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Christy M.

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Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Christy M. » Wed Oct 18, 2006 4:17 pm

I've been looking at wine tasting clubs here in NYC but find them prohibitively expensive (and a little intimidating). I've been thinking about organizing a wine tasting club with friends where we each bring a bottle of a chosen region/wine type and conduct our own tasting on a monthly basis.

Our group would probably include those that know considerably more than others about wine and I want to make sure the events are both educational and fun for all participants. I have a few rules I'm thinking about such as: 1) the wine being served at the correct temperature (it drives me nuts that restaurants typically don't automatically do this, but that's another topic); 2) the tasting be blind (except for the host who will blind them); and 3) notes be taken in silence lest we influence each other's opinion.

I'm just wondering if others partake is such a group and what you have found that does and doesn't work. For example, how many people and wines do you typically have? Tips, suggestions and ideas you think would be useful are welcome, even if you don't belong to such a club.

Thanks!
Christy
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Brian K Miller » Wed Oct 18, 2006 5:39 pm

I think it sounds like a good idea.

Because of my addiction to "collecting," :oops: I've developed a decent small cellar, and I've been holding wine parties for friends, but eventually I would like these parties to evolve into this kind of club event.

I have a small circle of friends who are somewhat into wine and we do this informally, so a more organized club would be interesting.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Sam Platt » Wed Oct 18, 2006 5:43 pm

Christy,

We have an informal tasting with about ten people once per quarter. We usually have some sort of a loose theme; Tuscan reds, West Coast White, "Bottles Wearing a Cote" (must have "Cote" in the name - my idea!), etc. People seem to not like true "blind" tastings. Our group has fun tasting the wine initially unblind, then tasting blind a second time and trying to tell which wine was which. Success rate is almost always less than 50%. We always offer some sort of sparkler to kick things off.

Everyone brings one bottle which matches the theme. We do a carry-in for food. It's very low stress and a good time is had by all.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by David Lole » Wed Oct 18, 2006 6:01 pm

Over the years I've found a core tasting group of six is the perfect number. Others can be invited from time to time. Eight seems about the max for a decent pour from a standard bottle and to allow for proper evaluation. Tasting blind is a great idea - we've done it ad nauseum for over twenty years - by far the best way to identify and learn about wine styles, regions, producer's and grape variety. Serving temperature should always be a priority, but don't forget provenance and glassware are equally important. Note taking without exchanging ideas and opinions - another integral part of a successful tasting - I heartily recommend this procedure. Developing a uniform numerical rating system, group members are comfortable with, will also aid calibration.

My last (and longest running) tasting group worked very closely to these principals and you'll find by having, say, a regular monthly meeting at a set time (e.g. the second Monday of every month) with like-minded and, most importantly, convivial, honest and "reliable" wine lovers will go a long way in making your group's formation a run-away success.

Good luck with the venture!
Cheers,

David
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Oct 18, 2006 6:11 pm

Christy, found this doing a search here on WLDG..........

http://www.wineloverspage.com/toolbox.shtml

Lots of other additional info for you there.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by David Creighton » Wed Oct 18, 2006 6:36 pm

having done this sort of thing for years, i can maybe make a few suggestions. if people each bring a bottle, some will start by bringing more expensive and maybe more interesting ones and others will stop at the corner store and get whatever on the way. the ones who bring the better ones will soon stop doing so, and....... better to have one person get the entire group - so there is actually a theme or so that they are all at least interesting. decide in advance on a per person cost that people are happy with and use that as your budget. also, if the host(ess)puts each bottle in a bag and has someone else number them, then it is blind for everyone. exchanging ideas WHILE you taste will be a very good experience. 'influencing' might also be seen as 'education'. maybe taste through once in silence and then again discussing each. maybe you could find a friendly retailer who would give you a deal on the wines in return for the follow up business. i do NOT like the idea of 3 oz servings as someone else suggested. i would suggest up to 18 people but 12 would be good - so 2 oz per person. 1 oz is actually plenty to taste with.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by OW Holmes » Wed Oct 18, 2006 7:56 pm

