Preparing a Wine and Cheese Party at Home
You love wine. You have friends that love wine. So, why not have them over for a wine and cheese party with a twist? The twist is, they’ll be tasting the wine blind.
No need for blindfolds. The wine will be wearing the disguise.
Why would you want to do a blind wine tasting? For the same reason that judges at wine competitions do. Not knowing the wine forces you to really consider what you’re tasting. It eliminates any preconceptions you might have about a certain brand or varietal. Plus, it’s a great spark for a lively conversation and isn’t that what parties are all about?
Here is how you host a blind wine-tasting night.
Plan on having 8 to 12 guests attend. This will give you 8 to 12 bottles of wine to try.
Have each guest bring a bottle of wine from any wine growing region in the world. Set a limit on the bottle price so the wines have a level playing field.
When your guests arrive, make sure that their bottles of wine are brown bagged. You don’t want to be able to see the label which will give away the varietal and the country of origin.
Hand your guest a glass of sparkling wine. It’s always a nice welcome but it will also help to open up and rejuvenate the guest’s palate before the cheese and wine tasting begins.
Have a sharpie or marker by the front door. When you receive the bottle, put a number on the brown bag. It’s best if the guest doesn’t see the number or they might have an advantage. Remove the cork too, as it might contain a clue.
Once everyone has arrived, put the bagged bottles on a table where all guests will have accessibility to them. Make sure there’s room for a cheese board as well as an assortment of baguette, crackers, and crostinis. You might also want to add a charcuterie plate to the table to make more of a meal out of the event.
If you opt to include a charcuterie platter, here is what Stephen Ward, the Experience Manager at the Wine Experience Center in Penticton suggests:
- Dried Chorizo
- Peppered Salami
- Pearl Onions
- Roasted Red Peppers
- 2 Types of Mustard
- 2 Compotes
For the cheese board, he suggests including an assortment of cheese from around the world. Ensure that they reflect hard cheeses, soft cheeses, mild and sharp cheeses, and smoked cheeses (each being expressive of its own style and taste profile).
Here is his list of suggested cheeses:
- Double or Triple Cream Camembert or Brie
- Smoked Gouda
- Aged English White Cheddar
- Tiger Blue
- Creamy Gorgonzola
Once all of your guests have arrived and enjoyed a glass of sparkling, it’s time to get the party started.
Provide a scorecard that lists the wines as # 1 through however many are to be tasted. Everyone tastes the same wine at the same time, starting with #1.
Guest can discuss the wine and then make notes on what they liked, which cheese it paired best with, and eventually select their favourite. Remind your guests that there are no right or wrong impressions - they should each be true to their own preference and palate.
The evening wraps up when all of the wines have been tried and scored. Then, the wines can be removed from their paper bags. Everyone will find out which wine was theirs and how their wine was scored by the group.
It’s fun to keep it light and casual but you could also ‘make things interesting’ with a wager.
Here’s what you might try - the person whose wine scores the least amount of points is obligated to host (and cater) the next cheese and wine party!
This extra wager ensures that people pick the wine they are going to champion very carefully. Plus, it means that, in addition to everyone having a great evening enjoying a variety of wines delicious cheese, they also get to look forward to the next blind wine-tasting party.
You and your friends can definitely make a habit of this!
A Guide for Red Wine Lovers
Love Shiraz? We created a video just for you.
In this video, we explore three different and distinct red wines that all have the Shiraz grape varietal in common (which, by the way, is the same as the Syrah grape varietal). These wines are all distinctive and they are all delicious.
We start by meeting Jason James, the winemaker for Black Sage Vineyard. He introduces us to the big and bold Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz. He walks us through his tasting notes for the wine, tells us what makes the wine so unique in the Okanagan, and even makes a pairing suggestion. But (spoiler alert), this wine is also great on its own.
Next up in the video, we meet the winemaker from See Ya Later Ranch Winery, David Saysomsack. He tells us about Rover which is a blend that incorporates Shiraz and a somewhat surprising second varietal. He uses a very interesting technique in fermenting Rover, which he explains in the video. Plus, he gives us some tasting notes and pairing suggestions.
Finally, we hear from Dave Carson, winemaker for SunRock Vineyards. His Shiraz is distinctive because of the unique terroir that it comes from, which Dave elaborates on further. He also offers some tasting notes and food pairing suggestions. Find out why this wine definitely deserves an invitation to your next party!
But, why choose just one? Try them all and discover why each of these three Shiraz options from the Okanagan deserves to be on the 'best of the Okanagan' list.
Ready to give these wines a try? Shop now online.
