The Importance of Gathering Around Wine
As social beings, we have a genetic tendency to congregate. So
fundamental is this urge to gather, we have codified it as a
right in our Constitution. We gather along religious and
political lines, by profession, gender, the types of cars we
drive, the kinds of computers we use, and even by what we drink.
With more than 100,000 different wines on the
worldwide market, gathering to discuss wine is one of the best
ways to learn about wine. As with so many other human endeavors,
joining others with a common interest in wine to share
perspectives and experiences, greatly enhances one's
understanding and enjoyment of it. Plus, it's a hell of a lot
cheaper and you can afford to try a far greater range of wines
than if you go it alone.
That's how I got my start more than 30 years
ago, and I still find it one of the best ways to stay current
with major trends in wines. Not to mention, it is just plain fun
to share wine with others who enjoy it.
If you really want to learn more about wine,
your best option is to get together with on a regular basis with
others who enjoy wine for the express purpose of tasting and
And when you get together, the key is to
approach wine in a systematic way. It is amazing how quickly the
pieces of the puzzle fall into place when you focus on wine
characteristics using a particular theme. Although it would be
nice to have one big club to service all the inquiring palates
in town, such an endeavor can quickly run into diminishing
returns because the administrative and logistic considerations
become overwhelming. It is best to stay small and flexible.
Here are some fundamental tips for starting
your own wine group. First, find one or two other people who are
as interested in wine as you are and then make a commitment to
devote time regularly to wine tasting and education. You have to
have at least one person who is passionate enough about wine to
act as the catalyst for the group.
Second, find additional people who are
interested in learning about wine, but who also can commit to
regular attendance at meetings. Unreliable members will kill a
tasting group in very short order. I'm not sure there is a
minimum number, but shoot for six to ten people. A single bottle
will serve as many as ten people with an adequate amount of
Third, set a schedule to meet regularly at
least monthly, but whatever you do, don't combine this with a
dinner club type of activity because those events usually are
more social in nature and the wine will get lost in the shuffle.
Remember, your goal is to focus on the wine.
There are other practical things you can do to
make a wine group work better. Get a subscription to one of the
major wine magazines such as Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast
and use it to guide your tastings. Invest in a dedicated set of
inexpensive but proper wine glasses so that each person will
have a glass for each wine you taste, that is, six to eight
glasses per person.
Select themes that will be educational and
take turns coordinating each tasting by putting together
background information about the wines to be evaluated. By all
means, do not assign people to bring specific wines; this is
inviting disaster. Have just one person responsible for buying
the wines and then figure out how to split up the cost later.
When starting out, select wines that have been
reviewed in magazines and use those notes to guide the group in
what to look for in the wines. Take notes on the group's
impressions as compared to those of the "experts", and keep a
file on the wines tasted.
Depending on the number of people in the
group, try to keep the number of wines evaluated at one sitting
to between 4 and 8 wines. Set a price range for the wines you
want to taste, and consider occasionally including a wine in one
of the higher price tiers to learn how those wines compare to
lower priced wines.
There is an unlimited number of themes for
tastings. Compare Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon
wines from different countries to learn about stylistic
differences. Compare several brands of a single type of wine but
at different prices to examine the effect of price on quality.
Compare wines from the same country or state, but which come
from different regions within the area to learn how climate and
soil affect the flavor of the wine. Explore the different wine
producing countries of the world and taste wines that best
represent the general characteristics of a country or a region.
The staff at most of the larger wine shops should be able to
give you good advice on other themes and which wines to buy, but
there is no substitute for doing your own background research.
You should be able to come up with a years
worth of tasting themes with little trouble. But the beauty of
wine tasting is that at the end of the year there is a new
vintage so you will have to start all over. As you can see, this
can become a life-long quest; at least that's the story I'm
I will make an offer to anyone who is really
serious about starting their own wine tasting club. I will give
you a year's worth of tasting themes that we have used in the
wine club I belong to, and (for readers in the Oxford, Miss.,
area) I will attend a couple of your initial meetings to guide
you on your way. I guarantee that you will quickly gain the
confidence to plan and conduct successful tastings on your own.
Just remember, you can usually drink your mistakes.
The presence of wine at human gatherings goes
back more than 8,000 years, and I would be willing to bet that
our ancestors began to debate its qualities shortly after they
discovered its capacity for enhancing the quality of life. We
must carry on the tradition.
My wine picks for the week are the several
blends produced by Rosemount from Australia. These
combine things like Shiraz, Grenache, Merlot, and Riesling in
some delightfully light and fruity wines ideal for summer. Look
for the crooked labels in the Australian wine section of your
favorite wine shop. Cheers.