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Just hearing the words can conjure up all kinds of images. From well dressed ladies and gentlemen wandering around a ten acre lawn, sipping the latest Chardonnay while listening to a string quartet performing some favorite Baroque concerto to a laboratory-like setting with large tables set with bag wrapped bottles and dozens of glasses, replete with spit bucket and crusty bread for palate cleansing. Whatever your vision, the most important ingredient for any tasting is preparation. Answer the same questions any cub reporter must (who, what, where, when and how) and success is in the cards.

WHO

When putting together the invitation list for a tasting, be sure you have some idea of each attendee's experience level. Nothing is more boring to the tyro than sitting around listening to longwinded descriptions of things they can't find. By the same token, the highly wine educated can't abide the phrase "well, I'm no expert, but I know what I like." You will want some range of experience among your guests, but too much will leave someone feeling left out. Remember that this is a social event. As the host it is your responsibility to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy himself or herself.

WHAT

When selecting the wines for tasting, there MUST be some theme constant to them all. You can do a Vertical Tasting, serving wines from several different Vintages that were produced by the same winery. The purpose would be to see how the wine evolves and changes over time. You can do a Horizontal Tasting, serving wine of a single variety (such as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon) from several different wineries that were produced the same year. The purpose would be to see the different interpretations of the same varietal. Another popular option would be a tasting dinner, where you serve a multi course meal with two or more small portions of different wine paired with each course. The purpose, of course, would be to learn better how certain wines pair with certain foods. Whatever the style of tasting you choose, be certain to stick to it. If your theme is confused, your guests will be, too.

WHERE

This may seem an unnecessary item, but you will find that some wines lend themselves to a particular environment better than others. Heavy red wines, for instance, can become uncomfortable to drink if you have opted for a Garden setting in the middle of a New Orleans August. Sweet dessert styles may be comfortable in an outdoor setting, but they attract insects like a fly strip in a diner. If you do choose an outdoor tasting, be sure your back up location is easily set up in case of inclimate weather. Moving a bridge club into the den is far easier than resetting a tasting table.


WHEN

Professional tastings are often held first thing in the morning. Of course, this is done so that the tasters will be at their freshest, most alert. Your friends may neither want nor be able to attend a 36 wine tasting at 8:00 A.M. In the case of a dinner or dessert tasting, the timing is pretty obvious. For all others I prefer a Saturday or Sunday schedule and I still try to set the time no later than 11:00 A.M. If my aim is to concentrate on the wine I want to be sure everyone is relatively fresh and focused. Hosting a wine tasting in the evening can turn into a cocktail party with little or no warning.

HOW

In this case, I mean the mechanics of hosting a wine tasting. You will need to have several things on hand to insure each guest is a part of the activity. Specifics call for specialized items; however, the list below is essential for every tasting.

A clean glass for each wine, for each guest
Pen and paper for taking notes
A bucket or pitcher for any guest who wishes to spit tasted wines out
Crusty bread or bland crackers for palate cleansing
More PURE, FILTERED water than you think you need

Everything I've said here occurs before the event takes place. That is because no wine tasting can be called a success if you don't have time to sit with your guests and enjoy the experience yourself. After all, wine ain't cheap and friends don't grow on trees. Try and enjoy both.