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« Talkin’ Lobster Tales! | Main | Inside Special Fork »

Have a Blast at a Wine Tasting

By Katie Barreira

Nothing brings people together like knowledge and booze. So convening in Long Island’s North Fork for a weekend of wine tasting provided the perfect combination of style and debauchery for a late twenty-something’s bachelorette party.

The sister of the bride engaged a wine guide from North Fork Wine Tours to escort our cohort among three of the region’s vineyards, where we sipped, socialized and stumbled through a lovely mid-day outing.

As it happened, our guide George had recently come into possession of a Flip (or some other variety of pocket-sized video equipment) and he ardently documented our progression, from a sober 11 a.m. introduction segment at our first stop, to nap time in the fields, at our last.

We had a blast, but you don’t have to go vineyard hopping in order to entertain your friends with a wine tasting. Purchase a thoughtful selection of wines, invite some pals and flex your palate right at home.

Selecting the Wines

I recall a high school history teacher who was always harping on us to narrow our thesis statements (thanks Mr. Porter!).  As it turns out, it was another bit of begrudged wisdom that actually has merit! And, it can be applied to (who woulda thunk it?) wine tasting.

When choosing the theme for a tasting, think small. Porter would have declared reds, for example, to be “too big!” The same goes for whites, French or dry. Such broad categories generate an assortment that’s likely to overwhelm your creativity, while a well-focused category is fire for the imagination.

For those who are new to wine, you may be thinking, “I haven’t done the homework!” Fear not. There is a wine store near you where, at this very moment, a self-proclaimed wine geek is waiting for a customer just like you.

And here are some potential themes that came to me during the weekend exploration:

Revealing Riesling

I noticed a few of my friends either gravitating towards, or shying away from Rieslings, depending on whether they liked or disliked sweeter wine. The connotation that Riesling is a “sweet wine” is a misconception and, I believe, an Americanization of the style. In fact, Rieslings run the gamut from dry to sweet and are better identified by their light body and fruity acid. (Note- “fruity” and “sweet” are not inextricable tastes in the world of wine.)

Select bottles on a scale of dry, to sweet, to dessert or late harvest (the sweetest) and taste in that order. To further narrow the field, work from within a single Riesling-producing region like Germany, Alsace or New York.

The New Yorker

The Northern Fork is a peninsula that shares a terroir (the climate, elevation and soil of an agricultural region) almost identical to that of Bordeaux. Both regions are free of drastic temperature fluctuations (though for different reasons) and both have rather austere soil. Because Northern Long Island and Bordeaux have such similar growing conditions, the same grape varieties thrive in both locations and the regions produce many of the same wines.

For the tasting, pair bottles of the same variety that were produced in different regions. In this case, Long Island, NY, and Bordeaux, France. Select three to five pairings and taste each pair side by side. For the first few pairs, allow guests to see which wines they are tasting and be on the lookout for patterns or similarities between wines produced in the same region. For the final pairing, conduct a blind tasting and try to discern which bottle is from where.

Coming Up Rosé

Rosé is my favorite summer wine. The good ones are refreshing and drinkable, but are more nuanced than whites and stand-up well to spicy food, another summer fav.

There are various ways to produce rosé. It can be a blend of Chardonnay with a hint of Pinot Noir, a marriage common in Champagne, France. Or, it can be made of red grapes that have limited contact with their pigmented skins during production. There are also rosés prepared with the byproduct of red wine fermentation.

Choose a selection of rosés that are produced in the same style, or a couple bottles from each category, to compare and contrast.

Safety First
If your guests are driving, make sure there’s a designated driver and provide the lucky winner with a spit receptacle, preferably one that is opaque. While this may strike you as déclassé, the spit bucket is a fixture of wine tasting and almost always used by the pros, who need to stay lucid while tasting many, many wines.

If you like tasting wine and want ideas about hosting other types of tasting parties, like chocolate, or olive oil, check out the book, Tasting Club by Dina Cheney.

Special Fork bloggers blog Monday through Friday. For more recipes and ideas on your smartphone, check us out at Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @specialforksndy.

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