Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pinot Gris Blind Tasting Party

Since I moved to my humble but cozy abode in Los Feliz, I have wanted to have a housewarming party. I love my new place. It's on an adorable tree-filled street of cute little houses right in the middle of the action of Hillhurst and Vermont. The building is from the 1950s and the majority of my neighbors are older Armenian couples who are lovely and kind. (One lady just came to my door five minutes ago with a shy knock, holding out a plate of cookies and apologizing that she does not speak English, but smiling and motioning for me to take them. What a sweetheart. By the way, the cookies, little butter/sugar cookie rounds, each filled with a date and chopped walnuts and sprinkled with powdered sugar, are from scratch and are amazing. Another one of my neighbors has fixed my screen door, which had fallen off its hinge, while I was at work, without even saying anything to me.) I love my location because I can walk to whatever I need- groceries, cute restaurants, dive bars, coffee, dry cleaning, tailor, yoga, pilates, etc.!-, it's great for walks and runs, and it's always quiet and relaxing on weeknights when I get home from work ready to unwind.

The Plan

A few weeks ago, once I had enough furniture that I was happy with (though I am in sore need of artwork!), and could count my L.A. friends on more than two hands, I decided to go for it and plan a great party. Since most of my friends don't know each other, I wanted to do something that would create topics of conversation and make it easy for people to chat and get to know each other. I decided to do a blind wine tasting based on one I went to with my friend M.J. a few years back. It was in the Hollywood Hills at a beautiful home. The host had a bunch of different wines covered with brown paper bags marked with numbers in marker. The game was guess the price. The cheapest of the 8 wines was $6 (this was just before the rise in popularity of 2 Buck Chuck) and the most expensive was $600, with every price in between. It was fun to taste each wine together one at a time, and hilarious when even the most snooty wine snobs who were so sure they were right picked a $16 wine above a $200 wine. The moral of the game was in line with the wine mantra I have learned from the most knowledgeable and fancy wine experts I have ever met: a good wine is a wine you like. Period! Wine is very personal. Learning the characteristics of different grapes and regions enhances your enjoyment of wine, and learning how to describe a wine's qualities make wine tasting and drinking much more fun and social. But if you love that 2 Buck Chuck Sauvignon Blanc, which coincidentally I am enjoying right now cut with some lime seltzer to accompany a bowl of edamame, then it's a good wine.

Anyway, I thought this would be the perfect party theme, and most importantly give us all an excuse to drink lots of wine.

The Wines

I decided to do the price game and stick to one grape, Pinot Gris (a.k.a. Pinot Grigio) because it is one of my favorite refreshing summer whites and gets a bad rap from some wine snobs, which makes me more adamant about liking it because darn it, it's yummy! I went to Silverlake Wine (which is awesome, by the way) and with their help got my three nicest wines. I went to Trader Joe's for the rest, which were considerably cheaper.

These were my picks and the order I served them in:

#1: Barefoot Pinot Grigio - California (Trader Joe's, $4.99)

#2: Prima Terra Pinot Grigio - Italy 2005 (Silver Lake Wine, $14.39)

#3: Pavi Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie - Napa Valley 2005 (Silver Lake Wine, $10)
#4: Villa Cerrina Chardonnay Pinot Grigio (yes, it was a blend!) - Italy 2006 (Trader Joe's, $3.99)

#5: Torri Mor Pinot Gris - Oregon 2005 (Silver Lake Wine, $22)

Party Prep

I went to Bevmo and bought a little prize for the winner who could guess the order by price (little "wine glass name tags" which go around the stem of a wine glass, to identify your glass at parties, for $2.99) and wrote up a cute Evite. Then I decided what food to make. I had just taken the "Cocktail Party" class at my favorite cooking class, Hip Cooks, and decided to make two appetizers from that class- cucumber rounds with ahi tuna sashimi seasoned with soy, sesame, hot chili oil and green onions, and feta and white-wine-sauteed mushroom quiche tarteletts. (Both came out perfect and were delicious!) I also put out green grapes and chopped veggies, and a friend brought over a beautiful loaf of crusty bread and some Rondele garlic cheese spread. Another friend brought a case of San Pellegrino which he helped me serve to people in between tastes (Thanks, J!). I moved furniture around to make "social clusters" and read up on Pinot Gris so I'd be able to explain the background of the grape (arose from a freak genetic mutation in Pinot Noir in medieval times. Who knew!) and answer questions. Put together a chill iPod playlist, and I was ready to go.

As people arrived, my butterflies about nobody showing up and me being left to eat ahi tuna and drink ten bottles of wine alone -- which I must admit was not the worst alternative scenario ever -- flew away. Soon, the place was packed! A couple of my nice elderly neighbors even stopped by (I had invited them, too), and were finally able to communicate since my friend K. speaks Armenian.

Hostess Strategy

Hosting the party was such a blast. I would hit a fork to a glass to get everyone's attention, and announce the next wine by number. I had two bottles of each, and the 25 people who showed up all got good tastes of the wines. (Next time, I will probably do 3 of each if I have so many people again!) I got to chat with everyone as I walked around making sure they had each wine. They all got along spendidly, having lots to talk about by asking each other what they thought of the different wines. The conversation was flowing faster than the vino. The food was devoured (next time, I'll make more!) and my place got really hot from all the bodies. The smokers all bonded on my back patio, and I went out to say hello periodically. I had index cards and pens by the front door which everybody took and wrote their guesses on. At the end, I looked at all of them and found one person who had gotten them all right - the lovely C.!- who then won the prize, which I had wrapped up with paper and a tiny bow. Everybody applauded her. People were amazed to find that they loved some of the cheaper wines far more than the more expensive ones. (I personally never drink wine above $10 on a daily basis at home, so I considered the $14 and $22 wines pretty schmancy!)

One wine that most everybody loved and I thought was tasty, crisp, juicy and delicious like a green apple, was the Prima Terra Pinot Grigio (#2 on the list above). I would definitely buy a couple more bottles of that to keep in my "wine cellar" (a 16-bottle one I bought on sale at Target which is fantastic). The Villa Cerinna blend (#4) was also a winner with the crowd. It is refreshing and very easy to drink, and at $3.99 it's a an everyday wine worth checking out.

Conclusion: Good Times!

In sum, the party was a smashing success. Many of my friends told me it was one of the best parties they have been to in a long time. I had a fabulous time, too. It was under control and, well, adult, but it was also a great time! Also, cleanup was a snap-- a couple of friends stuck around after and helped me clean, and I swear the next morning my place looked even neater than it had before the party. The next day, I emailed out the wine list with prices and where I bought them so people could pick up their favorites to drink again.

I highly recommend having a party following this model if you are nervous about showing everyone a good time, because the wine game does the entertaining for you. Other games I have thought of are guess the grape, guess the region, or "one of these things does not belong" using any characteristic you choose. You can do as few as three wines, or as many as you wish. You can also spend however much you want to spend. Overall, the whole party did not cost me very much at all, and I felt that it was money well-spent because it was so wonderful and so fabulous to see my friends all getting along and enjoying themselves. I can't wait to have another wine tasting party!

If you have any suggestions for hosting a great wine party, please share in a comment.

:-p Cheers!

No comments: