 20 bottles all from Sonoma. Keeping the grape variety constant doubles the educational value of the tasting exercise. One, you’ll become more intimately acquainted with the unique characteristics of the grape (is it bright and red-fruited? Or is it rich and dark-fruited?) Plus, you’ll be able to assess the differences in that grape’s expression based on where it’s grown. It’s what we call terroir imprint. Sauvignon Blanc from a region with a warm, sunny climate won’t taste the same as Sauvignon Blanc from a cool, humid climate, for instance. In sampling the wines side by side, those nuances become clear.