First of all you’ll need to decide on what sort of format you’d like your tasting to take, and organise your wines - these can be your own personal preferences or some bottles you’ve never tried before.
One of the easiest and most flexible of tastings - pick a few grape varieties to taste, with varying vintages and styles, and line up according to the main rules: left to right, whites to reds, going from the least powerful grape to the more perfumed and full-bodied, and going from the youngest to the oldest vintage. You could choose to concentrate on just one variety, or maybe just whites or reds to start off with.
"Horizontal" and "vertical" tastings
- A horizontal tasting compares wines from a specific region and vintage - across a number of different producers.
- A vertical tasting compares the wines of just one estate or producer. This will be over a number of different vintages and is designed to show the evolution of the wine and the effect different growing conditions have on the production of a wine.
Referring to a tasting where the wines are masked (as opposed to your guests). This is a fun way of dispelling any preconceptions you may or may not have of a wine, and can be an interesting way to taste. Disguise your wines before your guests arrive with brown paper bags on the bottles or by pre-pouring to avoid cheating.
Food & wine matching
A vast and varied topic – which can lend itself well for an interesting tasting. Try preparing a selection of cheeses - hard and soft varieties, blue veined, sheep and cow's milk – and try partnering with a few different red, white and dessert wines. If nothing else, have a good supply of dry crackers to hand to help neutralise and cleanse palate throughout the tasting.
To spit or not to spit?
Apart from the obvious point, that after several glasses of Clare Valley Shiraz, your notes might be getting a little ‘untidy’, your palate does tire after swallowing a number of glasses, as ‘palate fatigue’ sets in (the alcohol creeps into your taste buds, even if you don’t swallow, eventually numbing them). So make sure plenty of water is to hand.
There is actually a ‘system’ to writing tasting notes which follows the general pattern of tasting - appearance, smell, taste, finish and overall comments and judgements. Most professional tasters rate their wines – wine judges score out of 20 and awarding bronze, silver and gold medals, while Robert Parker and others wine critics review out of 100, or award stars.
Download plenty of Taylors comments sheets & tasting mats to help keep your thoughts in order: