Sunday, March 16, 2014

#12 - Carpe Vino

The selections ready for the party
It has been a while since I've had friends over for more than just a casual one-on-one chat, so I decided a few weeks ago that it was time to turn to my DayZero list for an excuse for a party.  I had already chosen March 15th as a possible date and wine seemed to be a good match to the Ides of March.  A wine and cheese tasting party was in the works ...
Looking at one of the choices ...

I know that my friends have a wide range of experience with tasting wine - I'm on the less knowledgeable end of that spectrum - so I decided to include some more unusual wines to give the more experienced a challenge and less experienced a taste of something new.   Along with selections from my personal "cellar" (and I use that expression very loosely), I had fun one afternoon at a wine shop with a young clerk choosing some varieties that are not as commonly tried.  This led to me buying way too many bottles and needing to narrow down the choices ... I eventually settled on 9 different types.  Perhaps I'll need to have another party to share some of the unchosen ones from this round.
Personalized wine glasses waiting to go to the table.

It was a learning experience for me to find out how to order the different wines for the tasting and the serving temperature for each - plus I read a lot about how to taste along the way.  This site was the most informative.  And I found a fun graphic of a wine tasting wheel that I printed out for people to have ideas on flavors that they might smell or taste.
In northern MN, March means wearing your toga with boots!

Since I had a Ides of March theme, we also had a costume prize for those guests who wanted to wear a toga costume.  I just love playing dress-up and so do some of my friends.  We had some very fun costumes.  I had a bit of spare time and wanted to do something period with my extremely long hair.  I found this wonderful article about a hair archeologist - - something that I never knew existed!  It had links to some great YouTube videos, and I ended up using one as a basis to do my hair up in the style of Agrippina the Younger. It worked very well!  I am used to having my hair done up and spending the rest of my day shedding pins or losing wisps from the style.  This hairstyle took a ponytail band and 2 bobby pins and didn't have any mishaps from when I put it in at 4 pm until I took it out after midnight.  Plus, it didn't feel weird on my head (unbalanced, too tight, etc.) while I was wearing it.
My "Agrippina" hairstyle

I also used my spare time to try out glass painting - with mixed success - on the base and stems of some inexpensive wine glasses so that all of my friends would have a souvenir of the evening.  I did extra glasses; a very good idea as my new kitty had a very active time last weekend and broke a couple that were sitting out to finish drying.
Intense concentration on the flavor

The tasting itself was blind - it was interesting to hear what my friends thought each wine was before the unveiling at the end of the night.  The first glass that I poured of each had everyone's eyes focused as they waiting to see what color liquid emerged.  The nine types that I chose - in order of pouring - were: sparkling moscato, sparkling pinot noir, riesling, sauvignon blanc, dry mead, moscato, summer blush (a rhubarb/strawberry fruit wine), a blended red, and zinfandel.  It was interesting to me that it seemed the least favorite of the group was one that the wine store clerk had encouraged me to buy - saying that people are hesitant to try it but generally like it a lot when they do - the sparkling pinot noir.  This was, ironically, the most expensive wine of the evening.

Some of the comments of the evening ... what is this! (about the summer blush), old band-aid! (listed as an aroma on the reference wheel I had printed), it's so clear (the dry mead), I'd go on a second date with this one (the sauvignon blanc).

Horatio watches his new mouse toy closely

Also "he's soooo cute" - in reference to Horatio, my new kitty.  I had been a little apprehensive about how Horatio would do with a group of people and lots of glassware as he has only met my friends one-on-one before last night, but he was a wonderful party member.  One of the highlights of his evening was that Heidi had brought a toy for him - a remote controlled mouse.  The other highlight was the profound relief that he showed for "his blanket"  when it reappeared on the couch after the party was over.
I encouraged guests to take home some of the opened bottles.

The cheese came out as the wine information was revealed - one of the bits of information I learned while reading about how to host wine tastings was that you should not serve more than bread or crackers (to cleanse the palate) if you are tasting specifically for the wine notes.  So, save the cheese for later in the evening and then make choices on which wines it pairs with the best.  The informal winner of the night for the cheese was the Saint Angel triple cream - a soft cheese from France.

Top group wine choices from the group were the moscato (Middle Sister winery in Argentina) and the blended red (Lost Angel winery in California) with the sauvignon blanc (Nobilo winery in New Zealand) as a close third.  I had offered a prize for the person who could identify the most types correctly; no one got more than 4.  I think some of the more knowledgeable were thrown by the information on the country of origin I had included on the tasting notes sheets; there were some expectations overthrown on which wines are grown in a particular area.  I had a great time - it was fun to try a bunch of types of wine in company.  I'd certainly host a wine tasting again - a very easy party to prep since it involved very little kitchen time - and encourage some more discussion among my friends on which wines they like most and why.
Top wines of the evening - the moscato is on the right