Learn to throw the perfect wine party.

What better way to kick off a Halifax summer than to throw a fun and educational wine tasting? The best ones are with great friends, where there is a learning component (but no one is too serious) and everyone gets to try something new.

First, pick a theme. Wines for the deck? Best screwtop wines? Wines of Australia? Summer whites? Chardonnays? The theme is only limited by your imagination. Research your idea and try to choose the wines in advance. You can purchase yourself, or assign your guests each a bottle to bring with them.

Six to eight wines should be plenty. Palate fatigue will set in and you don’t want the entire evening to just be the tasting. Keep the pours to two ounces and you will get 12 to 13 servings per bottle.

To make your tasting even more interesting, prepare some questions around the wines in advance. Put the wines in paper bags and have people describe the wine before seeing the bottle. Then, compare this to the description on the bottle. It is OK if the two don’t match—you’ll see people developing their own flavour profiles.

Another great theme is “The Price is Right.” Have everyone write down their own guesses of the wines, in order of cheapest to most expensive, and see who comes the closest to the correct order. The key is to make sure that everyone has a turn describing a wine. You’ll be surprised how much you learn this way.

Match descriptions to wines from the website tasting notes. Put these on cards and ask your guests to match the cards to the wines.

Choose a glass that is versatile and can be used for both white and red. The better the glass, the better the tasting experience.

Serve wines from driest to sweetest and light bodied to full-bodied. For example, with whites you would generally taste Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio before Chardonnay. For reds, you would do Pinot Noir before Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Try to encourage sipping and tasting versus drinking for the first part of the evening. Provide some non-alcoholic drinks for anyone driving and encourage lots of water consumption for those not. It’s always fun to include some food, and add a discussion around which food pairs best with which wine. When choosing appetizers, try to match the weight of the food with the wine. Cheese is a good pairing, but include a variety to see which pair best.

If serving Pinot Noir or Merlot, go with a medium-bodied food like pork. If you’re pouring richer wines like Zinfandel, Shiraz or Malbec, try something like beef skewers or mini burgers. For white wines, grill chicken or seafood.

And don’t be afraid to include a port at the end with some quality chocolate.

Don’t make your tasting too complicated. You really only need wine, glasses and friends interested in learning and having a good time. The educational portion can start to go downhill after the first hour or so, as the side conversations and laughter gets louder.

The under $25 wine review

This month we are trying wines from Cristall Wine Merchants in Bedford. Cristall carries many wines that you can’t find anywhere else—a treasure trove of interesting flavours.

Saxenburg Guinea Fowl Chenin Blanc, Viogner, 2012, $19.99, Cristall Wine

Looking to switch up your summer wine from Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc? Try this wonderfully lifted wine. Floral and peachy aromas; tastes of ripe pink grapefruit. If you love your wines fresh and clean with lots of fruit flavour, this one hits all the notes. Pair with a nicoise salad. 90/100

Chateau Ollieux Romanis Cuvee Classique France, $19.99, Cristall Wine

There are some great wines coming out of southern France, including this region of Corbieres. This medium bodied blend is full of plummy, berry fruit; slightly herbal, spicy finish. I loved the juicy characters. Nice soft tannins come in at the finish. Serve at a barbecue. 91/100

80–84: A great sipper, good value.
85–89: Won’t last long, great value.
90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic.
95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.

Halifax Magazine