Wine Production in the United States

Over 84% of the U.S.’s wine production comes from California, 5% from Washington, 3% from New York, 1­­½% from each of Oregon and Pennsylvania, and the balance from the rest of the nation.  Surprisingly there are 41 wine producing states.

The U.S. follows the Appellation System, similar to France and Italy, whereby there are currently 242 American Viticultural Areas (AVA).  In order to have an AVA appear on a wine label, at least 85% of the grapes used to produce the wine must have been grown in that particular appellation.

I have elected to discuss in more detail the wines of California, Washington, and Oregon as these are the wines that are available from Canadian retailers. For whatever reason wines from New York, though having higher production levels than Oregon, are not as readily available to much of Canada.

For a state or county appellation to appear on the wine label, 75% of the grapes used must be from that state or county. Some states have stricter requirements. For example, California requires 100% of the grapes used be from California for a wine labeled as such, and Washington requires 95% of the grapes in a Washington wine to be grown in Washington.

For bottles labeled with a varietal, at least 75% of the grapes used to make the wine must be of that varietal. In Oregon, the requirement is 90% for certain varietals, such as pinot noir. The requirement is a minimum of 95% in California.


California has been stereotyped as a producer of big, blockbuster-style reds and ripe, oaky whites.  However, while these wines do exist, elegance and subtlety also play their part.

Napa and Sonoma are two regions that dominate Californian wine, but other regions are gaining in reputation, particularly those south of San Francisco, such as Paso Robles, Monterey, Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Maria Valley.  The wine must be from a particular vintage for that year to appear on the label.

California’s most renowned grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.  However, there are significant amounts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as lesser amounts of a number of French varieties, such as Syrah, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, and Mourvèdre.


Oregon has a great reputation for Pinot Noir and aromatic white wines, such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The region is on the same latitude as Burgundy, but benefits from more consistently sunny summers and very cool nights.

There are now more than 400 wineries producing pinot noir in Oregon across many sub regional areas, with the Willamette Valley having the greatest concentration of wineries. The Pinot Noir produced there has higher natural acidity than those from California. They also often have a savoury characteristic on the nose, but generous red berry tart fruits on the palate. These wines can develop great complexity with age and at their best represent some of the most serious fine wines produced in the USA.


The state of Washington is second after California in terms of importance for wine and offers a great diversity of terroirs. All of the wine growing regions are in Eastern Washington where the Cascade Mountain range acts as a rain barrier allowing for vines to grow. The climate is generally continental with hot dry summers and a significant diurnal temperature flux with summer night time temperatures dropping by more than 15 degrees. Washington is becoming recognised globally for the production of fine Cabernet, Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay.


The one grape varietal that is pretty much exclusive to the U.S. and California in particular, is the Zinfandel.  The Zinfandel grape is very challenging to grow. It does not ripen evenly and full ripeness can be hard to achieve without reaching high sugar levels and, therefore, alcohol. The best wines, often made from the lowest viable yields, will have an intensity of fruit that more than handles the higher alcohol. Older or particularly well-balanced vineyards tend to achieve good levels of ripeness at lower alcohol levels.

The grape’s reputation has been knocked somewhat by certain growers favouring quantity over quality with plantings in unsuitably hot climates and yields that were more than was good for it. But in the right hands the grape can really excel across all price levels, producing wine that is muscular, intense and spicy, yet structured and abundantly fruity.

Final Thoughts

With regards to American wines, Zinfandel is well worth a try, and if you like big and bold wine, California Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay may be to your liking.  My personal favourites would include Oregon’s Pinot Noir.  Oregon Pinot is more expensive than similar wines from California or Washington, and often more difficult to find, but in my opinion the flavour difference is worth the extra effort and cost to acquire one.

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Fortified Wines

A fortified wine is a wine-based beverage that is often enjoyed as a before or after dinner drink.  These still wines have been “fortified” with a distilled spirit such as brandy. The original use of fortification was to preserve the wine as it was prone to turn to vinegar during long sea voyages.

The spirit added might also enhance the wine’s natural flavors. The liquor is added to the base wine during fermentation. This fortification process increases the alcohol content from 12% – 13% up to around 17% – 20% by volume.

