Looking for a theme to your own wine tasting party, or just looking for an excuse to have a few friends over? You can make it fun, and even a little educational, by hosting an at home wine tasting. Having taught wine tasting classes for over 20 years, I have a few ideas for themes, from geographic wine tastings, to varietal review wine tastings, to compare/contrast wine tastings. The only limit is your creativity.
One of my favorite themes is a form of compare and contrast; it pits Old World wines versus New World wines. Here is an opportunity to compare Old World rustic stylings against New World fruit bombs, by sampling the same varietals from different locales. With the popularity of cooking competition shows like Iron Chef, one can’t help but frame this comparison in a “battle” context, where every guest is a judge.
Wine Tasting Battle: Old World versus New World – The Varietals.
You can pick one pair of wines for a few people, or you can pick three varietals, invite more people, and do six wines, three Old World and three New World. For this discussion, Old World is basically Europe and the Middle East, while New World is everywhere else. Vitis vinifera, the grape species of most wine varietals, originated in the Old World. The New World is anywhere where we have brought those grapes. Stylistically, New World wines have a tend to lean towards a riper, fruit forward style, while Old World wines have higher acidities and more minerality. By comparing the same grape from different regions we get a sense of the terroir’s impact on the wine. For this “Battle – Varietal Style,” here are some mono-varietal ideas: Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec and Zinfandel.
Sauvignon Blanc: Gueneau “Le Clos Chartrier” Sancerre 2014 vs. Casa del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc 2014. Both are 100% Sauvignon Blanc, though the Sancerre comes from the French Loire Valley and the Bosque is from Chile’s Casablanca Valley. Here we expect more minerality from the French Sauvy and more ripe fruit flavors from the Chilean. Both will have gooseberry, but the New World version might tend to more grapefruit and citrus, while the Sancerre tends to limestone and slate.
Malbec: Chateau de Haut Serres Cahors 2009 vs. Marchiori and Barraud Perdriel Malbec 2013. Both are 100% Malbec, a grape thought to originate in Cahors, France. Malbec has truly come to its own in Argentina. Here the New World will jump out with more obvious fruit on the nose, blackberries and spice box, while the Cahors will have more acidity and denser earthy notes. Old World wines, with their greater acidity tend to be great food wines, while New World options, with their riper fruit, can be enjoyed alone as well as with food.
Zinfandel: Giravolta Primitivo di Manduria 2011 vs. Shannon Ridge Home Ranch “Two Bud” Zinfandel 2011. Both are 100% Zinfandel, but each represent very different styles of this grape of Croatian origin. The Shannon Ridge, from Lake County, California, is a true fruit bomb, ripe and jammy with intense extraction and juiciness and just a little spice. The Primitivo, from Southern Italy, shares some of the abundant fruit, but with more rustic acidity, and less alcohol. Here I get dried fruits and herbs with a more complex mineral palate, the same grape, but very different wines.
These are just some suggestions. You can do the same with your favorite varietals, whether they are Chardonnay or Moscato, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. Go into your local ABC, and let us help you come up with the wines for this kind of a tasting contest, or come up with a new theme. The idea is to make this fun! Remember to provide a selection of different cheeses, some fresh fruit, some charcuterie and assorted nuts, and you’ll have palate cleansers that work double duty as snacks. It would be good to have pads of paper and pencils or a list of the wines to be tasted with space for comments. You might just find that you go Old World more often than you thought.
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wines & Spirits wine consultant
Follow me on Twitter @ABCwineDanE