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I have had many jobs and worn many hats, and one of the most interesting jobs I’ve had was a wine taster. I did at-home wine tastings when I was stationed in Minot. Unfortunately, I cannot do wine tasting on a professional level in Florida, due to licensing issues (aka I would need a liquor license to pour in our county, and those are expensive and hard to come by). Since I can’t do something I’m passionate about, I figure I can give a little bit of education on how to host an in-home wine tasting and perhaps give those military spouses out there a few good ideas on something to do socially. The key to doing this legally is (A) make sure you are not serving this to minors, and only host an event for those you know are 21 and over, and (B) do not sell the liquor in your home.
Before you can plan any good wine tasting, it’s best to have your menu set up beforehand. My favorite wine tasting menu consists of a heavy soup with bread, some bite sized meat (white meat, fish, and red meat), cheeses, and desserts. Everything you serve should be bite sized, or small portions. Also select three wines based on what foods you are going to serve. I prefer tasting 3-4 wines, sometimes I have done as many as 6 wines.
Selecting your wines…
As you probably know, especially if you are in to wine, there are three different wines—reds, roses, and whites. Reds are generally served at room temperature and aerated (meaning opened for about 10-15 minutes prior to pouring), though there are a few exceptions (and I will list some of those later on). Roses are generally served chilled. Whites are served chilled. The longer a white is chilled, and if it’s at a temperature just above 32 degrees, the better it tastes. White wines that are chilled nicely, have a fruitier and more vibrant flavor than those that are stuck in an icebox for a few hours. I usually chill my wines a few days to a few weeks before actually opening a bottle.
When hosting a tasting, I usually pick a smooth red, a spicy red, a crisp semi-dry white, and a dessert wine. Though sometimes I will pick a sweeter red instead of a smooth red based on the time of year and the menu I’m serving.
Great smooth wines include the Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi Zinfandel (my personal favorite), Beaujolais and Merlots. I most often enjoy drinking red combinations. One of my favorites is 7 Deadly Zins (which is a combination of a variety of Zinfandel grapes and Cabernets), and another favorite is the Menage E’Tois (this is a combination of Lodi Zin, Cabernet, and Merlot). If you are hosting a summer tasting, a really good option is a Sangue d’Juda. This is a sweet, bubbly red served cold, and pairs well with hamburgers (don’t believe me? TRY IT!!!). There are other Beaujolais that are often served barely chilled instead of at room temperature.
For the spicy red wines, I always go with a Shiraz or a Pinot Noir. The Australian or South African Shirazs are the best. These reds pair very well with spicy and bold foods (especially bold cheeses). I normally will drink a Shiraz with a good Prime Rib, or even a spicier bar-b-que. Sometimes they even pair well with Mexican and Latino flavors. Shirazes bring out the boldness of flavor. My favorite things to eat with a Shiraz are soups. Particularly, Italian soups, or Beer Cheese Soup (I have a really good recipe I stole from Disney World that really highlights the boldness of spicy wines).
The whites I generally use are Pinot Grigio (depending on the vintage), or Sauvignon Blanc. These whites are not nearly as sweet as Rieslings or Moscatos. They pair well with chicken, softer cheese, seafood, and fruit. You can also pair them with white pasta and sauces, and even some desserts. I try to avoid tasting sweeter wines as the third selection, because they can really mess up the palate.
Finally, I usually finish off with a Brut, Moscato, or sweet German wine for my dessert wine. These wines really bring out the sweetness of fruits, chocolate, and some softer cheeses.
Wine Tasting on A Budget…
The best thing about doing a tasting is often you can do it on a budget. I have found some of the best wines are at Walmart, or Sam’s Club (if you are in a location where Sam’s sells wines and liquor) and cost around $10/bottle. The nice thing about Sam’s Club is sometimes you can buy bite sized hors devours/desserts, and feed a massive amount of people with minimal cost. All told I have hosted a tasting with a food and wine budget under $50.
A Sample Menu
Starters (Spicy Red):
Beer Cheese Soup (recipe below)
Main Courses (Smooth Red/White):
Sirloin Tip Roast
Desserts (Dessert Wine):
Beer Cheese Soup (Courtesy of Walt Disney World—EPCOT Center Le Cellier Steakhouse)
½ pound bacon (I use thick cut), cut into 1/2-in pieces
1 medium red onion
3 celery ribs cut into ¼-inch pieces
4 Tablespoons of Salted Butter (no margarine—butter works better)
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
3 Cups of Chicken Stock (do NOT use broth)
4 Cups Milk
1 pound white Canadian Cheddar Cheese
1 Tablespoon Tabasco Sauce
1 Tablespoon Worcester
½ Cup Warm Beer (darker ale works better)
Chopped Green onions for garnish
Follow the steps in order, as this will affect the outcome of the soup (think Harry Potter and Potions class)
1. In a Dutch Oven, or large stock pot, cook bacon for five minutes stirring over medium heat until browned
2. Add the red onion, celery, and butter; saute for another 5 minutes until the onion has softened and turned translucent.
3. Add the flour and cook stirring constantly for another 4 minutes over medium heat (please note the mixture will be thick and coat the vegetables. Add in the chicken stock and bring to a boil (it will be incredibly thick). Boil for 1 minute, reduce to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Shred the 1 pound of cheddar cheese.
4. Add milk and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes—DO NOT BOIL the milk as it will curdle.
5. Remove from heat, and add the cheese, Tabasco Sauce, Worcester, Salt and pepper to taste until the cheese is melted and soup is a thicker consistency. Stir in beer. Soup will be somewhat thick (think fondue thickness), if it’s too thick add warm milk.
6. Serve with chopped green onions and bread
No Fail Slow Cooked Roast Beef
1-3+ pound roast of any cut. Expensive: Prime Rib, Cheaper: Sirloin Tip Roast
3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
Steak Rub of Any Variety
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Score the meat with a steak knife. To score meat make criss-cross pattern across the entire roast. Rub olive oil on the roast, then rub steak rub on.
2. Place in a roasting pan on a grate. Roast for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave off for 90-120 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR.
3. Turn on oven and cook for addition 20-45 minutes until done (I prefer my roast nearly moo-ing, so I cook closer to 20 minutes—I generally start checking the temperature at 15 minutes, I check it every five minutes, and when it hits rare, I take the meat out).
4. Let sit for 15-20 minutes, then cut into bite sized pieces and serve