Christy, there is no right or wrong way to do this. It depends on what you want out of it. If the goal is maximim learning, then one person selecting all wines after research, blind tasting, rating sheets, proper temps and all that is the way to go. If socialization around wine with the chance to let participants learn if they want or just socialize if they don't, then the bring a wine on topic, open tasting, no judging - just discussion back and forth - is the way to go. Personally, I think you have to have some really dedicated geeks who are at about the same place in their wine education to have the blind tasting thing work well and insure that all will have fun at it. And it HAS to be fun, and pretty easy, or you will lose the participants.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Sam Platt » Thu Oct 19, 2006 10:27 am

Christy,

Just a quick comment on true blind tastings: The folks in our group are true amatuers. When we did blind tastings the stress level seemed to come up and the environment became more competitive. I don't know why. Our group ended up agreeing on the non blind "guess the wine" approach. For whatever reason that seemed to reduce the stress level.

Also, someone mentioned the bottle cost issue. To prevent inequities we suggest that everyone bring wines that match the theme and cost between $15 and $40. If people want to exceed the limit that is their choice. We find that there is a "keep up with the Jones'" mentality and the wines tend to skew high. Almost ridiculously so on occasion. You probably want to avoid inviting known cheap skates into your group.

PS: My bother-in-law's ex-wife was from the Brooklyn Heights section of Brooklyn. When they visited they would go to some local wine shop that had all sorts of really interesting esoteric wines from around the world. Unfortunately the name escapes me.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Christy M. » Wed Oct 25, 2006 11:19 am

Thanks everyone for posting. Your suggestions and ideas are most appreciated and will be very helpful. I particularly like the idea of tasting both blind and open to allow for both independent opinion making and education about the wines we drink.

Cheers!
Christy
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Oliver McCrum » Wed Oct 25, 2006 1:54 pm

in my trade group (running for 20 years or so) we have evolved through error mostly to the following format:

- regular day, in our case 4th Wednesday of the month (avoids tedious scheduling; if someone wants to change this, they are free to call everyone else to try to reschedule, but the host doesn't do it)
- always blind (ie 8 05 Loire Chenins, bagged; one person can strip capsules off and bag, another can write the letter on each bag)
- 8 wines
- one person buys all the wines (to avoid duplication, also ensures that all the wine is the same, hopefully ideal, temp)
- everyone brings their own glasses, spit cup, water glass, and checkbook (to avoid hosting nightmares)
- if you're a member you need to either a) attend and pay, or b) find someone else to do so, or c) just pay (to avoid the famous 'OK, now we have 3 people and $200 worth of wine, what now?). If someone isn't yet comfortable with this then they can be a guest, but not a member.
- if a guest goes in place of a member they should be informed that they are a guest, not a new member (I know this sounds harsh, but we've had to deal with this twice)
- potential new members should be discussed by all members before being admitted. Be aware that members who know a lot less than other members will dilute the discussion more than you would think
- no table talk, ie the wines should be tasted with no comments on the wines until everyone's rated the wines. We then tabulate the results and discuss the wines (still blind), from last to first place.
- we have a Champagne drinking in December, but this part is optional.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Jenise » Wed Oct 25, 2006 2:55 pm

Christy,

Some thoughts based on my own experiences which is, frankly, just about like everyone else's:

Yes, taste blind, but the host can be blind too (and therefore be as objective) if everybody brings their wine in brown paper bags. The host only has to mix them up and write a number on each bag. The host should always have extra bags on hand in case some flubs up and comes bagless (someone always does) or has an logo/identifiable bag (someone always has one of those, too).

Have everyone who joins your group agree in advance to a certain price/quality range (which could shift depending on the topic as some whole categories of wines are more or less expensive than others). Although it's sometimes educational to discover that an $8 wine competes with $30 wines, the BYO tasting format always manages to out the cheapskates and everyone will start to hate the guy who never spends more than $11 bucks and always brings whatever boring mass-produced wine is on sale at Kroger's.

The quiet part: Are you sure? Talking about the wines is the best part! This isn't a test, it's a chance to learn from other people's reactions to each wine, especially the more experienced people in the group. To shut them up is to gag your best resource for learning--don't even think of it.

