Article By: Fred Bouchard
Readers can pull off such a tasting themselves, though the dimensions of it all can get out of hand. Participants (mostly consumers, a few trade folks) bought into this event by pledging a small fee and contributing one or two bottles.
The tasting took place in a naturally lit room, with 25 bottles deployed on three tables. Tasting note sheets and pens or pencils were laid out in front of each bottle, with columns for time, comments, rating, initials. As people arrived, their pre-registered bottles were matched with the sheets. Unregistered bottles were duly signed in with back-up sheets. Wines were arranged alphabetically on three tables.
This year, the good news was that there were lots of people (over 3O) and wines (28, with two duplicates). The layout was on three tables: a central one with 16 bottles and two side tables with 5 each. Placement was a key factor, as the well-lit side table by the windows was much visited, and the darker one by the kitchen much ignored. Repeated on a placard at the door were the few simple rules that had previously been emailed to participants: Bring a favorite wine glass, ID it (marker initials or chain loop) and hold onto it. Taste every wine you care to, but pour very short (1/2 to 1oz.). Sniff, swirl, sip, spit. Comment as to color, aroma, flavor, analogies, finish. Rate from 5 to 1O in half-points; 5 being poor, fair, decent, good, very good, 1O being fabulous).
The bad news was that the commentaries were few and scattered, and orderly tasting was helter-skelter. Last year there were 2O bottles and 2O tasters, many of them the same people, but who evidenced a higher level of comment-writing. Barely half of the wines had been advance-registered despite online pleadings by the 'zinmaster'. At 4 o'clock incoming bottles were uncorked and hasty headers scribbled on the data sheets. The comments were desultory, intuitive, often inarticulate and echoey, even downright illegible. Evidently many tasters entered no notes at all.
Late arriving wines endured differing fates. Some were opened with much buzz and oral recountings of recalled ratings or half-remembered reputations. Others became wallflowers - shunted off. As the tasting was not blind, it is likely that tasters were somewhat influenced by pricetags and labels. One taster remarked, "This is hardly scientific, but boy, is it fun!"
Lessons learned: Educate the tasters by email in advance. Insist on pre-registering the wines. Explain the rules in a thumbnail line-up when they arrive. Hope for a sunny day and good luck.
The menu, designed and executed by Eric Haggerty of New England Sauces, included citrus and herb rubbed shrimp skewers, grilled portabellos with asparagus and tomato over redleaf and romaine with balsamic vinaigrette, grilled Ratatouille (eggplant, zucchini, summer squash and plum tomatoes with herbs and olive oil), yankee oven-baked beans, potato salad with creole mustard and applewood smoked bacon, cornbread with smoked mozzarella and grilled peaches, hickory and oak smoked chicken leg quarters glazed with the chef's bottled "sweet, smoky, tangy, and spicy raspberry sauce", maple and applewood smoked Saint Louis cut pork ribs glazed with the chef's bottled "sweet, smoky, tangy, and spicy cranberry sauce", The sides rounding out the menu were Coastal Carolina Coleslaw (sweet vinegar-based slaw), barbecued gritcakes (aka southern polenta), watermelon salad, and mixed berry pies.