The vocabulary used to describe wine can be as evocative as poetry—references to “notes” aromas, bouquets and exotic fruits, but wine can also seem intimidating sometimes. There’s no need to be afraid—wine should be about enjoyment. If you’d like to become more familiar with different wine regions, varietals and qualities of wine, as well as the vocabulary of wine, an at-home wine tasting can help you become more knowledgable about wine in a fun, relaxed environment.
Cindy Cotroneo Fix, co-owner of Cotroneo’s along with her husband Guy, knows wine. Fix, along with wine teacher Nikki Erpelding, share some ideas for in-home wine tastings that will get you well on your way to being a wine expert.
“Each guest brings a bottle of wine in a brown bag. Guests vote on their favorite wine,” says Fix. “People are always surprised when they find out they don’t like what they thought they liked. Palates change as people get older. And sometimes they find out that wines that they chose as their favorites cost much less than some of the wines that they didn’t enjoy as much.”
Dinner party with pairings
Fix likes using Pinterest to get ideas for dinner party themes. Fix says, “My personal choice would be Italian, starting off with a prosecco toast to welcome my guests, then choosing a wine to complement each course--antipasto, dinner and dessert. My favorite Italian liqueur is limoncello. “
The host could provide all the courses and the wines, or says Fix, each guest could contribute one of the courses along with its paired wine and explain during dinner why they chose the pairing.
Wines of Minnesota
When you think of places that make wine, Minnesota might not spring to mind. But Minnesota produces some great wines, Fix says. “Minnesota wines are coming up hot and heavy. They keep getting more popular.” Try wines from Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria, Northern Hollow Winery in Foley, Four Daughters of Spring Valley and more.
Enter the Expert
Have a wine expert come to your home.
Nikki Erpelding, who may possibly have the best career in the world, does in-home wine tastings as part of her work. Erpelding’s credentials may make her sound intimidating—she owns a wine school, Vine Lab Wine & Spirits Academy. She’s also the instructor for the wine professional certification course at St. Paul College. The certification is part of the college’s culinary program, but can also be taken on its own. In addition, Erpelding is the representative for 18 of the 20 wine regions in Italy, educating distributors about the wines in five regions of the U.S. When you talk to Erpelding though, she explains wine concepts in a way that’s easy to understand.
“Learn Your Palate” is one of the classes Erpelding offers and is a great choice for a home wine-tasting party. Hosts can book Erpelding for in-home charity fundraisers, or for any wine-tasting party.
"'Learn Your Palate’ is a fun class,” says Erpelding. “I’ll teach you what kind of palate you have. For example, everyone falls into one of three categories—non-tasters, which are about 25 percent of people: tasters, about 50 percent: and the remaining 25 percent are supertasters,” says. Erpelding. “Supertasters are the ‘picky eaters’—people who taste things with much greater intensity than other people, so supertasters might find a lot of wines too overpowering.” Even though being a non-taster doesn’t sound like a good thing, Erpelding explains that these are the people who like everything.
During an in-home wine-tasting party, Erpelding might use a taste strip to help guests identify their preferences.
Erpelding brings key items like lemon, salt, cayenne pepper, dried mushrooms and sugar to demonstrate how flavors in food affect how wines taste.
“If certain foods and wines don’t taste good together, it’s the food that’s the enemy, not the wine.” says Erpelding.
For example, eating a strongly acidic food will make the wine taste more acid, and therefore sweeter.
“Italy in Six Glasses” is another class that works well for in-home tastings. The host and Erpelding together choose six wine regions, and a wine is selected to represent each region. A tasting with several wines from one region is also an option.
Erpelding does wine tastings as well as a “Learn Your Palate” class in private homes. Sometimes these home events are to raise money for charity, but it’s also a great focal point for a party.
Whether you hire an expert or do-it-yourself, an in-home wine tasting is a great way to get friends together and learn to enjoy wine even more.