27 Themes and Ideas for Wine Tasting Club Meetings

Welcome to the final post of Casual Kitchen's series on wines! Please be sure to look at the prior articles: Open That Bottle Night (Part 1), How to Enjoy Wine on a Budget (Part 2) and How to Start a Casual Wine Tasting Club (Part 3).
We've already talked about tips and strategies to enjoy wine without spending a fortune, and we've dedicated an entire article to the most enjoyable of all wine activities, the winetasting group. Today's post is a simple list of twenty-seven ideas and themes you can consider for your wine-tasting group meetings once you've started your own club.

Be sure to bounce these ideas around with the members of your group--I'm sure it will spur even more great ideas from them.

Local Flavor
1) Taste a series of wines from wineries that are local to your community or to your state.
2) Taste (preferably blind taste) local wines against supposedly higher quality wines of the same kind from a better known region (eg: Reislings from Upstate New York against Reislings from Germany or New Zealand)
3) Try regular versus reserve wines from a local winery and see if you can discern the difference.

International Flavour
4) Try a tasting of wines from a country no one has tried wines from before (Slovenia? Poland? Latvia? etc).
5) Taste varieties of wine from one country against a similar variety from another country (Australian cabernet against California against Argentina or Chile), and rank the countries in order of your preference.

6) Systematically work your way through every variety of wine you and your group want to learn about. Test Chardonnays one week, Reislings the next, Pinot Grigio the next, etc. Then switch to reds: Merlots, Cabernets, Chiantis, etc.
7) You can also taste similar varietals against each other (merlots against pinot noirs, or rieslings against white zinfandels, etc) to see if members can differentiate between similar, yet different wines.
8) Finally, you can blind taste wildly different varietals that all have similar sugar content (for example, Merlot, Pino Grigio, Chablis and Pinot Noir). It should at least be easy to tell the reds apart from the whites, but then again, maybe it won't be as easy as you think!

I Never Heard of THAT Wine Before
9) Organize a tasting solely around wines no one in the group has even heard of before. There doesn't have to be any rhyme or reason or systematic nature to this tasting theme--you just have to bring your curiosity and interest in trying something new.

10) Many wines are blends of different types of wines (eg, 85% Cabernet, 15% Merlot, etc). Try different types of blends and see if you can appreciate why the vintner chose the specific blend he or she chose.

11) Taste real Champagne (that is, sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France) against sparkling wines made elsewhere. See which ones you prefer and why.
12) Try a blind tasting of sparkling wines for under $15 and see if there are any that the group particularly likes.
13) Try a blind tasting of bottles of inexpensive sparkling wines against bottles of the expensive stuff, and have your members rank them.

Sweet Wines
14) Have an entire tasting consisting of dessert wines, ice wines or other sweet wines.
15) Try famous dessert wines against each other, for example, a Tokaj from Hungary against a Sauternes from France, against a Recioto from Italy, against an Auslese from Germany. Again, a blind tasting likely works best here and will generate the most fun for everyone!

Low Cost
16) Set arbitrarily low price limits for one or more of your tasting club meetings, say $5.00 or $7.50. Make it a bit of a challenge so that your members will need to be creative to find a wine within the price limit.

Low vs. High
17) Taste test low-priced bottles of a certain kind of wine against higher priced ones (again, a blind test will likely be the most fun here). Example: a Chardonnay for less than $15 against a Chardonnay for $40. Have your members rank the bottles.
18) You can even stretch this comparison and blind taste an inexpensive type of wine against a very expensive bottle of the same type (a $15 Chardonnay against, say, a $100 Chardonnay). You can have several members split the cost of the expensive wine if you like. It could be shocking to try this comparison--perhaps you'll find that there's an enormous difference, or perhaps you'll find yourself quite neutral about the difference between the types.

19) Blind taste test the same wines from the same vineyard but from different years. For example, you can try the 2002, 2003 and 2004 vintages of chianti from Ruffino Reserva Ducale. Larger wine shops will carry multiple vintages of the same wine. Have your members rank the years in order of their preference. Afterward, it might be fun to find out what year the so-called "experts" thought was the best and compare that to your group's opinion.
20) Try an amusing variation of the "blind vintage" test: include more than one sample from one of the years. Much hilarity will ensue when more than a few of your members will think the identical samples are actually different wines!
21) Blind taste the "reserve wine" versus a regular wine of the same year, type and winery (recall that this was the taste that 80% of people failed at in our How to Enjoy Wine On A Budget post. See if you're in that top 20%!)

Why Stop at Wine?
22) You can also taste test beers, distilled wines like brandies (cognac, armagnac, etc) or fortified wines like Port, Madeira or Sherry.
23) Taste test favorite hard liquors, like rums, tequilas, whiskeys, etc. This could of course get dangerous, so be sure everybody gets home safely!

Finally, For Those Not on a Budget
24) Taste various Sauternes against each other. This delicious sweet wine can be bought in decent quality by the half bottle at prices ranging from $35-50, and you can blind taste these against very expensive Sauternes (at prices in the hundreds of dollars per bottle or *gulp* even higher). Needless to say, a tasting like this will have to be a vicarious experience for me, but if your group tries something like this, please email me your thoughts on the experience! I'd love to know how it goes.
25) Try tastings of Bourdeaux. Again, just for fun, you can put very expensive bottles up against more reasonably priced ones.
26) Try tastings of extremely high-end Champagnes to see if they are worth the extra expense.
27) Also, you don't have to limit your tastings to just wine: You can also do tastings of single malt scotches, high-end bourbons, designer tequilas, etc.

Remember, for each and every type of alcohol, there is always a brazenly expensive premium brand out there just waiting to separate you from your money. There's no better way to learn if it's worth the extra expense than to do an honest blind tasting.

Readers, go on and get started with your wine-tasting club! What are you waiting for?
Stay tuned for one final post in our series on wine: Recommended Reading for a Good Wine Education.

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joanne at frutto della passione said...

What a great idea! I have some friends that will agree with me on this, all I have to do now is set a time and a place!! Thanks for the tips.

alexandra said...

awesome post! thanks for these tips. I can't believe Open That Bottle Night escaped my radar this year ... that's always a fun night.