Fortified wines can be made in either a dry or a sweet style. The middle-ground of medium-sweet or medium-dry is covered in virtually all of the fortified wine categories and they will vary from one producer to the next.

How Fortified Wine is Made

Many fortified wines are blends of various grapes and vintages. Fortified wines are not distilled so are not liquor even though they are sometimes mistakenly categorized as such. This is particularly true of vermouth because it is used in making martinis.

Quite often, the fortifying liquor is simply called a “neutral grape spirit.” Essentially, this is a brandy or eau de vie (the water of life). The amount of time a wine is allowed to ferment before being fortified determines whether it will be sweet or dry.

Once the alcohol is added to the wine, the yeast stops converting sugar to alcohol and all of the remaining grape sugar is left in the wine as residual sugar. If a sweeter fortified wine is desired, the neutral grape spirits are typically added within the first day and a half of fermentation. To make a dry fortified wine, you would allow the full fermentation process to run its course. This consumes the remaining sugar before adding the neutral grape spirits.

Most fortified wines have no additional flavoring agents. However vermouth often has botanicals added during the process to give it an herbal flavour.


Many fortified wines undergo aging in wood casks. The actual aging time depends on the fortified wine. In general, the cheaper the fortified wine, the less time it has spent aging in oak. As a result of this deep wood aging, many fortified wines will benefit from decanting and aeration.  For additional information on decanting see the November 9, 2019 post “To Breathe or not to Breathe”.

Types of Fortified Wine

The types of fortified wine vary by regional preferences or the methods used in producing them.


Madeira is a white fortified wine from the Portuguese island of the same name. It comes with various classifications, including by grape and age.  The wine can range from dry to sweet, and is most notable for its aging process known as estufagem.  Madeira is made from a combination of heating and aging, along with oxidization and mild pasteurization. Madeira can be produced in two ways: either over a period of months with hot water tanks or steam, or naturally over a period of decades.


Marsala is an Italian specialty originating in Marsala, a city on the Italian island of Sicily. It is classified by both color and age, with sweet and dry varieties represented.  Sweetness is measured by grams of residual sugar per litre. Alcohol content ranges from 15% to 20% by volume, and styles run from dry aperitivos to sweet dessert-style wines.


Commandaria is from Cyprus and is predominately a sweet dessert wine. It’s made with only two types of grapes, Xynisteri and Mavro, which are indigenous to the island. It’s said to have a history of production stretching back nearly 3,000 years. Maximum alcohol content is 20% by volume, and the wine’s taste is highly rich, sweet, and fruity.

Moscatel de Setúbal

The Portuguese love their fortified wine, and this is another geographically specified rendition coming from the city of Setúbal, located in the Setúbal Peninsula along the country’s coast. It’s primarily made from the Muscat grape, and is dominated by a single company, José Maria da Fonseca. The style is known for more floral, and sometimes funky aromas because of the Muscat grape skins that are added after the distilled spirit has been incorporated into the wine.


Port wine is the best-known fortified wine.  It originally comes from Portugal’s Duoro Valley. However, it is now produced throughout the world. You can choose from tawny, ruby, vintage, and white ports.  Grapes must be grown and processed in the region, and to become port, the wine is fortified with unaged brandy before fermentation is complete to yield a product with around 20% per volume. Port is most commonly rich and sweet, but a range of styles exist.

Ruby Port

Ruby Port and Reserve Port are fruity Ports that are aged for a short time in a vat or tank. They are intended to be drunk at a young age.

Tawny Port       

Tawny Port is aged in vats, and Aged Tawny can be aged for up to 40 years. The older the Port, the more intense the ageing bouquet is, adding complex layers of flavours to the standard fruity tastes. Aged Tawny is typically available in 10, 20, 30 and 40-year-old formats. It will be bottled when it is ready to be drunk, meaning that you can drink it straight away without having to patiently wait for this ageing process to happen.

Vintage Port

The finest wine available from a specific vintage will be bottled earlier than most Ports and will require bottle aging to mature the flavours further. This is quite different to the other types of Port, which are matured in vats and ready to drink when bought. There won’t be a Vintage Port every year, as only the very best harvests are turned into Vintage Port.

Late Bottled Vintage Port

Late Bottled Vintage Port is produced from a single vintage wine that is aged for around seven years in a cask, as opposed to being bottled earlier as with the Vintage Port. This process creates a very fruity, yet highly tannic wine.


