The holidays are here again. They came abruptly as a reminder that the year, once again, has flown by. We find ourselves running around trying to tie up lose ends, buying that elusive last gift, and organizing everything for Christmas morning. By the time January 1st comes around, we will be exhausted. We will begin the new year with high hopes, goals, and a fresh attitude (most of us anyway).
One way to break up the madness that is December and do something a little different, is to host a holiday themed wine and cheese tasting party. Just gather several of your closest friends, wine, and a whole lot of unique types of cheese. I tried this last year and it’s a tradition I now vow to continue.
The perfect size for a seated tasting, in my opinion, is between 12-16 guests. We hosted 16 friends and it felt just right. All of the wines were placed inside brown paper bags and assigned a number. This way, no one would know which was being poured. Everyone would sip wines priced anywhere from $5.00 to $109.00. Since this was the first time I hosted, I provided all of the wine. Another way to do it is to have everyone bring a bottle of wine of his or her choice. You can assign the type of wine, vintage, etc. as a guide so that the wines are all comparable. The wines we sampled were, (in no particular order): Darioush, Antica, Col Solare, Tignanello, Far Niente, Caymus, and the wildcard of the night, Sutter Home. We chose mostly Cabernet Sauvignons or other very similar blends.
We nibbled on many cheeses: Midnight Moon, Ewephoria, Manchego, Vintage Grand Ewe, Swiss Appenzeller, Unikass Gouda, Seaside Cheddar, Chaource Rouzaire and Guilloteau St. Angel. They were absolutely delicious! I separated the cheeses by milk type: goat, cow, and sheep. Even friends who swore they strongly disliked certain kinds of cheese were happily filling up their plates with them. The cold cuts, breads, crackers, fruit, and jams were the perfect gluttonous pairings for the selected wines. For the jams, we included a delightful lavender love honey, sweet mango chutney, and the very popular hot pepper jelly.
I printed score sheets on white, linen paper. Numbers 1-7 were added to rate each wine and the instructions were printed at the bottom of the page leaving plenty of space for note taking. As an added touch, I ordered personalized pencils.
I searched online for quotes about wine which I then printed, and tied to an ornament. I decorated the table and placed an ornament on each place setting. The ornaments were a hit! They were an instant conversation piece (not that we needed any help in that department) and also made for fun party favors later on.
After everyone had a chance to feast a bit on all the delightful food, we sat down and began to finally try each wine. Each place setting had 7 glasses. This allowed our guests to go back and compare the wines. Everyone slowly swirled, sniffed, and sipped each wine taking in each wine’s different, complex characteristics. It’s always much harder to critique a wine when you have no idea what you are actually drinking. Then again, that’s exactly what makes it so much fun. As mentioned before, the wildcard was the $5.00 Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon (purchased at Publix Supermarket). One of our guests actually rated the Sutter Home as her top choice, over all of the others. How would it compare against the highest priced wine once everyone had a chance to try them all? After much sipping, debate, and laughter, we tabulated the scores. The results are posted below and listed from highest to lowest score:
WINNER: Col Solare ($60.00)
Far Niente ($109.00)
Sutter Home ($5.00)
A victorious Col Solare took top honors. Tignanello was rated last, just below the wildcard. You just never know what the result will be at a wine tasting event given everyone’s different palate. It sure was fun to find out! This year, we are doing things differently. I will keep the details under wraps, for now. I am already looking forward to the much needed pause and wonderful memories it will bring.
Until then, from my palette to yours, cheers!
Have a healthy, delicious, and memorable holiday season.