THE TASTE TROUPE
By Joyce Combs
A great way to learn more about wine (if you're curious, yet tentative) is to join a group of other beginners for a monthly tasting party.
Things can begin simply enough, and members can take turns hosting once a month. Typically, each member brings a bottle to a tasting—you can follow a theme, require specific varietals or set other rules.
The group should really be an extension of the members' personalities, so it's something you not only enjoy each meeting, but something you look forward to throughout the month. Below are some basic ideas to get you started.
Create a permanent member list with alternates
A good number to strive for is 12, so each member hosts the meeting once a year. But, as is life, last minute obligations, trips and illnesses will crop up, so it's a good idea to have a list of alternates to keep meeting numbers consistent. The alternates list can be as small or as large as you feel is necessary, but have enough options so when someone does cancel, your hostess won't be left floundering.
Decide on monthly dues
Is this something you want to implement? Monthly dues can help the hostess cover the costs of food and pre wines (to get the meetings started). This is why having an alternates list can be beneficial—if someone can't make it, another can attend and pay the dues. Also decide on a price limit for each meeting, meaning how much each person can spend on his or her bottle of wine.
Keep meetings fun with themes or games
To ensure a good time, vote on monthly themes—Italian wines, French wines, reds of the world, wines less than $20, etc. Another idea that helps members build their palates and knowledge base is to hide the labels. You can wrap bottles in foil, keep them in paper bags or tear them off. Just make sure to remember which label goes to which bottle if you choose the latter.
Without the labels, members focus more on the defining factors: appearance, aroma, acidity and finish. After a few meetings, you should be able to notice these subtle differences.
Pairings and prizes
In line with continuing your education, once members are more comfortable with wine's nuances, introduce pairings. Sure, it's a delicious addition, but it's another way to play with wine and really learn how to use it for entertaining. Plus, you can award prizes to those who create the best pairings.
Of course the specifics will vary widely depending on the type of group you hope to create. Wine tasting groups can really just be about having fun and drinking, if you wish. They're also a special opportunity to expand your tastes and learn something new about something great.
Joyce Combs is the Purchasing Manager at the Bellevue Club