All posts in the Parties category

Ladies Wine Workout

Published November 16, 2012 by jenmatteson

In the past, I’ve always had a handful of ladies over for wine tasting, but this time, I decided to just have my two besties.  Not only does that make finding a date that works much easier, but that will give us a good chance to catch up.

We’ve all been friends since middle school, and though we’ve definitely gone our separate ways in many aspects of our lives, I am still very close to each of them at heart!  I thought a small intimate tasting would give us a chance to catch up with few distractions.

This tasting was a little different from others that I’ve hosted.  In reading my very favorite magazine, Food and Wine, there was an article titled “Wine-Tasting Workout: Train Yourself to be a Better Wine Taster”.  While my general rule of thumb for tasting wine is ‘if it tastes good to me, then it’s good’, I’m always open to refining my palate and expanding my tasting vocabulary.

This particular article focused on six key things that wine pros are evaluating when judging a bottle of wine: body, tannins, acidity, sweetness, aromas and flavors, and oak.  Because each exercise called for at least three different wines (that would be over 18 bottles), I narrowed it down to three exercises (tannins, body, oak) and two wines from each, making a more manageable 6 bottles for the three of us.  All six workouts would be an excellent tasting activity for a large group.  And don’t worry about any “wine snobs” in your group.  I guarantee that they’ll be able to learn something from these exercises!

Food and Wine tends to suggest wines that I cannot find in my local wine shops, so instead of getting the exact label, I focused on the region and grape to get something pretty similar to what they recommend. I listed F&W’s suggestions as well as the wines that we tasted.

In the end, I think we all learned more about wine tasting and how to better describe flavors.  We’ll have to follow-up on the other three categories that we didn’t get to try this time.  This night may or may not have ended in a dance party (including a guitar from Rock Band), so I’m thinking the 6 bottles we had was plenty (and no, we didn’t finish them all – just the reds 😉 ).

Of course we couldn’t have a wine tasting without some snacks!  During the tasting, we snacked on zucchini fries, sweet potato fries with chipotle in adobo dipping sauce, and an antipasto platter.  After the tasting, we headed into the kitchen to make some pizzas (pesto chicken with caramelized onions, grilled zucchini and roasted garlic hummus, and pepperoni with veggies and mariana).  For dessert, we indulged in a delicious peanut butter pie.

Wine-Tasting Workout


What defines body in wine?  In my opinion, body is one of the more simple qualities in wine to pick out.  “Body is the sense of weight or richness or heaviness, and even the feeling of viscosity that a wine leaves in your mouth,” says Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson.  Typically, a wine with more body has more alcohol and comes from warmer climates.  This is because the grapes have more sugar to be converted into alcohol.

How does body affect pairing?  When pairing wines and food, it’s essential to match body with body, so the wine is not too heavy or too light for the dish.


4 glasses
1/4 cup of each skim milk, 2% milk, whole milk, and heavy cream

Directions: Taste each milk in ascending order of richness, beginning with skim and ending with the cream.  Consider the texture in your mouth; the skim milk will dissipate quickly, while the cream will coat your tongue.  Next, taste wines from lightest to full-bodied.

Food and Wine Suggestions:
1. Northern Italian Pinot Grigio: 2011 Tiefenbrunner
2. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: 2011 Kim Crawford Marlborough
3. White Burgundy: 2010 Domaine Faiveley Bourgogne Blanc
4. Barrel-fermented Chardonnay: 2010 Rodney Strong Sonoma County

1. Valpolicella: 2011 Tedeschi Lucchine
2. California Pinot Noir: 2010 Dutton Goldfield Azaya Ranch Vineyard
3. Chianti Classico: 2009 La Maialina
4. Zinfandel: 2010 Ridge East Bench

We tried:
1. 2011 Riff Pinot Grigio  
2. 2010 Rodney Strong Chardonnay from Sonoma County

Our findings: I have to admit that we all felt pretty silly sipping different kinds of milk out of shot glasses, but when we switched the wine, we really could tell the difference in body.  The Chardonnay was closest to the whole milk, not quite a cream, and the Pinot was similar to the skim.  Crazy!


What are tannins?  Tannins are compounds in grape skin, seeds and stems that contribute to the structure, complexity, texture, and ageability.  Tannins can create a drying, slightly bitter sensation in the mouth.

How do tannins affect pairings?  A more tannic wine will pair nicely with rich foods and meat dishes.  Tannins cut through fat, and in turn, the fat softens tannins and make them more approachable.