To-Die-For Bubbly Cocktail Recipes
There’s nothing like a signature cocktail to start a party off right. Why not add some sparkle to the night by mixing up a few bubbly cocktails?
Here are a few tried and tested, show-stopping cocktails that will have your guests raving for weeks about your party.
Let’s kick things off with a cocktail that Shea shared with us LIVE in the Great Estates Okanagan Virtual Tasting Room (via our Facebook page). It’s called the Cranberry Fizz and it’s a perfect blend of sweet, tangy, and sparkly.
Ingredients (serves 6):
1 cup frozen cranberries
3.5 tablespoons of honey
1 cup coconut water
1 bottle of Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut (or, take it up a notch with Steller’s Jay Pinnacle available at the winery)
Blend cranberries, honey and coconut water on high until smooth.
Pour into a sugar-rimmed glass
Top with Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut or Steller’s Jay Pinnacle
Take your presentation over the top by garnishing with candied cranberries
Is it just us or does the Grinch get a bad wrap at this time of year? After all, he was transformed at the end of the book! This cocktail is just like the Grinch - despite its green colour, it’s nothing but goodness inside. Your guests’ hearts will grow three sizes with love for you after you serve them one of these.
Ingredients (serves 1):
2 ounces of Bols Melon or Midori Liqueur
A splash of Blue Curaçao or Bols Blue
3 ounces of pineapple juice
3 ounces of Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the melon liqueur, Blue Curaçao, and pineapple juice.
Shake. Shake. Shake.
Strain into a flute glass and top with Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut
Garnish with a small melon ball (optional)
Sparkling Moscow Mule
You think it’s cold here? Try being in Russia right now. Instead, why not just serve up a Russian inspired cocktail. Mules are super popular right now so why not add a little sparkle to this classic?
Ingredients (serves 1):
juice of 1 lime
1 ounce of vodka
1 ounce of simple syrup
3 ounces of ginger beer
3 1/2 ounces Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut
Chill your copper Moscow Mule cup with a few ice cubes.
Pour lime juice, vodka, and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker.
Shake. Shake. Shake.
Pour over ice in your chilled cup.
Add ginger beer and Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut.
Garnish with a lime wedge.
Your guests have never had sangria like this so prepare for some accolades and demands for the recipe. Feel free to get creative with the berry and fruit mix - add whatever you love.
Ingredients (makes a pitcher):
1 cup blended frozen berries
2 cups of cut oranges, strawberries, and blueberries
1/4 cup orange liqueur (Triple Sec or Cointreau)
2 cups fruit juice or sparkling water
1 bottle of Steller’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz ← This is the secret
One hour before guests arrive, combine blended berries, fruit, fruit juice, and orange liqueur in a large pitcher.
Just before guests arrive, add the bottle of Steller’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz.
Serve in tumblers over ice.
Christmas Morning Mimosa
Christmas morning is so much more civilized when you can welcome it with a mimosa. All of the adults will thank you for this one!
Ingredients (serves 1):
2 ounces of pomegranate juice
1 ounce of freshly-squeezed lemon juice
3 1/2 ounces of Steller’s Jay Sparkling Rosé
Fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, lemon, pomegranate seeds, or raspberries) for garnish (optional)
Shake juices in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Strain into a glass.
Top with Steller’s Jay Sparkling Rosé.
Garnish with fruit.
These bubbly cocktails are sure to add to the sparkle of the season. We hope they make your parties shine. Please enjoy responsibly.
Photo Credit (all images): Colony Digital
‘How’ You Drink Effects the Enjoyment of ‘What’ You Drink
What if your favourite wine could taste even better? If you’re not drinking out of a varietal specific glass, you might be able to unlock a whole new level of deliciousness just by changing your glass!
“It’s not magic; it’s science.” That’s according to Alysha Harker, a regional territory manager for Riedel Crystal. She says that the company has been studying the physics of wine glasses for decades. What they’ve discovered over the years is that where the wine lands on your palate when you drink alters how your taste buds interpret the flavour. And, that you can change where that wine lands by changing the shape of the glass. The shape literally forces you to tilt your head at exactly the right angle so that the wine tumbles into your mouth just right.
They also discovered is that there isn’t just one sweet spot, so to speak, in the mouth that will make all wines taste better. Each varietal has a different perfect spot on the palate. “The bowl, the length, and the rim diameter determine where specifically that grape should hit on your palate to enhance all of the flavours of that grape, “ explains Alysha.
You may have noticed the effects of this yourself. Have you ever tasted wine at a winery or at home and thought it was spectacular and then the next time you try it in a different environment it just doesn’t taste the same? It could be the glasses.
