Why hold a mystery wine and cheese?
Anyone who knows me knows that I enjoy my quiet time.
In all honesty, I didn’t really accept this in myself until my 30’s hit full throttle. I knew “something” was missing in my life in my 20’s. But like any vibrant youth, I was caught up in being accepted, loved by the world and thus always felt I needed to be at the heart of the action. This was exhausting but invigorating at the same time. The negative aspect was that I was constantly depleted of energy, pulled in so many opposing directions and had not the energy or time to think about what I was doing. The good that came out of this was a love of many different types of people, an awareness of our diverse world and an enjoyment of getting people together to smile and laugh.
Now I find myself learning to balance the introvert in my with my love of people. Recently, the social butterfly inside my soul decided to hold a mystery wine and cheese. If you are looking for a nice way to get people together over the holidays, perhaps my tips will give you the boost you need.
Choose a Theme
Reds. Whites. Rose. These are all good places to start. If your company is wine literate go for a regional theme like Riojas of Spain, French Bordeaux, South American Reds. Keep it simple.
Choose Wines That Represent a Spectrum of That Theme.
This is not as hard as it sounds. Choose at least two that are quite different in taste and body. I chose a vibrant Beaujolais from France at one end; bright, fruity and acidic, this bottle made a nice representation of what can be enjoyed in a young wine. At the other end I chose an aged Amarone di Valpolicella from Italy; smooth, a bit spicy yet somewhat lean; it showed the potential of an aged wine. You can be sure people will fill in that spectrum with a variety of delicious wines. Not surprisingly, the blend were the most loved and the most expensive wine (perhaps not the best Amarone), did not even register on anyone’s list. This was proof enough that you do not have to go extravagant. Ask your wine purveyor if you are not familiar with wine enough to choose. Don’t worry. Then you can learn!
Choose Foods to Fit the Theme.
This is really why I host any event. Food. A variety of cheeses, meats, breads and crackers, jams, pickled vegetables and a few desserts makes a nice compliment to any kind of wine that may come. Have some mild cheese like a swiss, some creamy cheese like a brie, a cheese or two everyone loves like a few cheddars and then some sharp cheese like aged romano, parmesan or an aged provolone. Vary your meats as well. Perhaps a regular salami, a spicy or peppered one, some prosciutto or a smoked salmon.
Pickled mushroom, artichokes or lupini beans help cut through the richness of the meat and cheese. though they might not be best to eat with the wine, afterward they act as a nice digestivo. A light orange blossom honey pairs nicely with the brie, or as I did, an orange flower jam because I had it around from Try the World.
It is nice to have a rich sweet and this sweet can come in many forms. Dried fruits such as figs and luscious apricots are perfect to pair. I went with brownie bites with a bourbon vanilla buttercream frosting because I love Alice Medrich and richer red wines pair well with chocolate.
I would try to stay away from overly pungent cheeses and meats so they do not compete with the wines. I did break this rule, just because I love them, so take it with a grain of salt. This is the best part of a wine tasting. Making it yours and breaking the rules. Don’t be so rigid you can’t have fun.
Keep the Event Manageable.
I decided to have two wine and cheese tastings, spaced a few months apart for the mere fact that I only have so many seats in my apartment. Also, keeping them smaller allows you all to sit around and talk about the wine which gives way to more conversation and is more intimate. This is a mystery wine tasting and not a raging party. The idea is to learn and enjoy the wines, food and each other.
Making a Few Nice Decorations Adds a Homey Touch.
Get crafty. Or turn to Etsy or Pinterest for crafty people. If you follow me on Pinterest you can check out my board: A Midsummer Night’s Party. I still need to have that midsummer night’s party. But the great part about this is the decor can be as simple as a few bundles of flowers. I made tags made from champagne corks from the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, some pearls on wire and mini roses and chalkboard tags. I found inexpensive burlap wine bags to keep the wine and mystery and used the larger chalkboard labels for the wine numbers. Easy.
Make Wine Rating Cards to Spur Dialogue.
To organize the wine and cheese, we all sat in a circle, tasted the wines and then after rating them, revealed each wine to see how close our judgements were to what the bottle claimed. Would you expect any less from a teacher?
You can use your printer or hand write them. I used some beautiful parchment paper I found on sale and a few metallic sharpies. On the front, I wrote the name of the guest and “Mystery Wine Tasting” and drew a few doilies. On the inside it looked like this:
Category Wine #1 Wine #2 Wine #3 Wine #4
Would you drink again?
Favorites and why:
If you have a crew that is more wine savvy, you could use more formal words such as nose, bouquet or finish in addition to guessing the region. I did not to keep the tasting approachable.
This Party is Time Flexible
Not a night owl? This wine and cheese was held in the afternoon and ended early evening. Have friends that cannot be gone from their kids all night? Perfect! Hold it from 2-5 or 2-6 and they can be back to put the kids to bed. For real.
So if you want to have people over and just do not know where to start, might I suggest a mystery wine and cheese tasting with some easy food. Anyone can pull this together with minimal time. It is a nice, classy way to get friends and family together to learn something new and enjoy time together; the important part!