Number of people: less than six wines is boring, eight is great, ten is manageable if people have good alcohol tolerance. You'll find that in a group of relative beginners there's someone who can't keep track of a thing after the fourth glass. You'll also find that some people you thought wanted to learn about wine in fact really only want to drink wine (like the aforementioned Kroger shopper) and won't remember a single wine, even their favorite, come morning.

Whether to supply the wine or have people bring it: depending on your mix of people, it's usually more interesting (I think) to have people bring the wines because they shop at different places who stock different wines than you might usually see or have access to. Also, if you have anyone in the group who cellars wines, it's interesting to taste older vintages. If the wines are purchased only for the event, you're only tasting brand new releases as a rule. Nothing wrong with that, but it can be limiting. I'm part of groups that do things both ways, and I inifinitely prefer the BYO. The wines are always more interesting.
Last edited by Jenise on Thu Oct 26, 2006 2:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Oliver McCrum » Wed Oct 25, 2006 3:10 pm

Jenise wrote:The quiet part: sorry, but euuuwwwwwwwwww. I would not come to your tasting. Talking about the wines is the best part! This isn't a test, it's a chance to learn from other people's reactions to each wine, especially the more experienced people in the group. To shut them up is to gag your best resource for learning--don't even think of it.


Jenise,

The conversation about wine is indeed the whole point, but not when you're tasting; the rule 'no table talk' is standard in groups where people are really trying to learn about wine. It is too easy for a less-experienced person to allow their taste to be swayed by someone who they think is more experienced; which isn't learning at all. I certainly wouldn't make fun of the idea.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Hoke » Wed Oct 25, 2006 3:30 pm

I totally agree with Oliver on the table-talk issue.

The power of suggestion is so powerful, it cannot be underestimated.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen comments---often inadvertent comments at that----influence and direct a group's interpretation of a wine.

I will even admit to having occasionally "funneled" discussion down certain pathways by suggesting certain aromas and flavors, with the sure and certain knowledge that by mentioning "licorice and coffee bean", some of the participants would start digging their noses in their glasses to try to discover that elusive descriptor.

I'd say that in most quasi-serious groups, and in all the professionally oriented groups, I've tasted with, the protocol has been to taste first without comments, then engage in serious and animated discussion afterwards. Doesn't lessen the discussion, mind you; it simply allows an invidivual to form his/her own opinions without being influenced by someone else.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Jenise » Wed Oct 25, 2006 3:30 pm

Oliver, we'll just have to disagree. A professional tasting or classroom sitution is one thing, but learning about wine with friends is another. What you call "influence" is what I'd call information, especially when a wine is corked, closed or otherwise just too young. People with more experience can taste--and speak to--a wine's potential that a neophyte would reject for not being "smooth" enough.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Christy M. » Wed Oct 25, 2006 4:14 pm

I like the idea of both tasting without discussion and then discussing the wines, though I might warm up the newbies to the idea first because I don't want to make them feel intimidated.

It's been the case in our household that the power of suggestion IS really powerful and that it's hard to see beyond "pine" or "cake batter" once its been mentioned. Interestingly and reassuring in some way is that when we taste in silence we often come up with similar words (i.e. pine, wood).

It is true for me that the more I taste wine the more I can describe it and detect aromas and flavors, so for beginners this may prove more difficult in a silent setting. However, in combination with the after discussion I'd hope they'd gradually feel more comfortable and confident in describing the wine they taste pre-discussion. However, this really depends on how the individuals in the group feel -- it may be they are really uncomfortable tasting the wines silently and we end up doing a discussion while tasting approach.

I'll keep you all posted! First I've got to get the members and a regular day to do it.

Best,

Christy
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Ian Sutton » Wed Oct 25, 2006 4:46 pm

Here's a compromise for the blind/semi blind/open debate

Run half the wines open, with talking encouraged (this will help people get into the swing of it)

Run the 2nd half blind, with talking encouraged only after a couple of minutes of consideration and note-taking

Wait until the end of the tasting before gaining views and if there's disagreement, mention that there was on this forum as well! Use the feedback to decide whether to run it blind/non blind open discussion/delayed discussion. If need be keep a balance of methods going forward e.g. always a blind wine where those with a more competitive spirit can have fun seeing who gets closest to what it is. Even for open wines, it's instructive to get people to guess price (a far better rating system than any score out of a 100/20/10/whatever).

