19 February 2007

Wine Night with the Girls: A Classy Excuse to Educate and Intoxicate Ourselves

It has been almost two years since some friends and I started the tradition of Wine Nights. Wine Nights are informal and lovely gatherings where each person brings a bottle of wine that fits into the night’s theme, some information about the wine, and a dish that complements the wine. We sit around a table for four to six hours, tasting, smelling, comparing, not taking notes, laughing, eating, drinking, pouring, spilling, telling stories, being silly, making fun of boys, and occasionally dancing to Usher.

There have been 13 gatherings during the past two years, and there are about 12 girls at each one. You may or may not already know that 13 x 12 is 156, which means that we have tasted 156 wines for the price of 13 wines. Many of those wines I have remembered fondly and purchased afterwards for myself.

Because of the various Wine Night themes, almost all of the wines are bottles that we would not normally choose on our own. The changing assignments allow us to branch out to different aisles of the wine shop that we usually ignore. When we have an assignment, it makes it much easier to walk over to a new shelf, select an unfamiliar bottle, and try to learn more about the wine on the internet.

These are the themes of our past 12 Wine Nights. There are obviously hundreds more regions and grapes that we have not yet delved into, but we’re trying our best! We could always try harder, but then we would be forever tipsy. Forever tipsy, that has a nice ring to it. I think it would make a great bumper sticker.

Wine Night #1: Assigned wines. Every girl is assigned a different grape.
Wine Night #2: Fickle Grapes: Viogner and Pinot Noir
Wine Night #3: Italian Whites
Wine Night #4: Western Australia
Wine Night #5: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Wine Night #6: Germany
Wine Night #7: South America
Wine Night #8: Any wine with the color purple in the label (bring a purple food as well)
Wine Night #9: Sake
Wine Night #10: Ros├ęs
Wine Night #11: Wine Merchant’s Choice. Go to your local wine shop. Ask the person working there what is his/her absolute favorite wine that they sell (in your price range).
Wine Night #12: Bubbly! (Champagne or Sparkling Wine)
Wine Night #13: Storytime. Bring a wine that has a personal story behind it.

When the theme is broad and encompasses different types of wines, we learn to identify characteristics of different grapes from different regions. When we narrow the theme to specific grapes or regions, we can start to discern more subtle differences between winemakers’ techniques, soils, climates, and other factors, most of which we are blissfully unaware.

Some possible ideas for future Wine Nights:
Same wine, different year: Two people pair up. Bring the same wine, but from two different years. Everyone gets two glasses. Compare the differences between the two vintages.

Cheapo Wine Night: Purchase the most inexpensive bottle that your local wine shop still recommends with a clean conscience.

Food before Booze: First, decide which food to make. Research which type of wine will be best complemented by the flavors of the food. Have a few sips of wine before tasting the matching dish, so that you can taste the difference in the flavors that the food brings out in the wine.

Moneybags: Four people go in together to buy a $100 bottle of wine, each person paying $25. The advantages of this: there will only be three wine bottles, meaning we’ll be less tipsy, meaning we’ll taste each one more seriously, which is not a bad idea if we are tasting such fine wines. After the three bottles, if we are still thirsty, we can merrily deplete the hostess’ current wine collection. (Note: This would also be a good night to invite boys to Wine Night, because more people = more money = more $100 wine for everybody.)
(these 2 photos are by Sue)

Any suggestions for more themes? Our knowledge of Old World wines is severely inadequate, so if there are any regions of Europe that you find especially delicious, let me know!
We also especially appreciate whimsical themes, even if they are not as conducive to the development of sophisticated taste buds as regional themes are. Oh well. I heard we’re too young to have sophisticated wine taste buds anyway. I don't know where I heard that, don't know if it's true, but I do know that Wine Nights are joyful, shining moments in our lives, glimmering brightly throughout our workweeks and giving us a reason to work to get money to buy wine to bring to Wine Night.
(top photo in this group is by Sue)


tammy said...

Wow, this is a really great idea. What fun themes. It's like an even boozier Book Club.

Not sure I could come up with that many friends, though. Would pets work? What about appliance servicemen?

s'kat said...

Now that sounds like the sort of thing that would nicely carry one through the week! What fun.

Kate said...

I love your idea of Wine Nights. It's a great way to learn and understand wines, and probably way cheaper than my Wine Professionals Certification.

