Learn about wine with friends

PERFECT SETTING: Good lighting will help you judge the wines before you taste them, or light some candles to help illuminate the glass. The colour of the wine is often a good giveaway to the style. Photo: Shutterstock
PERFECT SETTING: Good lighting will help you judge the wines before you taste them, or light some candles to help illuminate the glass. The colour of the wine is often a good giveaway to the style. Photo: Shutterstock

If you and your friends love wine, why not start your own wine tasting group?

It can be an enormous amount of fun and everyone will discover something about wine or even taste something they never knew they liked. It's a great way to have a regular get together with like-minded people.

It's known that a little bit of knowledge is the key to making discerning decisions and this applies to buying and ordering wine. Whether you are starting out, wanting to collect wines, or simply want something different every time you order a wine, regular tasting will improve your ability to make an informed choice.

To keep expenses to a minimum, ask everyone to bring their own bottle and set a limit on price. Each person can get a chance to host the tasting so costs are shared. If you do choose very expensive wines, perhaps consider pooling costs and one person buys the wines.

Where: Choose a room with seating, preferably around a table with space for glasses and tasting sheets. Good lighting is important so you can see the colour of the wine. White wines will graduate from pale, water white to deep yellow depending on the age of the wine, the grape type and also the region from which it came. Red wines start off purpleish when young and can develop into deep garnet colours or even brick red as they age. Again the varietal of grape will make a difference to the colour. So in good lighting you can tell if you are tasting a young wine or perhaps even get so good, you can pinpoint the varietal.

Try not to have any smells permeating the room - ask guests not to wear any fragrance.

How: You can 'theme' each event which makes it a bit more interesting. Everyone can bring a bottle in a paper bag that costs $X and from one particular region. For example, South Australia. Chill the sparkling or Champagne but it helps if most of the wines are at room temperature when tasting.

As you progress you could start to branch out into international wines. Pour only 50-70 ml in each glass (you can finish the wines afterwards).

Pour the wines (ask each person to pour their own wine and perhaps give a few hints as to why they chose it) and once everyone has tasted, ask everyone to hazard a guess as to the wine, or let them write their own tasting notes to take home. This prevents anyone feeling insecure about not getting the wine right.

The "owner" of the wine can then do a big reveal and surprise the room. Remember, some of the world's greatest judges and winemakers often get this bit wrong - so don't be daunted.

What you will need: Wine, water jugs and decent wine-tasting glasses, a corkscrew and an ice bucket to use as a spittoon.

You don't have to spit out every sip of wine but it helps to stay focussed on the next wine and on the road for those who are driving. Wine glasses with stems may seem a little treacherous when a bunch of friends gather - but the stems prevent the wine from warming up or your sticky fingers making marks on the glass so you can't 'read' the wine.

You will need a different glass for each wine. Place the glasses on a white sheet (you can download some great wine tasting sheets) in a line and pour them one by one. If for some, this is their first experience tasting wine in a controlled environment, then look up and download "wine aroma wheels". They offer a multitude of adjectives to stop us all looking like dunces when we can't find the exact words we want to describe a wine.

The order in which to taste a wine is roughly swirl, look, sniff, taste and spit if necessary. Hold your glass by the stem and swish the wine around gently to release any flavour compounds. Hold up the glass to the light and see if you can describe the colour. The colour and aroma can tell you a lot about a wine.

Then take a small sip and as elegantly as possible, move the wine around in your mouth to let it coat every taste bud. Seasoned tasters will tell you always to go with your first instinct when you taste a wine. If you thought "babies socks" or "melted wax" but were too embarrassed to say anything, don't be. It could be your frame of reference that has pulled up a memory of a fragrance you remember. It's a highly subjective activity and not everyone has the same taste buds or memory or even mindfulness. Be kind.

Put out pens and paper or hop onto your phones and make notes or visit a few wine judging sites such as Vivino at the end of the event to see how your wine fared.

Food for thought: Don't go overboard with food until after the tasting. Provide crackers or bread and water to get the optimum use out of your palate. Even cheese can coat your tongue and mouth and alter the taste of wines. Afterwards you can lay on a sumptuous feast, order takeaway pizzas or just put out some cheese and crackers. Finish off the last of the wines and see which match the food the best.

As you all develop your tasting skills, plan a weekend away in a region closeby, where you can visit a few cellar doors and buy wine for your next gathering. It's always an eye-opening experience when you're able to taste wines you would never usually have chosen.

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