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Discovering Wine in SFP

It was a normal Tuesday evening, except for the fact that eight HBS women had somehow either finished their cases or agreed to write them off, skipped their recruiting events, decided to ignore their group projects and head over to 1 Soldiers Field Park for a wine-tasting party.

The idea of a wine-tasting party was several months in the making. Astrid Stevenson, the Harbus Arts & Entertainment editor, wanted to host a party to share experiences tasting a variety of cheap and mid-priced wines. I received an email from Daily Candy, touting Robert Mondavi’s new website, Discover-Wine.com, in which the reporter gave a glowing review-one that would transform any wine-tasting party into a sure-fire success. And so I forwarded the information to our host and suggested throwing a party based on the website’s wine tasting model. We were to critique not only the wine, but the party idea itself.

Invitations
Using DiscoverWine.com, Astrid sent out invitations a few weeks prior to the event quickly learning that the website designers had not accounted for the number of times a group of HBS students might change the date of the event. Each time the date changed she needed to re-design the invitation, eventually resorting back to Outlook.

Grade for invites: D
Suggestions for the future: Evite is always reliable and hand-written invitations will work for upscale affairs.

D‚cor & Appetizers
On the dining table we found not only the wine bottles and empty wine glasses, but also wine glasses filled with different and recommended essences from Discover-Wine.com. For the Chardonnay tasting, there were wine glasses elegantly filled with items including freshly cut apples, lemons, vanilla beans, almonds, and butter (this one did not look appetizing, but we found that butter was an undeniable essence). For the Cabernet Sauvignon tasting, separate wine glasses held coffee beans, tea, sliced bell peppers, and dark chocolate.

In addition to the table display, jazz music played softly in the background, lending to a sophisticated atmosphere worthy of these HBS women.

Discover-Wine.com suggested light appetizers which would enhance rather than detract from the tasting. The host served an assortment of cheeses and crackers, as well as some tasty filo dough pastries and Italian meats. Those of us who ignored the advice in the invitation to eat dinner prior to arriving were relieved.

Grade for d‚cor & appetizers: A
Suggestions for the future: Even if dinner is not part of the plan, make sure your guests have plenty to eat as wine tasting can create quite an appetite!

Wine Tasting
We were excited to spend an evening at home actually tasting and critiquing (rather than just gulping) our wine. We decided to start with the cheap Chardonnay (Charles Shaw, or “Two-buck Chuck” available at Trader Joe’s for an incredibly low price, allegedly because of a messy divorce) and then a mid-priced Estancia. After the Chardonnay, we moved on to two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, again moving from a cheap version (again, the famous Charles Shaw) to the mid-priced Marques Casa Concha.

Following the advice of Discover-Wine.com, we smelled an essence and then tasted the wine to see if we could actually taste the butter in our glass of Chardonnay. We consulted the aroma wheel printed from the website before each taste and read the descriptions on the bottles as well. While some of us never could actually taste the essence, others were convinced that every single one was extremely present. Nevertheless, the essences sparked some great pointers on how to talk about wine, and what types of foods might bring out the best taste in even the cheapest wine.

In between the white and red wine tasting we had the opportunity to sit around and catch up without the usual loud bar music playing in the background. We managed to stay away from chatting about cases (it is so nice to be an EC and not have the constant need to discuss who said what in section that day) and instead commiserated about upcoming interviews, planned fabulous vacations, and passed along any interesting tidbits from the weekend.

Grade for wine tasting: B
Suggestions for future: While the “aroma wheel” provided suggestions for adjectives such as “nutty” and “floral,” it didn’t really give us great, original ideas for discussing wine. However, I found that the guests did a great job of extrapolating descriptive words for the wines.

At the end of the night we had discovered a few things:
* The price of the wine did not make a big difference.
* It actually is possible for a wine to taste “nutty.”
* The aroma wheel had some confusing but apt descriptions
* And finally, when planning to share four bottles of wine between eight women, plan on getting (very) tipsy.

If you are interested in planning a similar party, check out the website (Discover-wine.com) and use the critique above to make up for some slight shortcomings in the wine-tasting model. Hit Trader Joe’s for inexpensive wine and snacks, and then plan to have fun with a group of friends. After one night of essences and great discussion, even a wine novice can feel like an up-and-coming sommelier!

November 14, 2005
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