We’ve had a bit of a wine-centric week here on the blog, from our Dinner in the Vineyard concept to the Pinot Gris-inspired soirée to our countdown to the end of the Style Your Summer contest with La Crema (deadline is Monday at 5pm PDT!) Naturally, we couldn’t wrap up the week without throwing an end-of-summer wine tasting party with the girls at my house – that included lots of our favorite cheese, of course. Click through for all the details (shot to perfection by Wynn Myers), and a few tips for throwing your own!
Before my guests arrived, I set up a table on the terrace draped with a striped linen tablecloth, then arranged cutting boards with cheese and lots of yummy accompaniments at both ends of the table.
A few tips for arranging the perfect cheese plate:
- Serve one to two ounces of cheese per person.
- Let the cheese sit at room temp for an hour before serving – flavors are enhanced when the cheese isn’t cold.
- Include a mix of fresh, aged, soft and hard cheeses.
- Arrange—and sample—the cheeses starting with the freshest and lightest, ending with the ripest and most intense.
- Talk to the people in the cheese department – see what their current faves are!
- Try adding pears, dried cherries, walnuts and soft baguette to dress up up the plate and add a variety of flavors to complement the cheese.
When it comes to place settings for a tasting party, keep it simple. A small plate for sampling, gauzy linen napkin and vintage flatware looks laid-back and lovely.
I love to mix glassware for an eclectic look! For this party, we poured these La Crema wines:
Pinot Gris, 2012 Monterey
Chardonnay, 2011 Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir, 2011 Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir Rosé, 2012 Russian River Valley
I’ve become such a Rosé fan this summer. It’s light, fresh and only slightly fruity – and its pink hue is undeniably festive for a party.
When pairing wines and cheeses, there aren’t many hard and fast rules – it’s really all about discovering what you like! A good rule of thumb is to avoid pairing cheeses and wines that will overpower each other. Pair bold cheeses with bold wines, and lighter wines with more delicate-flavored cheese.
Also, keep in mind that cheeses and wines that grow in the same regions will often (but not always) compliment each other. Try a Spanish wine with manchego, a French wine with brie, and in our case, a California cheese paired with La Crema’s wines. It’s certainly a rule that’s meant to be broken, but it can be interesting to notice the flavors that they bring out in each other!
Don’t forget the accompaniments! Any cheese plate should be rounded out with other tasty morsels for endless experimentation with flavor combinations. I love to incorporate a few sweet bites (a drizzle of honey, a few fresh figs) with some really salty nibbles (thinly sliced prosciutto and marcona almonds.)
It’s fun to let everyone build their own “perfect bite,” and then decide which wine is the best complement.
I created little menu cards to identify each cheese by using alphabet stamps on kraft paper card stock. It’s nice to let everyone know exactly what they’re about to try, and it’s helpful if they’d like to take notes on their favorite.
Provide small notebooks and pens next to each plate so guests can jot down their impressions of each wine and cheese pairing that they sample. And since they’ll probably discover a new favorite wine or cheese, they can provide themselves a reminder so they don’t forget the name.
Though I’m a fan of keeping tastings relaxed and fun, I have learned a few tips that help me taste the subtler nuances and flavors in wine. Don’t worry, these are newbie-approved… I may love to drink wine but I’m certainly no expert!
First, take a good look straight down into the glass, tilting and rolling the wine inside just a bit so you can see the full color range. Then look at the side of the glass, to get a sense of its clarity.
Next, do the swirl. For beginners like me, keep it firmly on a flat surface and swirl the wine around, noticing if the wine forms legs that run down the side of the glass.
Next, take a sniff. Let your nose hover over the top of the glass, take a few sniffs, then move the glass away so your brain can process the aromas. Consider whether you pick up on notes like flowers, herbs, spices, vegetables, earthiness, minerality, leather, smoke, caramel or really anything your nose and mind can dream up! There are no “right” answers here – it’s really all about the discovery, and learning to get even more enjoyment out of the wine experience.
Finally, taste it! Take a sip, and suck on it as if you were sucking on a straw (I know, this takes a little practice, but this aerates the wine and helps you taste it all around your mouth.) Again, taste for a range of fruit, flower, herb, mineral and other flavors, and consider whether you find the taste to be balanced.
Most importantly, remember to have fun! Tasting the subtleties in wine takes some practice, but kicking back and enjoying a glass or two with great friends doesn’t. And that’s really what summer parties are all about!
I always keep a decanter full of water on the table so guests can refill their glasses as much as they like throughout the tasting. Hydration is key!
Cheers to an end-of-summer party that’s all about great wine, delicious food and making memories with girl friends! Definitely thinking this needs to become a monthly tradition…
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