Wine — A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting

By Tim Protzman

Forget the hype, just find out what you like

The only way to get to know wine is to drink it.

For more than 300 years, wine lovers have been gathering to compare bottles and vintages. But there’s nothing more boring than a room full of so-called wine experts, myself included, telling how they managed to track down and buy the last bottle of Barolo from Mussolini’s wine cellar. It’s much more fun getting the candid opinions of wine novices. Experts use words like “pretentious” to describe an inferior wine. Novices just say “Yuck!”

You can hold a great wine tasting on a limited budget with just three bottles. Get a package of Matzo bread and a pitcher of water as a palate cleanser. You also need a bucket to pour or spit the unfinished wine into. Yes, it’s permissible to spit, just do it discreetly. You probably won’t need to spit at a three-bottle tasting, but if you go to a wine expo with hundreds of bottles, spitting is advisable if you want to remain upright. 

We’re doing a “varietal tasting,” which is three different types of wine. A vertical tasting is where many vintage years of the same wine are tasted. A horizontal tasting usually samples many producers of the same type of wine.

I’ve chosen three white wines from the West Coast, all under $14. We’ll do a blind tasting, which means we won’t see the labels until after they’ve all been tasted and commented on. You can decant them, but it’s easier just to keep them hidden in a brown paper bag, with a number on it. You, as host, should provide note pads and a separate wineglass for each wine. If you want to get fancy, and the tasters consider themselves a little more educated than novices, you can provide a copy of the University of California at Davis’ “Wine Aroma Wheel.” The wheel was designed to standardize the terminology used to describe the bouquet and flavors of a wine. I think it’s more fun just to make up your own. My friend Mary once described an over-enthusiastic riesling as “a cross between pickle juice and gasoline.” Which wasn’t far off. The three tasting wines won’t present this problem and they’re readily available at the state liquor store and supermarkets throughout the Granite State.

Trinchero Family Selection Sauvignon Blanc, California $9.99. I’d serve this one first because of the acidity and lower sugar content. If your guests don’t like this one, it will be because sauvignon blancs haven’t completely entered the mainstream yet. It should be tannic, with a slight mineral taste, like raw parsley.

Rodney Strong Chardonnay, California. $13.99. This is a typical chardonnay with the oaky, buttery flavor we all recognize. With this wine, and all of them, have the guests swirl the glass and smell the wine.

This chardonnay is pretty fragrant and has some intense aromas. It’ll be fun to see what they come up with.

Tefft Columbia Valley Pinot Grigio, Washington state. $9.99. This is a light wine with subtle hints of lemony fruit and a dry refreshing palate. I detected a note of chrysanthemums.

But who cares what I think! Your wine tasting should be as fun and lively as an evening of Pictionary. If your guests say the wine has a bouquet like Granny’s liniment, then that’s what it is. It’s about getting together and enjoying wine. It’s about discovery. With a passion for the grape and the confidence to explore, you’ll soon be an expert yourself. Remember, my only hard and fast wine rule is “The greatest wine in the world is the one you like the best.”

Find your wine

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission can help you find your wine with a click or two. Just go to www.nh.gov/liquor/index.shtml, type the name of your wine into the product locator and click “go.” The site’s search engine will come up with a list of stores that carry the bottle you seek.


—Tim Protzman

 
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