Sherry is a well-known fortified wine produced in Southwest Spain. It comes in fino (dry and light-bodied) and oloroso (dry but richer) styles.

Sherry originates from Andalucía in the south of Spain. Viticulture has been practised in this region for over 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest wine producing areas in Europe.

The primary grape type used is the Palomino Fino varietal, which is a white grape with good levels of acidity. While Palomino Fino is used for most styles of Sherry, the Pedro Ximenez grape is used for sweeter styles of wine.

The process of producing sherry is very complex and particular and differs from other fortified wine-making practices. White wine is fermented and placed in a ‘Solera System’ which are barrels that are stacked up on their sides in a pyramid-like shape. Yeast develops on the wine, known as flor, which stops the wine turning to vinegar and adding extra spice and flavour to the wine. The wine gets transferred from the top of the Solera system down through each layer over time, blending with older wine each time to create a complex ageing process. Alternatively, sherry can be aged oxidatively, by being left in contact with the air.

A number of types of sherry are produced:


Fino is a dry sherry that is aged solely under the yeast layer, producing a lighter drink, in both style and colour. It is also the least alcoholic form of Sherry, as it will only be fortified to 15% by volume.


Oloroso sherry is produced simply by leaving the wine in contact with the air, so no yeast is added to this style. It, therefore, presents far more intense flavours and colours and tends to be far more alcoholic than Fino sherry – usually a minimum of 18% by volume.

Palo Cortado

Palo Cortado and Amontillado style sherry is aged firstly under flor, before being aged oxidatively, producing a dry wine fortified to around 17 % by volume.

Cream Sherry

Cream and Dulce Sherry is produced using a sweeter grape varietal for a more dessert-like sip. These sherries tend to see the most variation in quality and price.


Vermouth is probably better known as the “other” ingredient in a martini, but it’s great to sip on its own as an aperitif. It is generally available as either dry or sweet. Vermouth is produced worldwide and varies in taste and quality depending on the producer.


There are other fortified wines that do not fit conveniently into one of these categories. Those typically rely on proprietary recipes and, quite often, utilize a special blend of herbs or botanicals to make them distinct from all others. Dubonnet and Lillet are two labels that fall into this non-category.

Storing Fortified Wines

Since fortified wines vary by style, it’s difficult to give general guidelines about storing and serving. While it is best to look into the recommendations for a particular type, there are a few suggestions you can keep in mind.

Unopened bottles of fortified wine can be stored in a cool, dark location. Some, such as fino and manzanilla sherry, should not sit on the shelf long after bottling. Others will be okay for a few months.

Once opened, it is best to drink fortified wines as soon as possible. However, vermouth can retain its flavor for up to three months. All open bottles of fortified wine should be stored upright in the refrigerator.

Serving Recommendations

Similar to other wines, serving temperatures vary with fortified wines. While some are best chilled, others should be served at room temperature. This is also going to depend on your personal preference as well.

While any fortified wine is designed to be enjoyed straight from the bottle, they’re useful in mixing up cocktails. They’re often best in simple drinks, such as the sherry cobbler and white port and tonic.

Fortified wines also make a great cooking wine. If you find that your wine is too far gone to drink, add it to a sauce or another recipe that calls for a little wine.

Foods Pairings

Food pairings depend on which type of fortified wine you are drinking. In general, fortified wines are known as both an aperitif and a dessert wine option.  Many kinds of cheese, nuts, fruit tarts, and cream-based or chocolate desserts have found a magnificent pairing partner in a fortified wine.

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A Star is Born

There is increasing evidence of celebrities being associated with wine brands.  However, it is not a recent phenomenon, though it has certainly garnered more attention in today’s Information Age. Usually celebrities have a large amount of wealth accumulated, which makes the significant investment in opening a winery or vineyard negligible.

There are many reasons that celebrities gravitate to the world of wine. Starting a winery or vineyard can offer some tax benefits. Some celebrities, such as the Italian-American director Francis Ford Coppola, come from a family with a long history of winemaking. Others such as the British singer Cliff Richard, have been lifelong wine enthusiasts and enter the wine industry in order to do something that they enjoy. Still others like the challenge of a new enterprise. Some celebrities enter the wine industry simply because they can.

