Looking for an excuse to get together with your friends to enjoy a few glasses from the latest Hunter Valley vintage? Why not host a wine tasting party – your chance to combine good food and great wine with an opportunity to learn more about what it is you’re swishing around your glass.
Of course, there’s more than just one type of wine tasting party, so the first step is to work out the theme. You could concentrate on one particular producer, which if you’re keen to stick to Hunter Valley wines (and why wouldn’t you!) gives you plenty of options right on your doorstep, from the internationally-renown brands through to the smaller boutique producers dotted throughout Wine Country.
Another option is to pick one varietal from a particular year, sourced from a number of different producers. This is known as a horizontal tasting, and it allows you to hone in on the nuances of flavour,appearance and finish that can be crafted into the varietal by the individual winemakers.
A good choice for this style of tasting could be Hunter-made Semillons, which are renowned the world over for their uniqueness.There are also vertical tastings (one varietal from a particular winemaker over a number of vintages), as well as events based on the most popular wines on the market or even wines from a particular price range.
Pairing wines with cheese – or chocolate – can also create particularly flavour some fun. Why not pick up some of the fine quality Hunter-made products available in the heart of Wine Country, such as those created by the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory or Hunter Valley Chocolate Co – they might even be able to provide you with a few pointers about what wines to pair with their products.
Once you’ve chosen your theme, you obviously need to select the particular wines to be tasted and work out the order they will be served.With white wines, moving from drier varietals to sweeter wines is the best arrangement, while reds should be tasted in order from lighter wines through to the more full-bodied varietals.
Create a tasting card for your guests, including everything from the name of the winemaker to the vintage of the wine, as well as the specific varietal and even some of the tasting notes provided by the producer.
Traditional wine tasting parties would also include a section on the tasting card for your guests to record their observations of the drop,from its aroma and flavour to its appearance and their rating of the wine.
Blind tastings can be a fun option – wine bottles are covered during pouring and the winemaker’s identity, along with the varietal,are kept secret. You could make this into alight-hearted competition – the guest whose guesses are closest to the mark could win a bottle of wine or be awarded the honorary title of the “wine taster of the night”.
While wine tasting on an empty stomach can be a recipe for disaster, the only food you should serve during the tasting is a simple selection of bread to help cleanse the palate between varietals (or the cheeses and chocolates you have paired with the wines).
Why not invite the guests over a little earlier to serve up a light meal before the swishing and sipping begins – or prepare a simple supper to follow straight after the tasting is complete.When it comes to inviting your guests - try to limit the numbers – wine tastings seem to go hand-in-hand with a more intimate atmosphere.
Make sure you provide each guest with two glasses if you are looking to serve both red sand whites and keep plenty of water on hand to help cleanse your palate between wines.
Keep it simple when it comes to your tableware – a white tablecloth and napkins will ensure your guests can see the true colour profiles of the wines. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The hardest part may be choosing the wines to sample – this might call for your own trip around a few Hunter cellar doors this weekend – in the name of research of course! ■