Samples, Anyone?

Everyone has attended or is at least familiar with the wine tasting party or event. Good friends (or perfect strangers) get together to sample a variety of wines to see what they like or dislike. It’s a great way to explore a new varietal or region, and it’s fun. But why stop at wines? You can have tasting parties for all sorts of things – craft beers, espressos or artisan liquors would be fun too. But how about going a step further, and host a non-beverage tasting?

I got the idea the other week when husband and I stopped in at Fox & Obel to pick up a new olive oil. We’ve spent too much time in our lives buying mediocre olive oil, and we wanted to take it up a step. We figured we’d go in and buy a small bottle blind, and try a few here and there until we found something we liked. But we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the store had set up a tasting station. They had about 20 bottles open, with a container of bread slices, toothpicks and paper napkins. What a fantastic idea! I mean, if you’re going to spend $40 on an 8 ounce bottle, you should get to try it first (one of the many reasons we love Fox & Obel – I also rave because they sell fresh demi-glace).

So, why not have a tasting at home? Olive oils would be perfect, as would vinegars and salts. Or you could do olives, proscuittos, sausages… anything really. You only need a few things to get your event together – tasting scorecards with pencils, small glasses/dishes for each sample, and some appetizers. I think Italian antipasto is a great thing to serve at tasting parties – and Epicurious has a great recipe for Mixed Antipasto. Add some breads/crackers and charcuterie and you’re all set. If you’d like to serve a meal after your tasting, Italian is perfect as well- pasta bolognese or a garlic-lemon spaghetti would both be good choices.

You can make your own tasting cards, or there a lot of resources for printable cards online. The Aroma Dictionary site has a lot of good olive oil resources and printables, as well as page for wines. It’s also nice to send invitations for an event like this; it’s supposed to be classy and fun. And it seems like no one sends proper invitations to anything except weddings these days, which is a shame. Design or get something that complements your tasting cards. You can also make or get tasting placements- which are simply paper sheets with the name and pertinent info of each oil/wine/whatever written in it’s own spot- you then set the sample glasses/containers on the placement, and that makes it easy for each taster to remember what’s what. For small parties, I recommend trying no more than six, any more than that and it gets cumbersome. If you’d like to send your guests home with samples of their favorites, buy larger bottles and decant the leftovers into small glass bottles, and label them.

So, what are you waiting for? Spring is the perfect time to try new things, so why not host a tasting for your friends? Plus, it’s just another good reason to have a dinner party.