In my mind's eye, wine tastings are sophisticated and elegant events. The wines are perfectly matched with complicated, delicious food that I wouldn't take the time to prepare even if I had the recipes.
A handsome man representing an unpronounceable vineyard in a country I can't quite pinpoint makes me realize how little I know about wine -- and the etiquette. Do I spit it into the bucket after swishing it around like Listerine? Do I get to swallow it, or is that crass? Can I ask for seconds? Why am I paying someone to make me feel inferior?
Or there's the other kind of wine tasting, where everyone shows up at someone's house with a bottle of their favorite wine. This is the optimum way to taste some cheap wine that you normally wouldn't drink on a bet. You get some Triscuits and some spray cheese, and maybe someone brings hummus. You're guaranteed to have a headache the next day.
Or, there's a third option: You can invite a bunch of friends over, and have Steve Dimond from Vintage International lead a real wine tasting in the relaxed comfort of your own living room. Needless to say, everyone in attendance has to be of legal drinking age.
At the tasting I attended, we sampled 11 different wines, including a sparkling wine and something called Golden Tango Crme, which I regrettably don't have the taste buds or vocabulary to describe. One woman called it orgasmic, and I wouldn't argue.
Dimond's happy to tailor the tasting to the type of wines you prefer, whether they're bone-dry reds or soft, voluptuous whites, and works hard to have a nice range so there's something for everyone. He'll keep you informed as you progress from wine to wine, and he'll also keep you entertained. He's a very funny man with the greatest "Lon Guyland" accent you ever heard.
Better yet, there's not a pretentious bone in this man's body; he's quick to point out that you are the best wine expert for yourself, because you know what you like and what tastes good to you. He encouraged our group to look at the wine, to judge the clarity, then swirl it in the glass under our noses to smell it.
We started with the drier white wines, a New Zealand Chardonnay, working our way to softer, sweeter whites like a German Kabinett. We segued through sparkling wine, a sweetish Meister's Cuvee Sekt from Germany, and into mild red wines, beginning with a German Auslese. We worked up to a more robust Meritage from Spain. We finished with a thick, sweet Porto from Portugal and the indescribable Golden Tango Crme.
We had a blast, debating if the wine was fruity or spicy, trying to distinguish hints of flavors. One white had a definite note of grapefruit in the aroma, while one red smelled like honey and another was distinctly peppery but balanced with sweetness.
We learned about trilling -- basically slurping the wine so that the flavor hits all parts of your tongue at once -- and were told when a bite of cheese would enhance or change the flavor of the wine. Dimond can also suggest various dishes to suit each wine.
His presentation is informative, entertaining, and won't take up your entire evening. After he's finished with the samples, everyone is free to order wines or not, and then he's off to the next tasting. (For efficiency's sake, he generally lines up more than one per evening.)
Most of the wines are under $20 per bottle; the wines we tasted ranged from $14.99 to $34.99, with 9 of the 11 under $20. Vintage International features wines from smaller, boutique vineyards such as Pieroth, Romanet and Piccolomini -- ones that aren't available in stores or restaurants -- and the selection changes constantly. They also provide a guarantee for two years from the date of purchase, as long as you store your wine properly.
Once ordered, the wines arrive at the host's home a week or so after the tasting -- a $7.50 handling charge divided among those who order.
Dimond, like Vintage International, is based in Westminster, so if you're thinking of booking a wine tasting, have a little forethought and flexibility when talking dates; he's got to take into consideration other tastings in the area.
Of course once he's moved on to the next tasting, you and your friends have the luxury of relaxing in your comfortable living room, perhaps with a nice bottle of wine that someone thoughtfully brought with them. You could set out an opulent appetizer smorgasbord, or microwave some popcorn. You get to pick the music, the day, the time, the people -- and toast to each other's company and good taste.