Celebrities, such as the American actors Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and British football star David Beckham and his wife Victoria, own vineyards and wine estates solely for personal use. Some other celebrities leverage their name recognition as a selling tool in the wine industry.

Celebrities have different degrees of involvement in their wineries and vineyards. Nearly all of them partner, in some form of collaboration, with a winery or winemaker who is already established in the industry.

Sarah Jessica Parker, the former Sex and the City star, has debuted her Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé collection. She has a partnership with New Zealand-based winery Invivo.  The self-proclaimed wine lover is said to have her hand in every step of the winemaking process, including naming and design of the bottles.

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, owns two vineyards that sell grapes to California wine producers.

Sometimes the celebrity may own their own “wine brand” which is produced with the collaborating winery instead of owning a physical winery or wine estate itself. An example of this is Wayne Gretzky Estates, which is one of the brands owned by Andrew Peller Limited, who also owns Peller Estates Winery, Sandhill, Trius Winery, Red Rooster, Calona Vineyards and Thirty Bench Wine Makers.  Each is a unique winery operating with its own vintner, wines and labels.  I am sure that Mr. Gretzky is involved to at least some degree in the winery’s operation.

Some celebrities lend their names to a winery for a special wine production.  Examples of this include Niagara’s Stoney Ridge, who produces The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Reserve Red and The Tragically Hip Ahead by a Century Chardonnay.

Tawse winery has created Cuddy, a sparkling wine that has been developed in partnership with Blue Rodeo lead singer, Jim Cuddy.

For the art lovers out there, Niagara’s Diamond Estates winery produces McMichael Collection Tom Thomson Cabernet Franc and McMichael Collection Tom Thomson Barrel-Aged Chardonnay, paying for the rights to have Thompson’s paintings displayed on the bottle.

Does celebrity ownership impact the price of the wine? If the celebrity is involved in the ownership or operation of the winery, I would say no. However, where endorsements or royalties are being paid by the winery to the celebrity, I would speculate that such costs do impact the price.  As a result, in this situation the consumer pays marginally more for a wine bearing the name of a celebrity than another wine of a similar quality. 

However, if you are a fan of a particular celebrity or a particular label design, then the novelty may be worth the slight increase in cost.  After all, the beauty (and taste) lies with the consumer.

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The Wines of Portugal

Personally, I find Portuguese wines a bit of a mystery.  Although there are some excellent creations being produced, they don’t seem to receive the same notoriety as wines from Italy, Spain or France.

Because Portugal’s wine culture developed in relative isolation, there are many grape varieties that do not grow anywhere else in the world.  There are over 250 indigenous varieties and a few imports that have adapted well to the Portuguese landscape. According to many wine experts, Portugal is the last frontier of wine in Western Europe explored. So with all the excitement this region offers, let’s take a look at what there is to know about the major wines and the regions.

DOC (or DOP) – DOC stands for Denominação de Origem Controlada and means the wine comes from a strictly defined geographical area with recommended and permitted grapes and maximum vine yields (to control quality). Technically there are 31 DOCs in Portugal although 3 of them overlap, making it seem more like 28.

Vinho Regional (or IGP) – Portugal is divided into 14 regional wine  areas which have less strict rules for controlling which types of grapes are used, as well as maximum vine yields. While this implies that the wines will not be as high quality, many producers in Portugal use the Vinho Regional designation to create excellent wines using grapes or blends not allowed in DOC.

Vinho (Wine): The most basic classification of Portuguese table wine. These wines are generally not distributed outside of Portugal.

Each region is managed by a regional “Wine and Vine” commission, the Comissão Vitivinícola Regional (CVR). Each CVR supervises and controls the quality regulations in order to ensure quality and to maintain each region’s individual character.

Portuguese Wine Terms

Vinho Tinto – Red Wine

Vinho Branco – White Wine

Quinta – Wine farm. You’ll often find this word as part of a winery’s name on the label of wines.

The Wine Regions

Douro Region

Port is the most famous, and most copied, wine from Portugal and it grows in the Douro Valley.

Wines of Douro

Port – Fortified sweet wines; specifically LBV Port, Tawny Port, and Vintage Port wines which are the best and made by blending “port grapes” which include Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barrocca and Tinto Cão among many others.

