Have A Wine-Tasting Party, Part II

Rid the room of as many strong odors as possible (another good reason to eat afterward), including perfumes, potpourri or colognes. These interfere with the aromas of the wines. So if you've been cooking cabbage or codfish or have a penchant for stinky durian fruit, you might be well advised to hold your wine party outdoors, even in the winter.

The best way to organize a tasting is to gather wines by type. For example, taste and compare pinot gris from several countries (an Alsace pinot gris; an Oregon pinot gris; an Italian pinot grigio). Or simply set up several interesting pairs (a light, steely chardonnay from France tasted with a rich, buttery Californian; an oaky, massive cabernet sauvignon from Australia with an elegant, silky Bordeaux).

A neutral, white surface such as a tablecloth or placemat for each person is the best covering for the table. Looking down through a slanted glass against a white background is the best way to see the colors of the wine.

The best palate cleanser (and glass rinser) is water, so have plenty available. It's best if it is cool, but not iced. As for nibbles, very plain, unsalted crackers work better than bread or cheese, which contain proteins that coat the palate. Why wine and cheese parties are so traditional is beyond me.

If you like, drape the bottles in aluminum foil or a brown paper bag held fastened tight around the bottle's throat. This makes for a "blind"' tasting and can be a lot of fun. In addition, prejudices don't then factor into evaluations. But remember: It's more important to understand a wine than to unmask it.

A dump bucket (a vase, wine cooling bucket, even a large cup) allows tasters to toss what they don't wish to swallow. It should be obvious that you can appreciate and learn from more wine if you don't slog down each glassful.

Paper, pens and perhaps a tasting chart encourage note taking. While it's fun to taste through a bunch of wines, it's difficult to remember what you like or dislike about each one the nearer you get to, um, the end.

Serve white wines between 50 and 55 degrees and reds between 60 and 65 degrees. It's a good idea to open the red wines an hour before they're tasted. But don't just leave them in the bottle: Aerate them by pouring them into some container such as a decanter or glass pitcher.

If you want to invite me over, have some sparkling lambruscos or better yet, a really egg yolky marsala on hand: the stuff I really love. Yes, I know. Somewhere in my brain wiring is the connection that expects wine to be like liquid candy. But keep in mind that most wine snobs... er.... connoisseurs, prefer their wine so dry it will suck the moisture out of their tongues. Then they can babble on about the "the tannic hints from the north slope enhancing the subtle undertones of pomegranate and gooseberry and iron oxide soil" and similar pure unadulterated balderdash. I'd rather drink a nice tall grass of (natural not synthetic) 20W50 on the rocks than dry wine, but to each their own!

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