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Holiday Cheers: Hosting a Wine Tasting Party
By Kylene Keith

The holidays are upon us, which means it's time to polish the silver, break out the fine china, and get ready to entertain. Or maybe you'd rather open the package of plastic silverware and stack up the paper plates? Whichever sounds more your style, there's nothing like a few bottles of wine to enhance the holiday festivities. You may be hesitant to throw a wine tasting party imagining that you must be a wine connoisseur with a cellar full of vintage Bordeaux to host a proper event. We beg to differ; anyone can have an enjoyable, enlightening and stress-free wine tasting party. We've provided a few tips to send you in the right direction. You certainly don't have to follow all of these guidelines to have a successful party, but taking these ideas into consideration will guarantee a wine tasting celebration that will both entertain and educate.

  • Variety is not only the spice of life, but also the key to a great wine tasting party. Serving a diverse selection of wines from several different wine regions is a good way to please all of your guests while also allowing people to compare and contrast different wine styles. Take this opportunity to introduce your guests to wines made from obscure grape varieties or produced in up and coming wine regions. It's a fairly safe bet that your guests have tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, but have they ever tried an Aglianico from Sicily? Not only will you broaden the wine horizons of your guests, you'll likely save money by seeking out lesser-known wines.

  • Take a moment to learn about the wines that you're serving. Use the Internet, the wine merchant who sold you the wine, or the back label as a resource. It may seem like a lot of homework, but your guests will appreciate even the smallest tidbits of information about a wine they find enjoyable.

  • Think about what foods or cheeses will complement each wine. Again, variety is the golden rule. Offer a wide range of appetizers to allow each wine to shine. We've included some suggestions to get the ball rolling.

Alex Ewald's Ceviche with Wonton Chips
This dish screams for a light-bodied white wine with good acidity. A Sauvignon Blanc is the natural choice. Look to Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, New Zealand, South Africa, and California for good examples of this varietal. You could also try a bright and lively Albarino from Spain, a complex and racy Riesling from Germany, or a clean and crisp Pinot Grigio from Italy.

Bobby Flay's Grilled Mushrooms with Hazelnut Gremolata
The earthy elements in this appetizer would benefit from a rustic red wine. A Ribera del Duero and a Rioja from Spain both typically display red fruit flavors with an underlying earthiness and balanced oak. A red wine from the Rhone Valley in France or a Pinot Noir from Burgundy or Oregon will also bring out the earthy flavors of the mushrooms and hazelnuts.

Roberto Donna's Tempura Fried Zucchini Flower with Ricotta and Pecorino Cheese and Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
Try this Italian inspired dish with a white Arneis from Piedmont, Italy. This white wine has intense aromatics and characteristic flavors of apples, pears and a hint of licorice. A Prosecco is also a great choice for this recipe. This Italian sparkling wine will act as a good foil against the fried zucchini. A light-bodied red wine such as a Barbera or a Dolcetto with juicy fruit flavors and soft tannins will also match the flavors in this dish.

Cheese, Please
Cheese can enhance the qualities of almost any wine. It is an especially nice accompaniment for big, bold wines with firm tannins and explosive fruit flavors such as California Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, Australian Shiraz, or French Bordeaux.

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