A few years back, one of my best friends talked me into joining a book club with some of her girlfriends. I agreed, and I happily purchased, read, and annotated the book assignment for the month AND prepared some discussion points for our meeting. Maybe it’s the English teacher in me… but I wanted to be accepted as a valuable contributor and worthwhile member of the group. Little did I know, the book club was more of an excuse for five women to get together, eat appetizers, and drink several bottles of wine! Forget the annotations, forget the questions… who’s bringing the Pinot Noir?
Flash forward to last summer: I was hanging out at a barbecue in Rockaway Beach when the hostess told me all about a wine club she was a member of. The concept was simple: the group is small. They meet once a month at the home of one hostess. The hostess chooses a theme and buys the wine. She then gives out “assignments” to the guests to pair courses of a meal with one of each of the wines while she prepares the main course. Everyone then gathers for a potluck meal with courses that pair perfectly with each of the wines that the hostess has chosen. Sounds great, right? I couldn’t wait to try it myself!
I gathered the important players: six good friends who like to eat and LOVE to drink! I chose a Friday evening in early September and decided to start with an easy theme, A Taste of Italy. Using my notes from the Bacchus classes I took last year, I set out to purchase a solid collection of wines. Now, a good rule of wine tasting is to follow a specific order since heavier and sweeter wines can overpower lighter wines and influence the taster’s experience. Start with sparkling whites, move to heavier, more complex whites (think oak-y Chardonnays here), then roses, light reds (Pinot Noir) heavy reds (Cabernet or Zinfendel) and finish with sweet or dessert wines. Since we were messing with food, we broke the rules when we felt it necessary. I gave Chef Reggie a Pinot Grigio to research and create an appetizer for. Jackie prepared a meat and cheese plate that went well with Brunello di Montalcino. I, myself made a saucy pasta dish to pair with a Sangiovese. My friend Jenn made a delicious berry custard dessert to pair with a Moscato. With each pour, I read the tasting notes of the wines and we talked about the best foods to pair it with. I also spent a little bit of time talking about the Italian labeling laws in an attempt to provide a brief overview for my friends in case they wanted to impress their own dinner guests with a good quality Italian wine. Each guest spent a few moments talking about the dishes they created, and in many instances, shared the recipes. It was a delicious first attempt! The concept stuck, and we’re now working on a solid bi-monthly meeting pattern. We’ve explored a whole bunch of themes: French wines, Fall favorites, South America and Spain, Cheap Wine and Comfort Food (one of my favorites), and this coming Sunday we will be drinking North Fork wines and eating local food!
It’s not that hard to get started! All you need to host your own wine club event is an idea for a theme and a small group of friends to invite (keep it small – no more than 4 couples or 5-6 people, as too much food and too much wine just kills the experience). Assemble a tasting kit: corkscrew, one glass per person for each wine, a small notepad for each guest with a pen or pencil for impressions, a small bottle of water for each person, and a “dump tank” receptacle for collecting waste wine.
If you’re running low on glasses, you can reuse them; just be sure to rinse them out with a small dash of wine, not water, especially when moving from whites to reds! Rinsing with water will actually dilute the wine and skew the tasting experience.
I really love my own wine tasting group! In almost a year we have tasted a wide variety of wines from all around the world and have eaten some awesome homemade dishes. Of course having a chef in the group is motivation to make the very best effort in the kitchen as not to look like slackers! My job for this coming Sunday’s “club meeting” is to prepare a first course to pair with Raphael’s 2011 Rose of Merlot. In the spirit of “keeping it local,” I’m planning to make a foccacia pizza exclusively from ingredients I pick up at the Babylon Farmers Market in the morning! Keep an eye out for that Test Kitchen post!