The most difficult thing about planning a wine tasting menu may be trying to narrow the options. After all, there are literally thousands of wines -- but only four or five that will take a star spot in a multicourse meal.
The wines should be chosen strategically. You could opt to highlight a particular region, variety of grape or vintage. By selecting wines made from a grape varietal that grows in a specific area, for instance, you could explore how different winemaking techniques create taste differences.
Or you could serve several different years of the same wine to discover how the flavor and aroma of a wine are affected by age and seasonal growing conditions. This is known as a vertical tasting.
You could even select the wines based on color. For example, you could serve a series of reds that include cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, merlot, pinot noir and cabernet franc. Or white wines, such as chardonnay, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc.
Pairing a wine with each course can bring out the best in both. The fare doesn't need to be a complex mix of ingredients and preparation. A platter of cheeses, pickled vegetables, fresh fruits or jams, toasted bread and cured meats like prosciutto and high-quality salami is easy and elegant, and your guests will be able to experiment with the flavors to bring out different notes in the wines.
And you don't even need the advice of a sommelier to pull it off. Download a helpful app, like iFromage, to marry cheese and wine. For pairing wines with starters, entrees and desserts, try the Pair It! app; it matches more than 180 varietals with more than 1,000 foods.
Whatever wines you select, serve the lightest-flavored first and follow with increasingly heavy tastes. This usually means that dry wines will come before sweet, white wines will come before reds (though a strong chardonnay might follow a bright Beaujolais on occasion), and old, subtle wines will come before young, bold ones. By serving the more gentle wines first, your guests will be able to really taste the subtleties. Can we say the same of beer? Find out on the next page.