How to Plan a Summer Wine Tasting
by Susan Montgomery
As we start to open up again for small gatherings, it’s the perfect time to plan a spring or summer party with close friends who enjoy pairing creative dishes with good wines. Our Wine Review Council met recently to taste some superb Oregon and California wines, but you don’t have to be an experienced wine taster to plan a lovely get-together for your friends. Almost everyone who likes wine loves trying new wines. Here are my suggestions for a splendid wine tasting.
Planning your party
Plan for a gathering of about six to eight wine and food lovers. This is the perfect number for good conversation and you’ll end up with a nice variety of dishes. Assign each participant a wine ahead of time and send participants tasting notes on that wine. You can usually find these notes on the winery’s website or on a retail site that sells that wine. Ask each participant to bring a dish to pair with his or her assigned wine.
Pairing wine and food
Pairing wines with food is not complicated, but there are some basic guidelines. Generally, wine should have the same flavor intensity as the dish with which it is being paired. Red wines go best with rich foods such as red meat or bold spicy dishes. White wines go best with lighter foods like fish, salads, or vegetables.
Create a pleasant setting
It’s nice to have everyone at a long table or a large round table to enhance discussion. If the weather is warm, wine tastings can be idyllic if held outside on your patio or in your backyard. Make sure there are water glasses for each participant, along with a pitcher of cold water on the table. Also have a spit bucket in case your guests don’t want to drink an entire pour, although pours should be small. (There is nothing wrong with spitting. The goal is for participants to enjoy tasting a variety of wines and not get inebriated.) At our recent gathering, our hosts held the tasting on their lovely back patio surrounded by palm trees and tropical plants. Place mats and flowers can decorate the table.
Choosing the wines
It’s interesting to choose a variety of wines and I suggest tasting them from the lightest to the boldest. Sometimes hosts will choose the same variety of wine from different vineyards. For instance, our group just tasted six rosés from all over the world. We have also tasted all Merlots or Zinfandels.
However, at the recent tasting being discussed here, we tried a variety of California and Oregon wines. I will describe these wonderful wines as suggestions that you might want to consider. All these wines can be ordered online directly from the wineries and some through retail outlets.
Start your tasting with one or two good whites that are light and pleasant on the palate. Our group tasted an especially nice 2019 Vezer Blue Victorian Sauvignon Blanc ($26) from the Vezer Family Vineyard in the northern San Francisco Bay area. This was a refreshing wine with hints of pineapple, grapefruit, and oranges. It was paired perfectly with a crispy, apple and beet arugula salad topped with crunchy walnuts and gorgonzola.
Next you might want to try one or two light reds from Willamette Valley, Oregon, that make a good transition from the white. We liked the 2016 Oregon Trails Wine Company’s Pinot Noir ($25). This well-balanced fruity wine had light, subtly sweet berry flavors. Or you might try another Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the 2016 Left Coast Estate Pinot ($21), from Cali’s Cuvee Vineyards, which also had sweet berry and plum flavors but with hints of smoke and chocolate. At our Wine Review Council, we paired these Pinot Noirs with seafood, such as a delicious Cuban Potato Puree made with calamari, shrimp, and scallops or with flavorful smoked salmon, capers, and cream cheese spread on bagels.
Another Pinot was the 2017 Anchor Valley Pinot Noir ($33) from Rogue Valley, Oregon. This deeply flavored Estate Vintage wine was wonderful and very smooth with its raspberry and cranberry tastes and even touches of vanilla and tobacco. We paired this with Italian meatballs. The richness of the wine and the dish complemented each other perfectly.
We loved the 2017 Tres Sabores Red Wine ($30) from Sonoma, a blend of three unique grapes, with its upfront berry tastes and enchanting floral aromas. It enhanced a tasty appetizer of savory mushroom and spanakopita tarts.
Next we moved to some tasty and distinctive Petite Sirahs from Theopolis Vineyards in Anderson Valley, California. Theopolis Vineyards was established by Theodora Lee in the Anderson Valley. She is known as Queen of the Vineyards and is active in the Association of African American Vintners. We savored two vintages of the estate-grown Theopolis Vineyards Petite Sirah — 2016 and 2017. They were an intense purple in color with intense red fruit flavors and hints of dark chocolate. We paired these rich wines with a tender beef pot roast that had a nice tang from simmering in Moroccan spices.
The 2017 Merisi Petite Sirah from Diener Ranch Winery had the deep flavors of dark berries and dark chocolate with a spicy, acidic finish. We savored this rich, bold wine with smoked brisket. Our final wine of the tasting was the 2017 Berryessa Gap Petite Sirah from Yolo County in Northern California. We loved its dark purple hue, cherry and chocolate tastes, with hints of ginger. We paired this Sirah with tangy Asian pork tacos that were a perfect match.
So there you have it — a diverse selection of wonderful wines that would please almost every palate, along with some ideas for delicious dishes for pairing. These wines or even a few of them would make a great tasting party of excellent wines that your guests may not have tried before. Happy sipping!
Photos by Todd Montgomery