How to Prepare a Wine Tasting

I always find shopping for my parents’ birthdays to be an impossible task. So last year I decided to try something different and put together a wine tasting for my step-mom’s birthday.

I purchased all of the wines at Bevmo and took notes from the tags provided at the store. I also did a little research online to put together the talking points and pairings. Below is the wine tasting menu I created:


1)      2010  A by Acacia Pinot Noir – Sonoma California

Heady aromas of cinnamon, orange peel and spice; soft and supple on entry with a creamy vanilla and tart berry flavors with a well-balanced close.

Pairing:  Artichoke Antipasto (purchased at Bevmo)

2)      2007 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon – Rutherford  

Dark black in color, the nose gives aromas of fresh raspberries and ripe red cherries with notes of vanilla and cocoa powder. The palate is smooth and rich with ripe, developed tannins giving the wine a full arc in the mouth and giving flavors of blackberry and a hint of smoky, sweet oak.

Pairing: Gouda Cheese (purchased at Whole Foods)

 3)      2007 Morgan Syrah & Grenache Blend – Monterey

55% Syrah 45% Grenache, this blend has a rich ruby red color, highlighted with purple edges. Blackberry pie, boysenberry and violet aromas jump out of the glass. The wine is medium-bodied with soft tannins; it offers a mouthful of dried cherry, pear and blackberry flavors.

Pairing: Black Olive Tapenade (purchased at Whole Foods)

4)      2009 Avalon Merlot – Napa Valley

This merlot offers flavors of dark cherry and ripe plum with a hint of classic earthiness. Silky tannins support the rich fruit in this balanced, food-friendly wine.

Pairing: Boar’s Head Italian Dry Salame (purchased at Ralphs)

 5)      2010 Main & Geary Zinfandel – Dry Creek Valley

Generous and complete, this is a classically jammy wine displaying vibrant fruit & oak aromas with jammy flavors of blackberries, raspberries & cherries with a hint of pepper.

Pairing: Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Almonds (purchased at Trader Joe’s)

Note: I also included a mixed bread basket for the pairings


Not only was this “gift” a hit, but it’s now become a family birthday tradition!

Below I’ve included some wine FAQ from:

Wine FAQ’s…

Q. What is the difference between sparkling wine and champagne?

A.  To be champagne, the grapes must be grown and the wine produced in the Champagne region of France.  Some sparkling wines classify themselves as “champagne methode.”  This refers to a process of secondary fermentation, but still doesn’t make them Champagne.

Q. What are the rules of pairing food with wine?

A.  It’s more opinion than fact.  Typically lighter fare should be accompanied by lighter wine.  One should compliment the other and not overpower.  Red wine to red meat is not a rule, nor is white wine for white meat.   If you are concerned with pairing, buy from a reputable wine shop and don’t be afraid to ask.  Seek out “shelf talkers” (display notes), reviews and advise of professional wine enthusiasts… and remember these are just opinions!
1. Beef:  Some safe pairings for beef are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah.   Interesting pairings that work well: Dry Riesling or Malbec.
2. Fish:  Pairings depend entirely upon the fish type and preparation.   Shellfish or whitefish with lemon butter can be enjoyed with oaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  Ahi Tuna pairs nicely with a robust red such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
3. Pork, Veal or Chicken:  Again, pairings depend upon preparation.  These meats grilled or broiled pair well with Pinot Noir.  Chicken with cream sauce works well with Dry Riesling.
4. Try popcorn with Champagne!

Q. What is the real difference between dry and sweet wines?

A.  Not what most people think.  People confuse “fruit forward” taste with sweet.  Dry vs. sweet refers to composition and often finish, not necessarily overall taste.  Red wines made from grapes are most often dry.  Sweet wine examples are late harvest Rieslings and Moscato d’Asti.  If you think you like sweet wines, ask for a “fruit forward” dry wine, and see what you think.  You may be pleasantly surprised.

Q. If I’m serving or bringing wine to someone whose wine tastes I don’t know, what is safe?

A.  Chardonnay, Shiraz and Pinot Grigio are all safe.  Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are interesting and well-liked.

Q. What is the difference between Shiraz and Syrah?

A.  Mostly the spelling.  They are produced from the same grape.  Some people think Shiraz is a bit spicier, and this may influence a winemaker’s choice in naming.

Q. What is the difference between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris?

A.  Same grape but different style of production.  Grigio is typically lighter.  Gris typically has more body (viscocity).

How to Taste, Simplified…

1. Fill glass no more than halfway.
2. Gently swirl glass at stem to “open” the wine, releasing the aromas (bouquet).
3. Observe bouquet.  Yes… stick your nose in there, above the liquid line, of course.
4. Take a small sip while intaking small amount of air through the mouth.  Notice the “introduction.”
5. Observe the “palate” by lingering the wine on your taste buds for 5 seconds or so.
6. Enjoy the “finish” and swallow.
7. Evaluate the flavors.


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