White Port and Pink Port – Beyond the red Port there are also Port wines made with the rare white wine varieties in the region. Rosé Port is relatively new.

Tinto Douro – Full-bodied red wines. The same red grapes of Port wine are used to create full-bodied, tannic, age-worthy red wines.

Douro Branco – Light-bodied white wines. Douro Branco are crisp, minerally white wines with very little fruity flavour, subtle flinty notes and salinity, and high acidity. Douro white wines are a little harder to find and include the white Port varieties of Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio, and Folgazão.

Terras de Cister (Távora e Varosa) Region

Terras de Cister – Sparkling wines

This area produces wines with much more elegance and acidity than Douro, making it ideal for sparkling wines. There are a growing number of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards being planted along with the regional varieties of Malvasia Fina (aromatic white), Cerceal (light white), Gouveio (light white), Aragonês (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca (red) and Touriga Franca (red) among others.

Transmontano (Trás-Os-Montes) Region

Tinto Transmontano – Full-bodied red blends

The most common wine from this area is Transmontano, which is a regional red blend. Wines are full-bodied, punchy, with higher alcohol levels.

Minho (Vinho Verde) Region

Vinho Verde wines are best served young when the wine is at its peak of aromatics and crisp acidity.

Wines of Minho

Branco Vinho Verde – Light-bodied white wines. Wines often have a slight spritz and fruity, lemonade-like flavors with notes of melon, gooseberry and chalky texture. White Vinho Verde wines are made with a blend of several grape varieties including Arinto, Azal, Trajadura, Loureiro and Alvarinho (a.k.a Albariño).

Rosado Vinho Verde – Rosé. The Rosado wines offer red berry flavors with quenching acidity like lemonade. The reds/rosés of Vinho Verde are found primarily in the southern part of Minho in the sub-regions of Amarante and Paiva. Red grape varieties include Alvarelhão, Amaral, Borraçal, Espadeiro, Padeiro (quite rare).

Alentejo Region

The Alentejo region contains many progressive and modern wineries making red wines that offer generous fruit and mocha flavors with refined tannins from careful wood aging strategies. White wines from the Alentejo range from medium-bodied refreshers to full-bodied in a style similar to Chardonnay.

Wines of Alentejo

Tinto Alentejo – Full-bodied red wines that are typically blends made with Aragonês (Tempranillo), Trincadeira, Castelão, Alfrocheiro and Alicante Bouschet.

Branco Alentejo – Light-bodied and full-bodied white wines made with Arinto (fuller in style), Antão Vaz (fuller in style), Roupeiro and Fernão Pires (an aromatic white variety).

Alentejano (IGP/Vinho Regional) – Full-bodied red and white wines from a larger encompassing region that may include non-indigenous grape varieties (Viognier and Syrah are growing in popularity here).

Lisboa Region

There are many wines from the various regions in Lisboa (Alenquer, Bucelas) that are already making their way into stores internationally. While there is great quality found in Lisboa (Bucelas, Colares, Alenquer, Arruda) most of the wines you’ll find available are great for everyday drinking.

Wines of Lisboa

Alenquer – Concentrated, high tannin red wines made with Castelão, Alfrocheiro, Aragonês (Tempranillo) and Touriga Nacional

Bucelas – Light-bodied, citrus and beeswax-driven, age-worthy white wines made with Arinto. .

Arruda – Full-bodied red wines that often include international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah

Colares – Very rare find. Golden colored, full-bodied white wines in an oxidative style made with Malvasia Fina

Óbidos and Lourinhã – Light-bodied aromatic white wines particularly with Fernão Pires

Torres Vedras –  simple, low-alcohol refreshing white wines.

Setúbal Region

The region of Setúbal is famous for a fantastic rich, deep gold colored dessert wine called Moscatel de Setúbal

Dão Region

Wines from the Dão are lighter in style than in the Douro but have shown to age very well because of the tannin and acidity development from growing in high altitude areas with rugged soils of decomposing granite and schist (similar to Douro and Priorat).

Wines of Dão

Dão Alfrocheiro – Medium-bodied red wine with red berry flavors, licorice and spice notes

Dão Jaen (a.k.a. Mencía) – Full-bodied red wine. Raspberry and black cherry flavors with moderately high acidity and mouth-drying tannin.

