How to Start a Wine Tasting Club

A new hobby can be great for the mind and body — forget about laughter, sometimes the best medicine is simply experiencing and learning about something new.

We’ve all heard it before, from friends or family members: “Maybe you should get a hobby.” It turns out that advice was pretty sound. According to the Mind / Body Center at Harvard University, hobbies reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and trigger your brain’s “relaxation response”.

Participating in your hobby with friends is naturally more beneficial. Social contact is right up there with Prozac in terms of staving away depression. People join all kinds of clubs to pursue their hobby with people of a like mindset. The most common “hobby club” in America is probably the book club, where a group agrees to read a certain book then meets on a regular basis to discuss the book.

wine-tasting-club

My greatest interest these days is wine — tasting, purchasing, collecting, studying . . . I want to do it all, and I want my friends and family to share in the experience. How would I go about starting a wine tasting club? What sorts of activities do wine tasting clubs take part in? How do I know what wines to pick for my club to taste?

The world of wine can be basically divided into two groups, and it is important to determine which of these camps you and your friends belong to before jumping into forming a tasting club.

The Casual Wine Drinker

I believe I fall into this category. I am just as happy drinking a bottle of Two Buck Chuck as I am sipping, swishing, and spitting a vintage label. The casual wine drinker may scoff at the almost religious manner in which a bottle of wine is presented at a nice restaurant. Who wants to smell a cork when there’s a delicious bottle of wine to enjoy? Sure, more experienced drinkers of wine may consider we casual wine drinkers amateurs, but our appreciation of wine is just as important as the wine aficionado, and many wine tasting clubs are geared for the casual type. A wine tasting club peopled with casual or amateur wine drinkers will look quite different from that aimed at the aficionado.

Wine Aficionados

Like it or not, some people take wine quite seriously. These are the people you see in restaurants inspecting the bottle when it is presented by a waiter. They sniff the cork, they peruse the label as though it were a real estate contract, they take great pains to “inspect” the wine before it is poured. There is something to be said for this kind of respect for wine — it is not my style, but I certainly understand this type of wine consumer. As with the casual wine drinker, the wine aficionado will require a very different kind of wine tasting club.

Basics — How many wines, and what kind?

The general rule at a wine tasting seems to be to taste no more than six wines. Obviously, if your group is on the casual side of wine appreciation, you can alter this number at your discretion, tasting four wines for instance, or eight. I suppose the sky’s the limit, as long as you are tasting and discussing the wines properly, and not simply drinking eight bottles of wine with your friends.

The types of wines you taste is also up to you — learn about the members of your club, their personal tastes and what types of wines they’d be interested in tasting. The casual wine tasting club is more likely to stick to familiar varieties of wine — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, etc. Picking up a basic guide to wine, such as Wine for Dummies, will help you pick varietals. A more experienced or fancy wine tasting club will be more likely to branch out and taste some of the less familiar varietals — Charbono, Gamay, Pinotage, Zweigelt, etc. Having said this, even a casual wine tasting club could benefit from the occasional unfamiliar varietal. What’s a wine tasting club for, if not for expanding the wine experience of its members?

Supplies Needed For A Wine Club

Some of the supplies needed for a wine club include a set of proper wine glasses for each taster, which should be set out beforehand. If you have a dozen members, and you’re tasting six wines, this adds up to a large number of glasses. Make sure you have the proper supplies, or suggest that the group “go in” on a proper set together.

A “wine placemat” and a scoring sheet are standard materials. The placemat will indicate where the glasses are to be set, and will number the wines for identification without prejudice. Remember, you probably don’t want the members of the club to know what they’re drinking beforehand, as it might affect their opinion of the wine. We’re going for a pure taste opinion here. As for the scoring sheet, the basic categories for scoring a wine are Appearance, Aroma, Body, Taste, and Finish, or words along these lines. After tasting the wine, the club member should be provided with a cardboard cup to spit the wine into (we don’t want our club members becoming intoxicated before the end of the club meeting) and they should then proceed to make some judgments on the wine, rating the wine in each category according to a number system.

Don’t forget bags to completely cover the wines as they’re being poured. This will also help to keep the wines anonymous.

Pieces of bread or relatively flavorless crackers should be provided to ‘cleanse the palate’ between glasses. It is common for one wine’s taste to muddy or even mask the flavor of another wine.

After drinking each wine, a discussion should take place. What did the members like or dislike about each wine? Would they purchase the wine in the future? Often these talks branch out in many directions, and don’t be surprised if you find your club eventually discussing politics, religion, or some other “no-no” topic — like great music, a great wine can often initiate conversation.

Remember, even if your wine tasting club is full of very serious wine aficionados, the point is to have fun. There are no right or wrong answers when tasting wine.

If you set your tasting up properly, and serve solid enjoyable wines, you and your wine tasting club are sure to have a good time. Hopefully, you’ll have many more meetings the future.

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