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Facilitating Wine Discovery: Organising a Tasting for Friends

Tasting wine is fun🍷, planning a tasting work🤖. Peek behind the glasses to appreciate the effort even more🍾.

While we focus at UnscrewMe on helping everyone in London discovering the most exciting wine tastings🍷, we thought it would also be interesting to shed light on what it takes to organise a wine tasting.

For the past two years, I have organised a little wine tasting for a small group of friends. This year was the third year and I managed to get some more of my friends to come. Based on that experience, I got a glimpse on what it means to be on the other side of wine events.

Making it happen

The first challenge is finding a location. The first year, I did it at The Larrik, a decent pub in Marylebone. The next year I did it in the “Cellars” private room at The Prince Alfred in Maida Vale.

Both times, the room and the conditions regarding corkage or minimum spend worked out fine. So I decided again to first check with The Prince Alfred. Their room is beautiful and was available, so I went with that.

Once the general availability of the room was sorted, I started narrowing down the selection of dates, by asking a few friends what would work best for them. That way, I quickly got the list of dates down and then went with the option that also worked best for me.

My goal this year was 15 to 20 people — I asked a few more, some couldn’t make it. That’s always the case at any event, so asking a few more didn’t hurt. The group was a good size and the size of the room was just fine.

Selecting suitable sips

For a wine tasting, two components are critical: a selection of good wines and enough wine so everybody can get a taste.

I started doing this annual private event to introduce my friends to wines they most likely don’t know already. The first tasting two years ago featured three different Kreinbacher Estate sparkling wines from Hungary, that I discovered on holiday in Budapest and ordered via the Bortársaság online shop. For the second tasting last year I got some of the great, delicious German wines from my cousin, Warth Wein. This particular tasting nicely connects back to how I came to start working on UnscrewMe in the first place.

Now, the third round this year was based on wines I tasted on holiday in Varna by the Black Sea in Bulgaria🇧🇬 over the summer. I was lucky that my great Airbnb host recommended The Sea Terrace to me. At least about four wines on their list ended up being included in my private tasting.

In general, I want to present interesting, largely unknown wines that I like. This might not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s not the point — I want to bring some friends together, inspire them with some uncommon and tasty wines, and just have an enjoyable evening.

Building on local expertise

On my holiday, I made some notes of the wines I tasted. The ones that I liked most were the foundation for my selection. I had a nice chat with Marin, sommelier at The Sea Terrace and also asked him for his suggestions.

And when I looked for options to order the wines directly from Bulgaria, I discussed the wine selection further with Apollowine, who helped me deciding on the final line-up.

In the end, the list of wines was longer than I initially anticipated, but still manageable. One difficulty was that I had to order at least 30 bottles to make the shipping to London work. As I rather wanted to have too many bottles of each wine, than not enough, it was not too hard to get to the shipping minimum, and I could also order some additional bottles for myself.

Communicating wine facts

Selecting and sourcing the wines is important, but as I wanted to explain to my friends what we were tasting, I also needed to do some research and put together the key facts about Bulgaria as a wine country, the different regions and the individual wine producers and wines.

I had not tried all the wines in advance myself, only about four out of ten. So to a large extent, I had to rely on external information. Apollowine provided useful tasting notes, and I also looked up the wines on the websites of the producers.

I was putting together a little presentation, not least so I would know what to tell my friends about the wines. To illustrate the rather dry information, I also used lots of photos from websites of the different winemakers. And I added some of my own images that I had taken on my holiday.

Condensing information about regions, grapes, producers and wines down to simple slides is quite a challenge. But I think, I did manage to focus on the key details, so the slides covered the main facts, gave a good impression of the environment, without being overloaded with information. I did include some details that would not be interesting for everyone, but I also wanted to offer the more sophisticated wine tasters among my friends some additional information about for example winemaking techniques.

Learning by doing

As I knew from the years before, during the tasting, most of my friends were probably not terribly keen on the facts. But I didn’t care too much about that, I knew some liked to know more, and I wanted them to learn something. In this respect, my private event was probably different from a commercial tasting.

Looking back, learning more about wine by doing the WSET Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits definitely helped me answering some tricky questions and just being able to present the wines with more confidence. Having additional, general background knowledge about winemaking and wines put me in a much more convenient position.

Maybe ten wines was one or two too many — initially, I wanted to do seven, but after getting some additional recommendations, I ended up with ten. All ten were worth trying, but if I had actually tasted all ten myself in advance, I could probably had been able to cut the selection down to seven or eight.

It was definitely beneficial for the wine selection to not only trust my own taste, but also get the opinions of local experts like Marin from The Sea Terrace and Donka from Apollowine.

Not very surprisingly, I found it a bit challenging to present the wines and pour them at the same time. Fortunately, after a friend suggested it, I realised that I could give the task of pouring the wines to a skilled friend, who can pour much better than I anyway. Handing this task off was a very good idea.

Considering the challenges

Everyone had a great evening — not least because of the generous amounts of wine. But there were also some issues. I do quite like the room, yet the low ceiling meant that it did get a bit loud, when various different groups started chatting independently.

As with any group of a certain size, it took some effort to get everyone’s attention whenever we moved on to the next wine.

The most annoying issue was that, in contrary to what I had agreed beforehand and made clear more than once, we were not given a fair opportunity to order full dinner. The very least would have been to offer us last orders for food. The staff were very friendly and cleared some empty glasses every now and then, but crucially never prompted me to check when we wanted to order more food.

In my personal view, this situation was not handled ideally by the pub. For a commercial event, this would not have been acceptable.

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Getting new inspirations

The evening was a corking success🍾, so I will definitely do another tasting. Still at the tasting, I started to discuss with some of my friends about what could be the theme for next year. It is early days, so I have not yet decided what it will be, but I have some first ideas.

When it is time to organise my next tasting, I should also have completed the WSET Level 3 Awards in Wine. This should be helping me to talk even more about all the details about the wines. As usual, most of my friends might then also not be too concerned about knowing the grapes and processes of what they are drinking, but being also an educational evening, this is for me an essential part of the overall experience. And some of my friends actually were already looking forward to my slides.

After we have been adding more and more wine events to our list, we are planning to give a brief overview of wine tasting events in London in our next article.

(Of the two sparkling wines, the Edoardo Miroglio Brut by Edoardo Miroglio was my favourite, thanks to the Pinor Noir in the blend, it had a bit more depth and structure. I was surprised that ow the two whites I had tasted before, my preferences changed, so my favourite now is the Riesling & Varnenski Misket by Varna Winery. The white Gergana from Tsarev Brod was close second for me. One theme I noticed with the reds was that I seem to prefer Bulgarian oak🇧🇬 over French oak🇫🇷. The Bergulé Melnik & Pinot Noir by Villa Melnik was perfectly suited to be the bridge between Pinot Noirs and Melniks. The Pinot Noir by Tsarev Brod had something beautiful, simple and fruity to it. The Aplauz Shiroka Melnik also from Villa Melnik was powerful and smooth, showcasing another interesting local grape variety🍇.)

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First published in October 2018.
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