Dão Touriga Nacional – Full-bodied red wine. Deep black fruit flavors with chocolate and mocha with refined tannins and medium plus acidity

Terras do Dão and Terras de Lafões – The Vinho Regional wines of the Dão with more experimentation and blends that include international varieties (Indi blends)

Tejo Region

Tejo plants all kinds of grapes, from Alvarinho (the grape of Vinho Verde) to the full-bodied blackish Alicante Bouschet. This is a good region for getting super value from Portugal.

Wines of Tejo

Red “Indi” Blends – Blends consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira and Castalão

White “Indi” Blends – Consists of blends with Fernão Pires (an aromatic white wine), Arinto, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay

Beira Atlântico (Bairrada) Region

Baga is the highly productive red grape of Beira, grown in Bairrada. From the aromatic and delightfully pink sparkling wines by Luis Pato to the soft, structured light-bodied red wines by Niepoort, this area is one of the new frontiers of winemaking for the Portuguese.

Wines of Beira Atlântico

Tinto Bairrada – Made from Baga and ranging from dense, tar-like, high acid reds to delicate, red fruit-driven wines with finely textured tannins and the ability to age.

Branco Bairrada – Made from the aromatic Fernão Pires (called Maria Gomes here), Bical and Arinto

Sparkling “Brut” Bairrada – Delicious beeswax-driven sparkling wines made with early picked Baga and Fernão Pires.

The Beira Interior

The most mountainous region in Portugal has one of the most challenging climates to produce grapes. With a shorter growing season the reds have red-fruit driven flavors with herbaceous smoky notes and a juicy finish while the white wines tend to be lean with chalky minerality. There are many old vines here as well as producers using native yeasts and organic viticulture.

Wines of the Beira

Tinto Beira – Red fruit-driven wines of Murufo, Bastardo, Alfrocheiro, Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional

Branco Beira – Lean, chalky white wines of Síria, Arinto, Malvasia

Madeira & Pico Island (Azores)

Verdelho is the main regional white wine grape. Wine from Pico is golden, viscous liquid that is hauntingly sweet, tart and somewhat salty with a smokiness from the volcanic landscape. Madeira, on the other hand, has the most collected and appreciated fortified wines in the world.

Algarve Region

There are nearly 2500 acres / 1000 hectares of grapes in the Algarve.  The wines aren’t designed to age, but there is hope in particular for red wines with Alicante Bouschet, Syrah and Aragonês (Tempranillo). These drought-climate varieties still manage to have juicy acidity and create more smoky sweet, dusty notes on the finish somewhat reminiscent to South Australia.

The wines of Portugal are well worth a try.  The wines are both good and available at a favourable price point.

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Hosting a Wine Party

Are you suffering from the mid-winter blahs?  If so, have you ever given any thought to hosting a wine party?  A wine party provides the opportunity for self-awareness as you may discover you like a wine you never thought you would.  It is a great way to expand your horizons and try different wines.

Depending on the number of participants, ask each person or couple to bring a favourite wine.  It doesn’t need to be expensive and you can even put a price cap on it if you like.

If you will be sampling both whites and reds then follow the standard practice of wine tasting – whites first, reds last.  You could also do a theme tasting, such as have all the wines from the same region or country, or wines made with the same grape varietal.

Blind tastings where the labels are covered can be both challenging and fun.  Doing a blind tasting allows your participants to try and identify the wine they brought.  You can try identifying the various types /varietals, and possibly even hazard a guess as to the country/continent of origin that each wine came from. 

When tasting the wine you can see if you can distinguish between the different smells and tastes, such as florals, honey, fruit varieties, cedar, chicory, earthiness, leather, tobacco, etc. and then see whether your perceptions match the wine reviewers’ claims.

Also consider suggesting food pairings that may complement the wines.

The portions for each tasting need not be more than 2 ounces and it isn’t necessary to swallow the wine.  For those who don’t want to swallow, disposable beer pong glasses make great spittoons.

It is also a good idea to provide water and plain crackers, such as Carr’s Water Crackers, so you and your guests can refresh your palate between wines.

