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Planning Your Wedding Reception With a Wine Tasting Party

Wine can be an important part of your wedding and picking which wine to serve, along with picking the caterer and deciding on a cake, one of the decisions you'll have to make along the way that involves taste. But this is one decision you can use to bring friends together and have a little relaxing fun during the planning stages.

Most caterers will have a wine list available that includes one or two "house wines," which are usually the lowest priced, and several more expensive labels for you to choose from. You'll most likely choose both a red and white so everyone at the reception is accommodated. In certain states, California for example, restaurants allow you to bring in your own wine. While this seems like it might be a great way to go, they can charge what is known as a corkage fee, which can be as high as $30 or even more per bottle. Unless you want a very rare and expensive wine, it's usually better to go with something off the list.

Sometimes the decision comes down to money and sometimes it comes down to taste. But in either case, this is one taste test you can have fun with. When my wife and I got married we invited some friends over, bought a bottle of each of the wines offered at the reception location and had a wine tasting party.

Between my junior and senior years of college I worked in a wine shop where we had a bottle available for tasting every Saturday afternoon. The owner and I got along very well and he gave me my first lessons in wine tasting. I've been a student ever since.

While drinking wine might be a part of your everyday life, you probably don't spend much time actually tasting it in comparison to other wines. Most people are intimidated when it comes to tasting or even selecting wine, but the first thing I learned was that no matter what anyone tells you, if you don't like a particular wine then you just don't like it. As far as selecting goes, in this case the wine has been pre-selected for us by the catering manager. We're just going to narrow down the list.

For our party we made a small chart with each bottle on it and three columns. The columns were for Appearance, Smell and Taste. We asked each of our guests to score each wine with a number from 1 to 10. We also left a little space for impressions to be noted.

Before we get started though, the first thing, obviously, is to drink in moderation and make sure that everyone at your wine tasting makes it home safely so they can party at your wedding. Never drink and drive. In fact wine tasting doesn't really even require drinking at all. Most professional tasters will spit the wine out after tasting it. It makes a lot of sense when you might taste dozens of wines in one day. (If you've seen the film Sideways, there's a scene where the character played by Paul Giamatti is so desperate for a drink that he actually drinks from one of the buckets used for this.)

The first thing you'll notice when you open a bottle and pour a glass is the color, or appearance of the wine. Red wine can vary greatly from a deep purple to rich brown while white wine can vary from a light brown to a yellowish green. While color won't necessarily tell you if a wine is good or bad, a richer fuller red could indicate a richer, fuller taste while brown might actually mean the wine has gone bad. A richer colored white wine usually indicates one that's sweeter while a clearer wine might be drier and crisper.

Next comes smell, or as wine aficionados call it, the bouquet. The bouquet of a wine can add an enormous amount to the overall experience of drinking it. At least half of what we eat and drink is experienced through smell. If you've ever had a bad cold with a stuffed up nose, you know that food can taste like nothing. But the bouquet of a good wine can be amazing if you really pay attention to it. Swirl it in your glass a little to release it and let it breath. Take a deep whiff and let it linger. You may start to notice smells you never noticed before. It might be musty or it might be sharp, it might smell like a forest or it might smell like a garden. You never know and finding out and challenging yourself to recognize different traits in the bouquet is one of the things wine lovers love about wine.

Now it's time to taste the wine. This isn't a time to gulp or chug but a time to sip and let the wine linger on your tongue. In fact, let it roll around on your tongue. You experience taste differently through different parts of your tongue. If you really concentrate on it you can taste amazing things. Some wines will be drier than others (a function of how much sugar is in the wine,) leaving less of an aftertaste while some will be richer. Some will taste like oak, some like fruit, some might even taste like flowers. Again that discovery of taste is one of the things wine lovers love. It also fun at this point to discuss with your friends what you taste in a particular glass. You'll be surprised at what people will taste and it might even surprise you a little that once they tell you, you'll suddenly taste it as well. You may also want to try tasting the same wine again after the bottle has been open for a little while. Wine, especially red wine, breaths after being opened. In other words, it reacts with the air and the taste can change, in some cases drastically, after even a few minutes. Decanting a wine often speeds up this process, but may not be practical for a tasting party.

It's also important to have a small tray of crackers or bread or glasses of water available for your tasters to help cleanse their pallets between tastes, especially if you're switching between red and white. It's also a good idea to rinse out the glasses between bottles.

In the end, we tallied up the scores, read all the comments and ultimately picked the wine we liked best. Of course it just happened to be that the wine we liked most coincided with what our friends liked but don't feel pressured. Enjoying wine is all about what you like and tasting wine is all about discovering what you like. We had a great meal afterwards and our friends felt honored that we let them help pick the wine for our wedding. As it turned out, we were so busy and having so much fun during our reception that neither of us really even remembers having a glass.

About the Author

RJ Thomas is a wine aficionado and collector. He is also the owner of two wedding businesses, Cherish Video, a Los Angeles, California based wedding videography company and My Unique Wedding Favors a website devoted to selling affordable and unique wedding favors (including wine wedding favors.)

A synopsis on Port Wine.

Planning Your Wedding Reception With a Wine Tasting Party

Wine can be an important part of your wedding and picking which wine to serve, along with picking the caterer and deciding on a cake, one of the decis...

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