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A Greenwich Wine Party

From the (late) Greenwich Citizen:

From lavish summer garden-parties in the Back Country to intimate get-togethers with our neighbors, from charity auctions and balls to a birthday for a child, Greenwich knows how to throw a party. This winter of discontent has subdued the mood, but the instinct is still there, and so is the itch. In fact, a measured affair is no extravagance, but rather, a tool for re-connecting and helping each other over the hump.

A wine tasting can be an excellent inexpensive party. A few wines, some nice munchables, and a few friends will do nicely. You don’t have to go crazy on costs, and in fact, a party like this may be cheaper than going out to a restaurant a couple of times with the family. With a little luck, your friends will reciprocate, and you will have built up a library of favorite wines. See how this works?

First things first. You can hire a wine expert who will pick out the wines, bring glasses, and present the tasting, all for a very reasonable fee plus cost of the wine. There are some excellent wine professionals in the Greenwich area who can save you a lot of time and expense. Or you can do it yourself. You’ll want to pick out anywhere from 4 to 6 wines, depending on how long you want the party to go. Remember that your guests will be pouring, tasting, and thinking over each wine. Four wines will get you up to two hours; 6 will do nicely for a three-hour party.

Next, figure out how much to buy. A standard bottle of wine is 750 ml., or 25 fluid ounces. Don’t pour too much. You don’t want Trooper O’Flaherty to become interested in your guests’ driving patterns on their way home. It’s important to limit the pour to about 2 ounces. That’s plenty. If you plan on having 4 wines, a 2 ounce pour makes four bottles of wine for every ten guests. Then buy an extra bottle of each wine and put it aside just in case. You can save leftovers for your own consumption later.

Even with a two-ounce pour, you’re up against the limits of Connecticut’s safe driving laws. So encourage people to have a designated driver, and more importantly, pair the wine with some food! Cheese is the obvious accompaniment. It’s simple and cost-effective. There are three classic styles of cheese: soft, hard and blue. Have one of each available. Ask your purveyor for a classic selection, and don’t forget some of our excellent domestic cheeses! Or have paté, almonds, olives, or any of the other finger foods you would normally serve.

With cheeses and pates, you’ll want to keep fats, acids and tannins in mind. The fatter the cheese is, the racier the wine should be: on the palate, the wine’s acidity cuts through the fat. Soft cheeses almost always take very crisp white wines, the exception being a very powerful cheese like Munster, which can take a ligher-bodied red. Blue cheeses will stand a red wine, but not one with a lot of tannin. A Pinot Noir is appropriate. Hard cheeses need a strong red wine, but Cabernet and Merlot are too fruity for most. Try a mellower, earthier wine, like a Tempranillo or Monastrell-based wine. ¡Viva Espana! For paté, you will need a wine with coarser tannins, like a Navarra, from Spain, an Argentinian Bonarda, a Carmenere from Spain or France, or a Barbaresco from Italy.

Your final, and most important, consideration should be your guests. Wine tastings can be memorable if they are kept light, fun and easy. They can also be deadly boring if they are made too pedantic.

Set your friends at ease right off the bat with some sparkling wine. Inexpensive alternatives include Prosecco and Franciacorta (the next big thing in sparkling wines) from Italy, Spanish Cava, California sparkling wine, and Cremant from the other regions of France.

Choose a unifying theme for the wines you present during the evening. A good theme is to have all one varietal, but across different regions of the world. Excellent combinations abound. Ask your wine shop salesman about all the regions that produce, for example, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Malbec/Carmenere/Bonarda, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir or Grenache.

Or choose blends to compare with 100% varietals. Cabernets from most of the world can be profitably compared to Bordeaux’s blends to see which grape-inclusion philosophy is more compelling. Or pick a region and discover its wines. The Loire, Italy’s Piedmont, Spain’s eastern wine sub-regions, southern Germany, South Australia and California are all examples of multi-variety regions that are fascinating.

Most importantly for a successful evening: keep your guests engaged by typing a wine list for the event. Use a page for each wine, and staple the pages together. The list should include the store where you bought the wine (in case guests want to buy it too) winery, the wine name, the vintage, the region, and any estate or cru designation. Include a tasting note and the story of each winery (use the Internet for this!). Print a copy for each guest so that they have something to read during the tasting, and to refer to while talking with other guests. Finally, encourage guests to take notes, especially on the color, the aroma, and the flavor of each wine. This will help them remember each wine for future purchase, and provide a nice souvenir of the warm tasting you hosted in the cold winter of ’09.

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