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Awake at the Whisk: Tasting Parties

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Tasting Parties

Tasting parties are all the rage among my friends. We used to hold a typical happy hour gathering to swap stories and catch up. Yet, for the past year or so, we have infused our gatherings with more inspired fare.

It all started with a wine tasting. Everyone was asked to bring a red wine of their choice. We met at one person’s home and, upon arrival, handed our bottles over to the host. The wine was instantly whisked off to the kitchen, hidden inside a paper bag to conceal the logo, and given a number. The numbers went in order from the lightest wine to the heaviest (so, a rose would be #1, and a zinfandel would be #9). Once the wine had been appropriately labeled, the tasting begins.

In our method, we start by sending wine #1 around the room. Each person sips and comments. We ask them to rate the wine based on a scale from one to ten. A score of one means you would never, ever buy that wine. A score of five means you would probably buy it. A score of ten means you would drink it every day.

We don’t stifle folks from commenting, because it’s fun to hear different opinions from folks with different tastes. Some may like more sugar, some more fruit, and some more oak.

Snacks and water are always provided by the host to help cleanse the palette between each new taste. When the last bottle has been tasted and scored, we tally the points and reveal the winners. Folks often stick around to continue chatting and to partake in more of their particular favorite. We email the results to everyone (including those who couldn’t attend) the following day so folks can keep it in their files.

Our group has tasted a lot of delicious, fun fare since we began: wine, cheese, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, salsa, yogurt, beer, potato chips, and more. The key is to select a standard base; for instance, if you’re tasting pizza, ask everyone to bring just cheese so that folks’ preferred topping choices don’t dictate their scores. If you’re tasting ice cream, select one flavor, such as vanilla.

We always let the host decide the rules for the tasting. For example, I hosted a salsa tasting party. I asked everyone to bring salsa from a local mom and pop shop, rather than those bought in a jar from the grocery store. Other times, such as our pizza tasting, we did not dictate whether it had to come from a mom and pop shop, or whether it could come from a chain, so we got to compare quality from a pretty broad spectrum.

The next time you want to get together with friends, considering holding a tasting party. It’s a fun, cheap excuse to get together, and the results are always surprising! Don’t worry about being a food expert—it’s not about that. It’s about exploring everyone’s different tastes for the foods we all love. You might even find a new favorite!

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