3 mugs
3 black tea bags
hot water

Directions: Pour 8 ounces of hot water into each of the mugs.  Place one tea bag in each mug and start a timer.  After 2 minutes, remove the tea bag from first mug.  After 4 minutes, remove the tea bag from the second mug.  After 8 minutes, remove the tea bag from third mug.  Let tea cool.

Taste the tea in increasing steep-time order, swishing the liquid around in your mouth before swallowing.  Notice how the teas become more astringent as the steeping time increases.  Next, taste wines in increasing tannin order.

Food ane Wine Suggestions:
1. Beaujolais: 2010 Potel Aviron Côte de Brouilly
2. California Merlot: 2009 Simi Sonoma County Merlot
3. Bordeaux: 2010 Château Bellevue Bordeaux Supérieur

We tried:
1. 2010 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Red Burgandy
2. 2010 Mouton Cadet Bordeaux

Our findings:  I’ve always felt that tannins were difficult to judge, and mostly because no one could really describe to me what they tasted like.  The steep time in the teas really defined what a non-tannic and tannic wine tastes like.  The Beaujolais was so smooth and left almost no residual dry taste in your mouth, where the Bordeaux was heavily tannic and comparable to the tea steeped for 8 minutes.


What does it mean for a wine to be oaked? When oak barrels are used in winemaking, they develop their toasty, caramelly, vanilla flavors from being fire-charred.  The barrels can be toasted to different levels, depending on the winemakers preference, and can be used to hold the wine during fermentation and/or aging.  Older oak seems to have a more subtle affect on a wine’s tannins, structure, and overall flavor.

How does oak affect pairings?  In general, oaky wines don’t pair well with most food because it can overwhelm the food’s flavors.  However, bold-flavored grilled dishes can be a nice match as the char from the grill mellows the wine’s oakiness and highlights the vibrant, juicy fruit flavors.



Directions: Skewer a marshmallow and roast it over a flame on a gas stove until it’s charred.  Oakiness in reds leave the impression of campfire smoke or the smell of a burnt marshmallow.  Next, taste wines in order of unoaked to oaky.

Food and Wine Suggestions:
1. Sicilian Frappato: 2011 Tami
2. Chianti Classico: 2009 Rocca delle Macìe
3. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: 2009 Groth

We tried:
1. 2010 Coltibuono Chianti Classico
2. 2009 Pine Ridge Forefront Cabernet Sauvignon

Our findings: Oak is another aroma/flavor that wasn’t very clear to me.  After charring our mallows, smelling, then smelling the wine, the “campfire” smell really came through in the Cabernet.  The Chianti had very little oakiness, so you could still smell it a tiny bit.

Ladies Wine Exchange

Published June 4, 2012 by jenmatteson

As you might have noticed, I just posted a ton of recipes from my ladies wine exchange.  It was a wonderful evening of wine and women, and of course some great snacks!    Here’s a sneak peek at my table setting.

The flowers were a nice surprise from Nate’s mom’s garden.  Gorgeous, and they matched my spring color theme quite well.  Thanks, Marsha!!  Here’s a cute picture of Leah with my new piggy serving dish from Nate’s mother as well.  So cute!

I had some other “would have been cute” pictures of the ladies drinking wine, but unfortunately, I was afraid to change the settings on my camara (so I can use the manual setting for my food pics), and none of them turned out.  Next time.  And there will be a next time.  Let me know if you want an invitation 🙂

The wine exchange included tons of great food.  Starting with antipasti, bread and crackers, veggies with cilantro-dill vegetable dip, roasted garlic hummus, bruschetta, caramelized onion dip, Thai turkey meatballs with Asian dipping sauce, smoked salmon and dill egg salad sammies, Bethenny Frankel’s crab cakes with chipotle mayonnaise, salted caramel cheesecake bites, red velvet sandwich cookies, and place settings/favors with milk and dark chocolate toffee.  I think everyone was satisfied.  Even some hubbies came over after the tasting to get a few bites 😉

The wine exchange worked like this: Everyone brought two bottles of their favorite wine (two of the same bottles).  We blind tasted each bottle, and scored them based on our own tastes.  I think our tastes varied quite a bit, which made for trying several kinds of wine.  Whoever brought the wine that had the most total points, got to pick which wine they wanted to bring home first.  Second place got second pick, and so on and so forth.  This way, we all get to leave with a bottle of wine!  I’m not going to lie and say some of those didn’t get opened as the night carried on 😉