On pours, we usually like to do healthy pours but still leave a significant remainder in the bottle to return to later (useful for a wine that seemed closed, or to compare two wines side by side). This latter phase is a general free-for-all after all the wines have been tasted and often accompanied by food. This seems to work well with 6-7 people, but could stretch to 8. For 10, you should be able to stretch the bottle easily (75ml is easily enough to taste), but it does restrict the possibility of returning to a wine later.

Materials needed:
- pen/pencil for each person (some bring their own, but have spares anyway
- Wine listing if open, blank template sheet if not. We go for a simple MS word table design listing Wine details on lhs with a column each for eye, nose, palate and sometimes other comments or summary. The sheet also works well as a white background for eyeing the colour.
- spitoons (not necessarily for spitting, but also for emptying excess and rinsing glasses if needed)
- water!
- glasses (we use iso's)
- ice-bucket for whites (as when you return to them they may have warmed too much - we use a household bucket)
- decanter(s) if wines are likely to throw a sediment
- corkscrew

However there's something that confuses me in your plans - how exactly do you expect to keep 10 new-yorkers quiet for more than a few seconds? :shock: :wink:

Seriously, best of luck. We've reached a happy compromise with a wide mix of experience. The first stage is semi serious (we'll chat mainly about the wines) and then with the food and repours, the conversation drifts hither and thither, only returning to the wines if someone sees a significant change or just wants to re-affirm their undying love or deep-rooted dislike of an earlier wine. It's nice to escape geekdom to convince ourselves we're not complete anoraks! We've become friends through the winetasting and friends do want to talk about other stuff.

Have fun

Ian
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Jenise » Wed Oct 25, 2006 8:16 pm

Hoke said:
I'd say that in most quasi-serious groups, and in all the professionally oriented groups, I've tasted with, the protocol has been to taste first without comments, then engage in serious and animated discussion afterwards. Doesn't lessen the discussion, mind you; it simply allows an invidivual to form his/her own opinions without being influenced by someone else.


Makes sense. I guess I reacted a little too strongly, even though I was in part joking. When I read Christy's description, I was picturing an evening with library-like silence and no discussion and even Oliver's objection didn't get through. I guess you can tell I'm someone who hates imposed limits. :) The truth is, that at most of the tastings I participate in, everyone is fairly quiet at first as they make an initial assessment of the wines. I'm not talking then either--I'm busy. I was just a little surprised at the suggestion of formally stipulating silence.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Oliver McCrum

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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Oliver McCrum » Wed Oct 25, 2006 8:49 pm

Jenise wrote:Oliver, we'll just have to disagree. A professional tasting or classroom sitution is one thing, but learning about wine with friends is another. What you call "influence" is what I'd call information, especially when a wine is corked, closed or otherwise just too young. People with more experience can taste--and speak to--a wine's potential that a neophyte would reject for not being "smooth" enough.


Probably so, Jenise; but I would point out that 'people with more experience' almost invariably have a 'table talk' rule. I've been in the business for more than 25 years and I've never seen it done any other way. After everyone's had a chance to see what they think, then let it flow.

Incidentally, the only exception to this rule is corked or otherwise defective wines, since there's no point in tasting them and thresholds vary.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Oliver McCrum » Wed Oct 25, 2006 8:55 pm

Another key point - spitting or not spitting?

I think spitting is fundamental to wine tasting, but it makes a lot of beginners feel funny. Lots of 'spit cups' (I use plastic beer cups) and an icebucket in the middle of the table for dumping might help.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Oliver McCrum » Wed Oct 25, 2006 8:58 pm

Yet another post, ye Gods: for more information there are two great books about wine tasting, Michael Broadbent's Pocket Guide and something by Jancis, I forget the title. Broadbent has exhaustive plans for different kinds of wine tastings.
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Re: Informal Wine Tasting Club?

by Dan Smothergill » Thu Oct 26, 2006 4:10 am

Oliver wrote:
ie 8 05 Loire Chenins


Sounds good. Can I come? :)

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