Even if your local wine tasting rooms and vineyards are closed, you can still replicate the experience at home. Wine tasting is an at-home date night or evening-in activity that allows you to become better acquainted both with your partner and your own taste preferences.
Winemakers regularly guide people as they sample wines at events and tasting rooms. We caught up with two Willamette Valley, Oregon winemakers who are known for providing a fun and approachable tastings to help us design this Valentine’s Day date. Tabitha Compton of Compton Family Wines in Philomath and Merrilee Buchanan of Tyee Wine Cellars in Corvallis shared a few tips to help bring the tasting room experience to your home.
Wine tasting is a deeply sensual experience engaging all the senses. These tips help you go deeper than taste, and into your senses of smell, sight, and texture.
What you need to get started.
How much wine do you need?
The trick with planning a wine tasting for two is choosing enough wine to offer variety but not so much that wine goes to waste. Restaurants typically get four servings from a bottle of wine pouring five ounces per glass. For tasting flights, you want to pour less to allow more variety. While there is no uniform standard, a tasting flight may be around two or three ounces with each bottle containing 10-12 tasting pours.
With this in mind, a flight of three wines provides the perfect balance. Compton suggested repeating the tasting of the same flight the next day.
“If it’s a really good wine I enjoy another glass the next day because it completely changes–especially red wine. White wines don’t hold up as well overnight.”
Taste it the first night and take notes. Then place a stopper on the bottle and open it up again the next day and see how it changes after some extra breathing time.
Choosing the wine. Planning a flight.
At tasting rooms, wine makers and sommeliers often curate a flight of wines to make it easier for participants to compare wines and to focus on a specific theme.
“I would recommend that couples get two or three bottles of wine to arrange a flight,” explained Buchanan. “With each of the wines having something in common to each other to make them comparable, but enough differences to make them also contrastable.”
Use a flight to compare the same wine from the same vineyard over three different years, three bottles of Spanish Cava from different producers, or a range of white wines from the same region.
“Really, this works with just about any aspect of wine tasting that you are interested in delving into further,” said Buchanan.
Snacks and palate cleansers
Palate cleansers allow you to approach each wine with a “fresh perspective.” Each taster should have a glass of water. Compton also suggests using freshly cut apple slices as a palette cleanser when tasting wine.
“I say the most fun thing to do is to have both chocolate and wine for tasting!” Compton suggested in addition to the fresh apple slices.
If your evening’s plan is to focus on wine tasting, stick with simple snacks like apple or pear slices, nuts, dark chocolate, plain crackers, and mild cheese.
However, if your flight covers a specific variety of wine you could try pairing it with foods that enhance the wine’s flavor. Your wine shop may have some suggestions specifically tailored to the wines in your flight.
Choosing the wine glasses
Choose three identical glasses for your flight of wine since the size and shape can affect how you smell and taste the wine.
Typically, most people use classic, clear wine glasses for wine tasting. For a fun twist Compton suggests trying black glasses, “You’re not judging it by the color since you can’t see it. So yeah, you have a more clean idea of how the wine really smells and tastes.”
Glasses with stems are ideal when tasting white wine since this allows you to hold the glass without the heat from your hands changing the temperature. If you prefer stemless glasses, that is fine too. Just hold the glass from the base.
In addition to the wine glasses, be sure to provide water glasses and empty glasses or containers to serve as a wine tasting spittoon.
Setting the scene
“When tasting wine, I suggest to just have fun with it because it can be as casual or as complex as you choose to make it,” said Buchanan.
Since scent is intertwined with taste, both winemakers suggest not placing scented items like candles and flowers on your tasting table. In addition, avoid perfumes, scented body products and even lipstick for the purest experience.
Set lighting that is soft enough to allow for an intimate experience but bright enough to allow you to see the wine (unless you prefer more of a blind-tasting experience).
How to taste the wine like a winemaker
Both winemakers recommend taking your time with your tasting, after all there is no need to rush.
There are four primary components wine lovers typically consider when tasting wine:
- Sweetness or dryness
- Alcohol content
How do these elements balance or blend to create the wine’s flavor? Do you find that you prefer wine that leans more towards one of the aspects or more of an even blend? Since flavor preference is so individual, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer. Taking your time, wine helps you understand what you enjoy so you can choose wines that bring you the most pleasure in the future.
With this in mind, Buchanan and Compton share their favorite approaches to sampling wine.
“When tasting wine, I swirl it in the glass, then smell for the aromatic qualities of the wine, then sip and swirl a bit more in my mouth while drinking,” explained Buchanan. “When I like a wine, I think about ways to describe what I like about it and that helps me remember a particular wine and what sets it apart from the rest.”
“Forget your good manners, when wine tasting it’s acceptable and even encouraged to slurp, smell, and even spit,” said Compton, “I just swish it around a lot and smell it, then I take my first sip and spit so I can just get the flavors in my mouth. Enjoy it and let it linger on the taste buds!”
It is your night, feel free to structure it any way that promotes good conversation and enjoyment. Cheers!
Samantha Sied is a freelance writer and event planner based in the Pacific Northwest. When she is not writing, she enjoys hiking, dancing, cooking and wine tasting. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter: @WordsBySamS or Instagram: @words.by.sam.
Photography credits: Compton Family Wines and Tyee Wine Cellars. Header image @enginakyurt.