Hosting a Napa Valley wine-tasting party of your own does not require a grand wine estate, nor even advanced wine knowledge. You can have fun learning along with your guests. Hospitality, however, is key, and in Napa Valley it’s as renowned as the region’s wines. Follow our guide on holding a Napa Valley wine party at home and you and your guests will feel as if the region’s stunning vineyard views and welcoming hospitality are just around the corner.
PRE-PARTY HUNTING AND GATHERING
Why white? There are three Setting the scene with the region’s world-famous important steps to appreciating wine and the first is wines elevates the entire experience. So, which to assess its appearance. Hold your wine glass away wines do you choose for your tasting? Wendy Day, from you, at an angle, and above a white surface. director of hospitality and sales at Celani Family The surface can be a tablecloth, placemat, napkin Vineyards, which hosts Napa Valley wine tast- or even a nicely laid white paper. A colored back- ings in people’s homes, suggests, “I like certain ground will distort the color of the wine.
themes for a tasting—it helps guests organize their GLASSWARE: A clear wine glass allows for the thoughts and senses. Explore wines from Napa best viewing of your Napa Valley wines. Start with Valley’s nested AVAs, a single variety from differ- a glass with a thin rim. A thicker rim is like riding a ent AVAs, follow a single winemaker making wines bike over a bump in an otherwise smooth high-
for different brands or even a winemaker making way, distracting you from a seamless enjoyment of a single variety in the same style from different the sip. Best is a tulip-shaped glass that narrows AVAs.” slightly toward the rim, concentrating the aromas
If you would like a preset tasting, many Napa toward your nose. Companies like Riedel offer Valley vintners offer wine-tasting kits and virtual varied glassware sizes and shapes to emphasize guided tastings with the winemakers. “We show- different characteristics of different wines, but one case the diversity of Napa Valley’s terroir and wide tulip-shaped glass is perfectly fine.
range of varietals and winemaking styles as acts of If you do decide to have a few different sizes on
discovery,” says Malek Amrani, The Vice’s found- er and winemaker. “For some of these offerings, people can schedule a virtual tasting with me as the winemaker, which just adds to the exploration.”
To match Napa Valley’s superior hospitality and make your guests feel like they are in wine country, here are other elements that will make your tasting a grand Napa Valley success:
hand, a larger glass with a substantial-sized bowl is desired for a red wine. This allows for greater swirling and coaxing of aromas from the wine. For a white or rosé wine, the bowl and rim opening are smaller, allowing the rising aromas to be concen- trated and captured at the top of the glass. Don’t forget a water glass! Keeping hydrated during a tasting is a top priority.
Professional wine tasters would not be caught without a spittoon to help moderate their alcohol intake. It is important to choose a container that is small enough for an individual place setting, yet large enough for your guests to use without worrying about accidents. While it’s not pretty to think about, you want to ensure that the container you use is opaque and not see-through. Tin or aluminum cups or small handle-less mugs work well, but you can also purchase large paper coffee cups in a pinch.
Here, it is best to choose the one that you are most comfortable with. You’ll dash
all hopes of an elegant start to your tasting if you struggle to open a bottle or put it between your knees to yank out the cork. Used all around wine country is the simple waiter’s corkscrew. The one with a two-step lever is best to lull a cork out of the bottle with ease.
Many Napa Valley wineries offer plain crackers to act as a palate cleanser between wines. You could also treat your guests to a local Napa Valley specialty: almonds toasted with salt and herbs. The salt in the almonds helps soften the perception of tannins in a big red wine. Just avoid a food item that is too strongly flavored or it will compete with, or work against, the wine flavors.
SERVING IT UP RIGHT
STORING YOUR WINES PROPERLY:
This will ensure their quality upon opening and serving. If you have a wine fridge, great. Most models offer different temperature settings in separate areas of the refrigerator so that whites can be kept at cool- er temperatures than reds. But there is no need to run out and buy one.
Keep all of your wines in a cool, dark place so they are away from harsh light, direct sunlight and heat—especially fluctuating heat—which can cause the cork seal to fail and allow air to into the bottle, causing stale or unpleasant flavors.
You’ll want to chill any sparkling, white or rosé wines before the tasting. Overnight in the kitchen refrigerator is OK, but be mindful to remove
the wines about a half-hour before the tasting as your kitchen refrigerator is generally cooler than necessary and can mask the flavors of the wines. Alternatively, place your wines in an ice bucket at least an hour before the tasting.
PRO TIP: Add equal parts of water to your ice. Water transfers heat away from the bottles and cools your wines faster.
OPENING AND POURING:
For an elegant presentation of the bottles, use the knife portion of your corkscrew to cut around the bottom lip
of the foil, cutting in a circular motion around that lower lip so that the bottom part of the foil remains on the bottle. Remove the cork with your chosen corkscrew and pour your wines into the glassware. Some people use pouring disks, which can help prevent dribbles of wines from dripping down the bottle and onto the table. You can also have a napkin or serviette handy to capture drips as you pour.
As to what order to pour and taste your wines? If both white and red wines are being tasted, pour the reds first, as its best to keep the whites cool until just before the tasting. As wines warm some (not too much), flavors are released from the wine, adding to the aroma enjoyment.
But whites are usually tasted first, followed by lighter reds such as Pinot Noir and then reds such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cakebread Cellars’ guest experience manager, Kieran Quigley, who pours their Sauvignon Blanc prior to Chardonnays, says of Sauvignon Blanc, “With bright acidity and citrus notes it is a classic starting point for a tasting.”
Now that you have the basics, the keys to host- ing a superior Napa Valley wine tasting and guiding guests through a tasting of wines, take a peek out the window. You may start to envision Napa Valley vines growing along the side of your home.
Catherine Bugué is a founder and VP of education at Napa Valley Wine Academy, holding the distinguished WSET Diploma certification.