A Bit of Rainy Day Sippin’ and Nibblin’
By Karima Danao
So it’s pounding rain almost every evening and you have a big wine pairing guidebook staring down at you. What now? Organise a tasting, naturally.
The world of vino is vast and one of the best ways to find out what other varietals appeal to you is to have an informal tasting (read: no tasting cards necessary). Daunting task, you say? There’s always a first time. Visit your local wine merchant and peruse what’s on offer. Choose a few reds and a few whites. If your budget permits it, throw in some lovely rosés as well.
It is good to have an assortment of Old World and New World bottles. Old World refers to regions in Europe with a long, illustrious history of winemaking. This includes France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Portugal. New World refers to pretty much everywhere else, the popular ones being Australia, the United States, South Africa, Chile and Argentina.
Ask your wine merchant to assist you in putting together your selection, ranging from fruity to spicy, sweet to dry, light to bold. This should give you a good variety of bouquet and mouthfeel. From there, it’s easier to whittle the list down next time you replenish your stock.
To give you some direction before you head to the bottle shop, here’s a guide to the most popular varietals and their regions that you could start with:
RED OLD WORLD NEW WORLD
Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux (France) Chile, Napa Valley (US)
Pinot Noir Burgundy (France) New Zealand, Oregon (US)
Merlot Bordeaux (France) California (US)
Syrah France Australia, Argentina
Chianti Tuscany (Italy) –
Port* Portugal –
*sweet fortified red wine
WHITE OLD WORLD NEW WORLD
Sauvignon Blanc France, Italy New Zealand, California (US)
Pinot Gris/Grigio France, Italy Oregon (US)
Gewürztraminer Alsace (France), Germany –
Chardonnay Burgundy (France) Australia, California (US)
Riesling Germany, Alsace (France) Finger Lakes (US)
Sauternes** Bordeaux (France) –
**sweet white wine
Now for your party. To ensure a successful tasting, it is vital to plan the event carefully. You will want to get the most out of the experience so make sure you invite people who can actually help increase your knowledge of these fermented nectars.
So first up, the guest list.
Make an effort to assemble a good, wine-enthusiast crowd, whether of novices or experts. It’s best to choose personalities that you feel will meld successfully. Half of the guests should at least find it easy to strike up a conversation. They’ll keep the party from turning dull. A sprinkling of goofy characters and a few intellectuals will make for an interesting mix. More importantly, keep a fairly balanced male-to-female ratio. Trust me. You wouldn’t want to see the rest of the evening entirely spent on discussing the merits of the new Lancôme lengthening mascara or the best approach to finishing Grand Theft Auto IV.
Next, the playlist.
Music is not necessarily an imperative part of the evening but it does enhance the atmosphere. Choose tracks that serve as a great background, very much like a beautiful sauce to an extraordinary steak. The focus of the evening is conversation so make sure that people can actually talk to each other. My list includes:
Life Less Ordinary Carbon Leaf
Red, Red Wine UB40
Miss You Groove Da Praia
Mas Que Nada Sergio Mendes
From The Clouds Jack Johnson
High and Dry Radiohead
Could You Be Loved Bossa N’ Marley
Dance Like Nobody’s Watching Donavon Frankenreiter
La Foret Lescop
Then, the nibbles menu. It’s a tasting so don’t slave yourself and prepare a full course meal. If you inform your guests properly prior to their arrival, they should expect nothing more than a few small plates to accompany the wines. The key is to choose bites that will line your belly and help soak up the alcohol. My best bet is a cheeseboard.
If you’re not certain which cheeses pair well with your chosen wines, check the table below to guide you. You can start with four and get one from each category (bloomy, soft to semi-firm, hard, blue). I normally gather 6-8 (usually matching the number of varietals I’m serving), arranging them on the board clockwise in texture (softest to hardest) or flavour (mildest to strongest). Below are some of the recommended pairings:
Brie Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Camembert Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc
Soft goat cheese Sauvignon Blanc
Fontina (Swedish cow’s milk) Pinot Grigio
Comte (French cow’s milk) Pinot Noir
Smoked Cheese Gewürztraminer, Syrah
Cheddar Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay
Gouda (Dutch cow’s milk) Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon
Manchego (Spanish sheep’s milk) Syrah
Parmigiano Reggiano Chianti
Gorgonzola (Italian cow’s milk) Port, Sauternes
Danish Blue Sauternes, Cabernet Sauvignon
Now add some fresh fruit (grapes, apples or pears work well), some nuts and plain crackers to cleanse the palate.
That should do it, to be honest. However, if you really love feeding people, feel free to offer a few more items to provide the digestive tracts extra protection. (This is assuming that some guests will actually ingest all of the wine you pour instead of tipping them into the dump jar!)
Lastly, wine glasses. You will need a number of them. They don’t have to be formal stemware. Stemless wine goblets are all the rage now and far more practical since they’re less ‘accident-prone.’ To be honest, even small plain glass cups would do. Just avoid plastic because they’re not bump-proof, or paper because they affect the flavour of the wine.
Prepare at least two (one white, one red) per guest. You will need to empty and rinse them after each taste. Hence, the need for a dump jar. It can be a deep bowl or a small bucket. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s darkly coloured or opaque. You’ll realise its importance later when you start to see your guests unabashedly spilling all of those precious fermented drops straight into their gullets!
So, how about it? Ready to convert your gaff into the cosiest and most sought-after wet season refuge? Really, what better way to spend a rainy evening than congregating an eclectic mix of wine bottles and vino enthusiasts for a session of monsoon oenology? The tropical storms can rage outside. Indoors, you’re putting your wine guide to very good use. Wink.