Here are some suggestions for future themes:

Wines of Portugal, Chile, Spain or Argentina and South Africa- so many delicious and generally inexpensive varieties. Try regional wines from Spain such as Jerez, Ribera del Duero, Rias Biaxas and Rioja (the main grape being tempranillo). Try out Argentina wines from both the Cafayete and Mendoza regions, such as Torrontes or Malbecs. Both of those are in my Top 5 Favorites. In Portugal go for wines from the Douro and Porto regions.

Try some horizontal tastings, which is trying the same variety of wine from different parts of the world. Get a CA Sauvignon Blanc and try it next to a New Zealand and Australian SB varietal. Get a good Cabernet from CA and taste it beside Old World cabs from France. Gather the different German Rieslings (Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese) to taste the difference in harvest times. Try a German Gewurtztraminer against one made in the southern hemisphere, like South Africa. Get a Chardonnay from CA and taste it alongside a Pouilly Fuisse from France. Sample French Pinot Noir against the domestic, both from Oregon and CA. When you did sparkling wines, did you try true Champagne from France against a domestic sparkling wine?

I envy you as the possibilities are endless. Feel free to email me if you have anymore questions. I know this was a lot of information.

Erielle said...

Tammy, even if you only invited a few friends, it would still be a lovely time, I guarantee it! Plus, you would get a decent sized-glass of each wine and really get to enjoy it, as opposed to just a taste that leaves you wanting more.

S'kat, it really does give us something to look forward to.

Kate, wow, thank you so much for your wonderful suggestions. Our next Wine Night happens to be wines from Spain and Portugal, so I will forward your ideas to my friends. Good timing.
Your next idea of horizontal tastings never occurred to me and it's pure genius! You are blowing my mind. Now there is a whole new world of tasting we need to experience! I suppose those sorts of tastings take more organization, but what we would learn from it would be so valuable.
To answer your question, our bubbly night was mostly sparkling wines. I think one person might have brought a true Champagne from France, but most the rest were sparkling wines from the US, Italy, and Spain. It was a delicious evening. No one expected the sparkling wines to have such distinctive flavors, but when they were tasted one right after another, each one had its own flavors.
Thanks again for your thoughts. I am excited to try the new ideas!

J said...

That sounds like SO much fun. Wish I lived close...I'd get myself invited!

Kristen said...

I totally want to borrow this idea... I have some friends that would have a blast with this. Very, very fun idea!

Linda said...

what a fabulous spread of photos. women and lots of wine --- perfectly illustrated here. thanks for sharing. i need a wine night out with the gals; overdue for sure!

Cherry said...

I love this idea. I need more friends that drink wine.

Gourmet Peasant said...

I want to come and taste wine with you guys.

CyndyMW said...

Thank you SO MUCH for this post! I found your blog by doing a search for info on an "informal wine night" so that I can introduce wine to my mostly liquor-consuming colleagues. It's for education, of course, since we work for a wine and spirits distributor. They never let the IT folks in on the fun, though.

I'm so glad I found this, because now it makes me want to have some kind of recurring event. I don't have as many girlfriends who like wine, but lots of family, male friends, and wives of co-workers.

Also, I like the pictures. You all look like you're having so much fun.


Emily said...

Eri, I'm insulted that my flank-steak-in-mouth-corks-in-ears photo didn't make it in.

Erielle said...

J, You would have a blast, I know it!

Kristen, let me know if you do have one and how it goes. What theme do you think you'll go with?

Thanks, Linda. A night out with the girls is something one can't go without for too long without harmful effects on the soul.

Cherry, yes you do need more friends that drink wine! Do they like beer? You could do a beer tasting instead...

Gourmet Peasant, it sure is a good time.

Cyndy, I'm glad the post gave you some ideas. You're a very kind good person for concerning yourself with the wine-education of your colleagues. They'll thank you someday!

Emily, hee hee, this one? I totally skipped that one! How neglectful of me...I should have looked more closely for the perfect photo to epitomize the level of seriousness with which we approach our wine tastings. When I have more time, I'll add that photo into the post. Thanks for bringing the memory of that image back into my mind, I never want to forget that flank-steak-in-mouth-cork-in-ears vision!

sillypants said...

That is the best damn idea....Ever.

Shannon said...

OMG, I am so stealing that idea. How fantastic. Hmmm...perhaps I will make it a part of my monthly movie night. :) Love it!