Category Archives: Tasting Group

Tasting wine

Sniffing Wine


There is a huge difference between drinking and academically tasting.  I find both immensely enjoyable; however,  it’s much easier to just drink wine than it is to really taste, process and deductively reason what and why a wine tastes the way it does.

Today I was sitting in one of my tasting groups and I was more silent then normal.  In my tasting groups everyone brings a bottle of wine and we all blind taste the wine and try and deduce what it is.  Everyone in my group believes that this is the best method for preparing for the second level Sommelier Exam.  You can check out how to start your own tasting group here.

I watched each person taste and give their best possible educated guess while everyone else was silent.  We have a rule that unless the person who has the stage asks for help we all keep our guesses and thoughts to ourselves.  This made me realize how lucky I am to have such a great group.  Everyone is polite, respectful and knowledgeable and it utterly impressed me.  I think that is the key to a great tasting group – mutual respect as well as patience and passion.

Each person took their five or so minutes in the spot light where  they turned everything off in their head and solely focused on what was in their glass.  They named off so many things; the wine is clear, bright, yellow fading into a watery rim, medium viscosity, sound, clean, aromatic, youthful, young, under ripe green apple, meyer lemon, slight stone fruit, a hint of under ripe white nectarine, crushed rock, wet slate, limestone that has just been rained on for the first time in the season, white lilly and possibly some other white flower, no oak – it must be a sancerre  (Don’t worry if you don’t understand all these terms yet I will explain them to you over the coming months).  I loved listening to the members of my group being able to rattle of the descriptors like they are reading a poem, I am always impressed.  These people are not always serious though; I have seen many of them get drunk on wine without thinking about what it was.  Drinking to taste and learn is different than drinking to become intoxicated and it takes some effort but is also a lot of fun.

I know that when we are not doing blind tastings, where the pressure is on to get the wine varietal right and not miss the obvious characteristics of the nose or the palate, my tasting group members (who can smell the difference between stewed fruit, ripe fruit or dried fruit) drink like anyone else who can hold their own over an evening.  I guess thinking about that makes me less intimidated.  I like knowing that they also just drink to enjoy or get a buzz going.

Wine Spilling

Either way, my point is that there is a huge difference in tasting and drinking.  I will go more into depth with this later.  For now, if you want to learn more about wine, pay attention and take your time.  Look at the wine, see what you can gather from the sight alone.  Is it murky, are there bubbles, is there a rim variation because this can tell you how youthful the wine is (more rim variation, where the color changes from the outside to the middle) which can mean that the wine is older.  Smell the wine, what stands out, what is hidden, how does is change in the glass?  Take a long sniff in and a few short ones, figure out the best spot for you the hold the wine glass in relation to your nose.  The more you practice this, the better you get.  Also, start paying attention to smells that happen around you, go on a hike and smell the woods, smell herbs, produce and flowers – this will increase your wine vocabulary.  Smells will be easily recognizable and instead of being on the tip of your tongue – the descriptors will be out in the open impressing people.  Then, taste the wine, hold it in your mouth, try and breath some air in to let more flavor disperse.  Here you are trying to confirm what you smelled and see what else you may get or not.

This is a complicated process and I just quickly summed it up.  More to come but there is a difference between tasting and drinking.  Some days a quick cheers and bottoms up is all you want and thats great too.

How to Set Up a Tasting Group

Tasting groups are a great way to socialize, taste a bunch of wines for a small investment and learn a lot about wines in a laid back setting.  The hardest part about tasting groups is setting them up, but here are some ways to make it easier.


First, you need to have someone who is going to be responsible for putting the groups together.  Chances are, if you are reading this, it’s going to be you.


Second, you need to find a committed group of people.  Ask people who are really into learning more about wine.  The good news is more people than you think want an education in wine but don’t have the time or confidence to step out of their comfort zone to start the process.  Start by putting the word OUT.  Since there are so many avenues of social media, just start posting.  See who responds and put together an email list of those people.  Sending out a group email with everyone Cc’d on it gives people a sense of community and accountability.  Start on FaceBook, become a member of the Guild of Sommeliers , post in there, linkedin and whatever other group you are a member of and see who responds.  Put an email blast out and there you go.


Third, pick some days and times that work for most people then start.  Six or seven people is a great number to have at a tasting. That way everyone can bring a decent bottle and try 6 or 7 wines which is plenty for a night when you are really tasting for education.  Usually people cancel last minute so try aiming for eight or nine people.


Fourth, pick a theme.  The first one should be fun and yummy because it needs to get people hooked so they want to come back for more and commit to making it a weekly event.


If you want to study for the sommelier exam I recommend starting with these as they are what you will be blind tasted on for level II.  There is no blind tasting for level I.


The red grapes can be a) Gamay b) Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot c) Pinot Noir d) Syrah/Shiraz e) Sangiovese f) Zinfandel g) Malbec h) Nebbiolo


Whites a) Chardonnay b) Sauvignon Blanc c) Chenin Blanc d) Riesling e) Viognier f) Pinot Gris/ Grigio g) Gewurtztraminier


And they will be from a) France b) Italy c) US d) Australia e) Germany f) New Zealand g) Argentina


If you are NOT studying for an exam and just want to have fun tasting and learning more I think everyone bring one of their favorite wines that is single varietal (aka grape) just so you can learn what varietals should taste like and people can develop their palate from there.


Fifth, have someone bring paper bags for everyone. This way everyone can blind taste without being able to tell which one is your wine. Have everyone take off the cork and foil ahead of time, then place their own wine in a bag, put it on the table and walk away.  The host or someone else can number the wines 1 – however many people attend the tasting.


I find that blind tasting really makes you learn a lot and use your senses more so than knowing what you are tasting and training yourself by familiarizing each wine to your memory.


Look at the color, the viscosity, the clarity etc.  Pay attention to the nose and learn which wines have which characteristics.  Each wine and remember acidity levels, tannins, oak, fruit, earth etc and remember what each thing means.

Look for my upcoming guide on tasting to help with the actual tasting group!

This is a really fun process.  Enjoy and let me know what on here was helpful and what is missing.