Your backyard vineyard: a guide to outdoor wine tastings

23 October, 2014

It might be a bit too early in the month to throw a Halloween party, but that doesn't mean celebrating fall is out of the question. Nothing pairs better with the crisp October weather than a glass of cabernet and a little outdoor entertaining.

It's all about the temperature
The temperature of the wine is possibly the most critical element of a great tasting. White wines should be chilled to roughly 55 degrees Fahrenheit, while reds are best kept at 60 degrees. Chilling a bottle for 15 minutes will suffice in a pinch, but hosting the party at this temperature is an even better approach. This is why wine tastings traditionally take place in the vineyard wine caves of cool climates like Northern California and Italy.

We can't all have our own personal wine cave, though. Never fear – the refreshing October temperatures mean your back patio will work just fine as an alternative.

Starting with the right materials
First and foremost, you'll need to make sure you have enough glassware on hand. Giving each guest two glasses – one for red and one for white – is optimal, but not totally necessary. As long as everyone has his or her own glass, you'll be ready to go. A great way to help people distinguish glass ownership is by attaching small wine charms to each stem. 

Dumping vessels are a polite option to have on hand in case someone doesn't like whatever wine is being tasted. These frequently go unused, however, as most people are averse to wasting a single drop of the good stuff.

The wine guide
There are several ways to select to choose your wine selection. Tasting by vertical means choosing wines from the same winery from different years, while a horizontal tasting means tasting the same wine from the same year and different wineries. Some people choose to select wines by region (like Sonoma) or varietal (like merlot), while others will encourage their guests to bring their favorite bottles to share.

Time of year plays a large role in the type of wine served at the tasting, and October is the perfect time for any red selections. Regardless of what varietals you choose for your tasting, you'll want to serve your selection in order from light to robust; whites are served first, followed by syrah, merlot, and cabernet. It's a good idea to purchase two of each bottle, as most people will drink full glasses after the initial tasting is over.

It's not a party without food
Food and wine pairings are a particularly popular and delicious way to make a tasting more festive, but should be sequenced well to provide guests with the optimal vino experience. When guests are trying the wines for the first time, food should be limited to palate-cleansing crackers, as they won't interfere with the natural flavors of the wine. Once the 2 oz. tasting pours transition into full-sized party pours, however, it's time to bust out the food!

The best culinary selections for wine tastings are foods that have distinctive flavors instead of complete dishes, as they pair better with the distinctive flavors of the varietals – think goat cheese, fig spread, dark chocolate, smoked salmon and prosciutto. 

At the end of the day, it's pretty difficult to mess up drinking great wine in the beautiful October weather. Set up a patio dining table, a few outdoor sectionals (and maybe even a couple firepits), and you'll be on your way to celebrating the season.