So, which glasses are the worst offenders? Alysha says that sadly, it’s your novelty glasses - you know, the ones with the cute sayings. “Those glasses do nothing for your wine. You'll notice if you're drinking wine from a glass with a thick rim or something with a rolled rim, or plastic - your wine is only going to taste like alcohol and that's it. You're not going to get any notes and you're not going to get any of the different flavour characteristics. Whether it's from the soil [terroir] to the grape to the nuances, you're not going to get that.”
Inniskillin recognized the impact of wineglass shape on the taste of their wines decades ago - specifically on their uniquely Canadian Icewine. They reached out to Riedel and worked alongside them to develop the perfect shape of glass for releasing the full flavour of their Icewine. The glass that was created through this process is not only the one you’ll get if you do an Icewine tasting experience at Inniskillin Okanagan - it’s also the design you’ll get if you buy the Riedel Icewine glasses.
They’ve also created glasses specifically for sparkling wine, Cabernet/Merlot, Pinot Noir (old world and new world), Riesling/Zinfandel, Chardonnay (oaked and unoaked), Syrah, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and more.
By now you’re probably wondering if you need to put an addition on the house just to store all of these styles of glasses!
Alysha suggests you start with glasses for the wine you enjoy the most. After that, she says most people will go with a white aromatics glass - also known as the Riesling/Zinfandel glass. You can also drink Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris out of it. For a reds glass, she recommends the Cabernet/Merlot since those are the most popular reds in BC.
If this all feels a bit overwhelming, just think about it this way - discovering how much the shape of your glass affects your wine is a fun journey to embark on. You get to taste wines and see for yourself what the shape of the glass is doing.
We think it would make a great dinner party theme and Alysha agrees. The trick, she says, is to start with the right glass - taste the wine at it’s finest. Then, try it from a non-varietal glass and see what happens. The glass that she says blows people’s minds is the oaked Chardonnay glass - especially for people who think they hate Chardonnay!
So, grab some friends and do a little experiment. Find out for yourself if the science really is magic.
Stop by the Great Estates Okanagan Wine Experience Centre for a selection of Riedel glasses and decanters.
Taking Sparkling Brunch Cocktails Up a Notch
What could be better than sleeping in on a weekend and then enjoying brunch with a refreshing Mimosa? There’s something perfect about the combination of fresh juice and sparkling wine that makes that mid-morning meal feel like a luxury.
Did you know that the Mimosa has been around since the 1920’s?
The creation of the Mimosa is most commonly attributed to a Parisien bartender named Frank Meier. He started pouring them for guests at the Ritz in Paris around 1925. Some say he may have gotten his inspiration for the fresh and lively cocktail from a bartender in London.
A few years before the Mimosa made its debut at the Ritz, a bartender named Pat McGarry was slinging a morning cocktail called a Buck’s Fizz at the famous London Buck’s Club.
While both cocktails are a mixture of fresh orange juice and sparkling wine, there is a slight difference. The Mimosa is a 2 parts orange juice to 1 part wine while Buck’s Fizz is the opposite - an eye-opening 2 parts sparkling to 1 part orange juice.
Despite being the first, it would seem that Buck’s Fizz lost out to the Mimosa in the popularity contest. These days, we usually refer to any combination of juice and sparkling as a Mimosa. Perhaps it sounds just a bit more sophisticated. Sorry, Buck.
The Mimosa has come a long way since the roaring 20’s. And, it’s not just the juice to sparkling wine ratio that’s changing. We love to get creative and play around with fresh combinations of Mimosa cocktails.
Here are three that are sure to liven up your next brunch.
This is the quintessential Valley Mimosa - vineyards and orchards in a glass.
½ part fresh apple juice
½ part fresh pear juice
Rim flute with cinnamon sugar. (optional)
Pour chilled juices into the flute and gently stir.
Top with chilled Jackson-Triggs Reserve Series Methode Classique Brut.
This cheery, light red mimosa is perfect for the sunrise you missed while you were sleeping in.
1 part pomegranate juice
Pour chilled juice and liqueur into a coupe glass and stir.
Top with the chilled Steller’s Jay Sparkling Gewurztraminer.
Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
Deep Dark Fizz
This one follows the ratio of a Buck’s Fizz but with a dark side. Who says you can’t have sparkling red wine for brunch?
1 part tart cherry juice
2 parts Steller’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz
Pour chilled tart cherry juice into a flute.
Top with Steller's Jay Sparkling Shiraz.
Garnish with a lime twist or a dark cherry.
Any of these Mimosas are sure to make your next brunch a big hit but they’re so tasty, why limit them to the morning? We’re picturing afternoon patios, sunsets, and late night celebrations - so many potential Mimosa moments!