Host your own wine tasting to throw unique holiday party 

Tired of the typical holiday dinner parties? Shake things up by throwing a festive wine-tasting party that mixes sophistication and fun. Bonus: You won't have to cook or clean up a messy kitchen.


All you'll need is a set of wineglasses, a corkscrew and, of course, some wine to get the party started. Unless you want to purchase all the wine yourself, ask each guest to bring their favorite bottle to taste and share.

Set the mood with some background music, set out palate cleansers " water and neutral-tasting biscuits or crackers do the trick " and, most importantly, enough wineglasses for each guest.

"Glassware makes a huge difference in the taste and aroma of the wine," said Vance Gregory, owner of Edmond Wine Shop, 1520 S. Boulevard in Edmond. "Be sure to have a true wine glass, which allows enough air through to aerate the wine, but still trap the aroma."

A plastic or Styrofoam cup won't make the cut, but still be sure to keep the party simple and not too formal, said Dale Blackburn, owner of Cellar Wine & Spirits, 9275 N. May. "You want to have a relaxed setting so people can have fun and not feel uncomfortable."

If you want to impart a little professional aura and educational excellence, go all out and add a local wine connoisseur to your invite list to lead the tasting. Several local wine shops have experts that will attend a private party and conduct a wine tasting.

"Just ask us to come over," said Stan Stack, of Beau's Wine Bin & Spirit Shoppe, 2810 W. Country Club Drive.

There is a lot to learn about wine and what to look for as you sip and slurp. In fact, there are even different styles of wine tastings that will help you narrow down more than just the brand of wine you like, but also the vintage, region and type of grape.

There are several different methods to conduct your wine-tasting bash.

"Try to keep a focus to your tasting," said Gregory, who has been in the wine business for 35 years. "By not making your wine list so broad, you'll get a feeling of style that you wouldn't get otherwise."

One known technique is called a vertical tasting, in which you taste one varietal (a Merlot or Cabernet, for instance) from the same producer, but different years. By sticking with the same wine, you'll be able to see how the same grapes change flavors from year to year. Another similar method, called horizontal tasting, is choosing the same type of wine from the same year, but different makers.

For example, grab six bottles of 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from all different brands. You can make it even more interesting by making sure each wine is from a different region, which will give you an idea of how grapes vary with climate. No matter what style you choose, be sure to tell your guests what type to bring.

"It's like asking everyone to bring their own record for a party," Gregory said. "You won't have a consistent thread to compare."

Another fun idea is to pair and compare wines with different foods. Everybody loves cheese and chocolate, so why not have guests bring their favorite chocolate to accompany their bottle of wine? The right wine with the right chocolate is a match made in heaven. Connoisseurs say you should have a wine that is slightly sweeter than the chocolate it goes with, but unless your party is strictly formal, just have fun with it. Different cheeses with wines are another option.

"The flavor of wine is different with foods," Gregory said.

By drinking a sip of wine with a bit of cheese, the impression will be altered " positively or negatively " for either the cheese or the wine.

Allow the wine to briefly breathe before pouring in order for the wine to open up with flavor. You can put it in a decanter or just take the corks (or screw tops) off for about 10 minutes. Gregory recommended serving red wine at about 60-65 degrees and white wine at 60 degrees.

"An over-refrigerated white wine or a too-warm red wine can have a dull taste," he said.

Pour a small amount of wine in each glass and ask your guests to examine the wine. The goal is "to experience something," Blackburn said. "Ask yourself if you have discovered something about the wine."

The answer to that question will almost always be a yes unless it's a bad bottle, which means the cork was bad or oxygen was allowed into the bottle.

To continue the tasting, follow the five S's: see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor. Notice the color, swirl the wine and admire the "legs" or "tears" that run down the sides of the glass, which reveal the alcohol content of the wine. As you swirl, smell the substance.

"The best way to describe a wine is to smell it," Gregory said. "Because we are limited to four or five senses of taste, we can discriminate aroma over taste."

To get a better idea of what you smell, try setting out bowls of different fruits to compare each sip, suggests Gregory. For example, you might have a bowl of pears, mint sprigs and cherries. If you're unable to place the smell of the white after a sniff, smell the mint or pears, which might correspond with the wine. You might detect hints of cherry or oak in a Merlot or lemon and mint in a Chardonnay. This is just a fun addition to a simple tasting, but your guests are sure to talk about it for months to come.

And finally, the moment your guests have been waiting for: It's time to sip and savor. Experts recommend sucking air in your mouth through your teeth after that sip to release the wine's flavors. This initial taste is called the wine's palate and after you've swallowed the wine, what is left is the finish. Ask how long the flavor stays in your mouth. Does it linger? Is it dry or sweet?

"There are so many adjectives to describe wine," Gregory said.

Talking about it and taking notes are great ways to explain the diversity of each slurp. Rate the wines and enjoy a full glass of your favorite.

Several various elements can be added to your party, including a plethora of products geared directly to a wine-tasting party. You can even find a wine-tasting kit online, which includes score pads and glass markers. Get creative and save some dough by making your own. Add some decorations while you're at it. No matter what the season " holidays, a birthday or just for fun, a wine tasting event will hit the spot and spark conversation.

Here are some recommendations based on many years of experience:

"Stick with domestic wines," said Michel Buthion, owner of La Baguette. "Stick with wines from the American market because the euro is so high right now."

Maipe Winery Chardonnay, Malbec, Malbec Rose and Sauvignon Blanc; $11.99 per bottle (suggested by Dale Blackburn, owner of Cellar Wine & Spirits) Smoking Loon Pinot Noir (California) 2007; $10 per bottle (from Stan Stack, with Beau's Wine Bin) Cannelletto Winery Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Montepulciano, Salento Rose and Primitivo (Zinfandel); $12.99 per bottle (Blackburn) Honig Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley) 2007; $15 (Stack) Louis Martini Chardonnay (Buthion) Yellow Tail Winery has a variety of reds, whites, rosés and sparkling wines; $8.99-13.99 per bottle (Blackburn) Red Diamond Winery Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon; $9.99 per bottle (Blackburn) Rosemount Shiraz (Australia) 2007; $10.50 (Stack)  Hogue Winery Chard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Blend, Riesling, Late Harvest Riesling and Pinot Grigio; $8.99 and up per bottle (Blackburn)  Blackstone wines (Buthion) Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile) 2007; $11 (Stack) Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay; $9.99 (Blackburn)

"Valerie Kramer Davis

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