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The Honolulu Advertiser

By Kiana Kahahauwila

Posted on: Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Host a wine tasting with these 5 easy steps

 • Low and slow

Today, we introduce a new member of our beverage writing team: Kiana Kahahauwila, a writer and educator.

Whether you're already a wine expert or want to be, hosting a wine tasting is a fun way to learn more about wine, your friends, and your own tastes. Follow these simple rules for an unforgettable event.

1. Choose a theme.

While you could buy all the wines in the tasting, it's often more fun to ask each guest or couple to bring a bottle to share. Suggest a theme and price range so that the tasting feels cohesive. I've been to a formal Hermitage tasting that required each guest to bring their favorite vintage bottle (not inexpensive, let me tell you!) and a "Much Maligned Merlot"-themed fete that asked that no one spend more than $15. Both were bacchanalias.

2. Print tasting sheets.

Whether you create your own or pull one from the Web, tasting sheets help your guests keep track of what they've tasted. For each wine, include a space to write in the name of the winery, region, grape varietal(s), and price. I like to use tasting sheets that also have a rating scale. A five-point scale works well for the less experienced, while a 100-point scale makes the expert crowd feel like they're going head-to-head with Wine Spectator.

3. To blind or nonblind?

A blind tasting reveals the bottle label only after the wine has been tasted while a nonblind tasting allows tasters to see what they're drinking. In a non-blind tasting, order the wines from white to red, lightest to heaviest, or Old World (Europe) to New World (California, Australia and South America). Typically, this sequence prevents your palate from being blasted by a big wine early in the tasting.

For a blind tasting, wrap each bottle in a paper bag and number the bags (to keep track of the wine). If your guests are avid wine drinkers, you can ask them to guess the varietal, region and/or vintage of each bottle. But if the crowd is more about drinking than educating, have them rate each bottle from most to least favorite and guess at the price. When you reveal the labels, you'll be surprised to find that at least one inexpensive wine passed as a fancy-pants bottle.

4. Pour light.

A tasting pour is only one to two ounces (just enough for a couple of sips). While your friends will attempt to strong-arm you into pouring more, do not give in. These are the same people who, if allowed full pours for every "taste," will end up dancing on your dining table and stage-diving from the couch.

5. Set aside snacks.

Other than plain crackers and water (I prefer sparkling) for cleansing the palate, save food for after the tasting. Cheese, apples, nuts and other accoutrements affect how you taste wine fat tends to improve flavors, while acidity makes wine taste lean and tart.

When the tasting is finished, set out the food and invite guests to pour a glass of their favorite wine. Because that's the best part of tasting: Discovering a great wine and drinking it with friends.