I hosted a tasting where I invited several couples, asking each couple to bring a bottle of white and a bottle of red of their choosing.  I made up score sheets where each person indicated what they tasted, how they rated it, and guessed at the varietal of the wine.  I also provided them with a “cheat sheet” to help them organize their thoughts and aid in their decision making.  The rating card and cheat sheet are below.

The person with the highest score was awarded a prize.  The tasting was followed by dinner and each person could then select their own wine pairing from all the wines we had tasted.

If you don’t have an adequate number of wine glasses on hand, I suggest purchasing inexpensive glass ones.   Your local Dollar Store should have a suitable selection to choose from. In addition to being more environmentally friendly, they are also much less flimsy and less susceptible to spills than plastic glasses.

Your wine party can be as simple or elaborate as you want to make it.  The most important thing is to have fun.

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Score Card

Judge # ______            Wine #______                                                                                 

Determine the Sweetness or Level of Dryness

  1. Do you feel a tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue?
  2. Is there a slight oily sensation in the middle of your tongue that lingers?
  3. Wine has a higher viscosity; wine tears on side of glass slowly. (also an indicator of high Alcohol)

WARNING:  A bone-dry wine can often be confused with a wine with high Tannin.

Do you consider this to be a        sweet        or       dry         wine?


Acidity is tart and zesty. Tasting acidity can be confused with the taste of higher Alcohol. Wines with higher acidity feel lighter weight because they come across as ‘spritzy.’

Acidity Characteristics:

  1. Tingling sensation that focuses on the front and sides of your tongue. Feels like pop rocks.
  2. If you rub your tongue to the roof of your mouth it feels gravelly.
  3. Your mouth feels wet, like you bit into an apple.

HINT:  It is common for wines grown in cooler climates to have higher acidity.

Do you consider this wine to have a high acid content?       Yes       or        No


Characteristics of Tannins

  1. The wine tastes bitter on the front inside of your mouth and along the side of your tongue.
  2. Tannin makes your tongue dry out.
  3. After you swallow you feel a lingering bitter/dry feeling in your mouth.

CAUTION:  Tannin can often be confused with the term “dry” because it dries your mouth out.

Does this wine have a high tannin content?       Yes      or       No


Wines are often characterized by their main fruit flavours. Tasting for fruit flavours in a wine can help you better define your preferences. For instance, wines that have strawberry notes lead into a very different set of wines than enjoying wines that taste like blackberries. The level of fruitiness that you taste in a wine leads to very different growing regions.

Tasting for fruitiness in a wine

Red wind characteristics:  red fruits such as raspberry or dark fruits like blackberry and blueberry

White wine characteristics:  lemon and lime or peach and yellow apple

  1. Can you name 3 different fruits easily?  If so, what are they?    ______________________________________
  2. Do you find it difficult to pick out a single fruit flavor?     ___________________________________________
  3. Does the wine give you stronger impressions of other flavors such as grass, bell pepper, black pepper, olive or meat?  ___________________________________________________________________________________

Body: Light to Full-Bodied

Alcohol Level ABV (or Alcohol by Volume) adds body. The wine will have a higher viscosity which is easily seen in watching it bead on the side of the glass. A high alcohol wine typically tastes fuller bodied than a light-alcohol wine.

Tasting body in wine

  1. How does the wine seem       lighter        or           bigger  ?
  2. How long does the taste last in your mouth after you’ve swallowed?     _________ seconds
  3. Is the wine full bodied up front but then drops off at the finish?             Yes                No


  1. I cannot tell a lie; this wine does not suit my taste in any way, shape or form.
  2. I am not a fan.  It is a bit of a “yawner” if you ask me.
  3. I would be willing to serve this as a house wine for dinner parties.
  4. Yummy, I would be willing to serve this to close friends and/or on special occasions.
  5. Share – no way.  I want to keep this all for myself.

I think this wine came from ______________________________________ (country or continent)

I think the type of wine is

 Gewurztraminer Gamay
 Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio Baco Noir
 Chablis Pinot Noir
 Pinot Blanc Valpolicella
 Riesling Merlot
 Viognier Zinfandel
 Sauvignon Blanc Cabernet (Cab Franc, Cab Sauv)
 Chardonnay Malbec
 Semillon Syrah or Shiraz
 Other  _____________________________ Other  _____________________________

Cheat Sheet