We started with a rose champagne blend, Gruet Brut Rose Methode Champenoise, which was recommended to me by someone at the wine shop.  I was a little skeptical, but we were going to start the party with bubbles anyway, so I figured why not make them pink since it’s a ladies party.  It was really good!  I’m not a fan of sweet wines, and this was nice and dry, with rich fruity flavors of strawberry and cherries.  Then we started the blind tasting.  Here is how each wine scored:

1. Tarima Monastrell 2009 (my wine – woot woot!!)

This was a great spicy spanish wine, with tastes similar to a Tempranillo.  Here is an expert review: ” This is the first vintage of this wine; the 2009 Tarima is 100% Monastrell sourced from 25-35 year old vines and raised in stainless steel with less stirring.  Medium crimson-colored, the nose reveals fragrant blueberries and underbrush.  Firm on the palate with plenty of savory fruit, it is meant for drinking over the next 3 years.”

Tied for #2. Alamos Malbec 2010 (brought by Leah)

Malbec is definitely one of my favorite wines, and for me, this one actually scored higher than the number one wine, but barely!  Here is a note from the winemaker: “The Alamos Malbec has dark, blackish purple color. The nose shows ripe black fruits, black pepper spice and floral notes. The mouthfeel is full yet soft and supple, with black raspberry and currant flavors mingled with notes of sweet spice and a touch of leather. The finish is long and persistent with soft, sweet tannins.”

Tied for #2. Cline Cashmere 2010 (brought by Kim)

Blends are a generally a great balance between several different grapes, with a smooth finish, and this one did not disappoint.  Cashmere is a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache. It was a favorite of many of the ladies, as it tied with the Malbec for number two.  Here are some winemaker’s notes: “Cashmere is a very flavorful, smooth wine offering big cherry, raspberry and chocolate notes with hints of cracked black pepper and plum.”

4. Radio Boca Tempranillo 2010 (brought by Kristin)

This wine is actually one of our household favorites.  Nate picked it out as his favorite when we did a tasting for wines under $10.  Again, I love the spice of a Tempranillo, so all of the red wines were fabulous, in my opinion.  And what can be better than a great wine for under $10?  Here is a excerpt from their website: “The Tempranillo in Radio Boca grows mostly on the mountainside, on head pruned vines 25-50 years old. Altitude with attitude. The soils vary from dark miocene to chalky lime. Balmy days, brisk nights.”

5. Pavao Vinho Verde 2011 (brought by Emily)

This was a nice refreshing sparkling wine, although Vinho Verdes are not technically bubbly enough to be considered a “sparkling wine”.  I’m more of a red wine person, but I’m finding more and more whites that I enjoy.  This was certainly a good one.  It has a very nice fresh, crisp taste, without being overly sweet.  A note about Vinho Verdes: “The tell-tale sign of a vinho verde vineyard is not just its diminutive size, but its upwards orientation: the density of viticulture here is such that most farmers train their vines on high pergolas, and even telephone poles.”

6. Gainy Vineyard Riesling 2010 (brought by Elise)

Unfortunately for Elise, the majority of us were not big fans of the wine she brought.  Not being a fan of sweet wines, this one definitely wasn’t for me, but there is no right or wrong in wine tasting – whatever tastes good to you is good!  A note from the winemaker: “This 2010 Limited Selection Riesling displays wonderfully fresh aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle complemented by fresh apple, pear, nectarine and apricot. On the palate, the wine is full and lush, with mouth-watering flavors of honeyed peach, ripe apple, pineapple and nectarine tart that linger into a long mineral-and-spice finish. This wine will enhance any meal featuring fish, pork, fowl or spicy Asian. Still youthful, this wine will drink beautifully by late summer. Enjoy it over the next 1-2 years.”

We ended the tasting with a white port I picked up while I was in Sonoma last April.  I had been waiting for the perfect time to break this out!  It was White Aero Port from Anaba Wines.  Leah and I were really the only ones who enjoyed this wine, which I suppose for both of us, it was to our benefit, as everyone else wanted to share their pour.  This is unlike any port I’ve ever had, and has more of a brandy smell than sweet dessert wine (maybe that’s why I like it so much 😉 ).  Here is a note from the winemaker: “This medium-to-full bodied port-style dessert wine begins with wonderful aromas of geranium, orange blossoms, white peach and lychee fruit. A soft, silky entry on the palate expresses flavors of lemon curd, baked bread, oily nuts and tangy golden raisins.”

I had a wonderful time with some exceptional women.  I’m hoping to have this type of party more often, but we all get so busy, it’s hard to plan for.  I’m thankful for each of these ladies in my life, in different ways, and thankful they were able to indulge a bit with me for this event.

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