Labor Day's over. The kids are off to school or college. Suddenly we're empty-nesters -- at least for part of the day. It's time for some mommy-and-daddy fun.
Let's throw a wine tasting.
Tastings are easy. Get some glasses, wine and snacks and invite your friends. That's fun, but you don't learn much. Why not add a couple of wrinkles and make it educational?
The aim of this tasting is to demonstrate the contrasts among wines, so it's divided into four flights of two wines each -- sharply contrasting wines to show the differences they can achieve. The lineup:
Sauvignon blanc, all lemony and crisp, vs. chardonnay, with its soft, sweet pineapple flavors.
A powerful, spicy California syrah vs. a sweet, zaftig Aussie shiraz -- both made of the same grape -- to show how different the two can be.
A California cabernet sauvignon to demonstrate power and depth vs. a user-friendly malbec from Argentina that tastes just like chocolate-covered cherries.
A sweet, soft rose vs. one that's crisp and extra-dry, even tart.
You'll need eight glasses for each guest. Clear plastic ones, with or without stems, work fine.
If you're serious about this, serve simple bread or crackers, nothing more flavorful. An old saying among wine merchants is, "Buy on bread, sell on cheese." Bread cleanses your palate so you can accurately taste the next wine; cheese makes every wine taste better.
Put stickers marked "A" or "B" on the bottom of each glass. Set up four A-B pairs of glasses in front of each taster. Pour the wines, two at a time, and leave the bottles on the table so people can see them.
Have everybody switch around each pair of wine glasses until they lose track of which is which. Then taste, and try to identify each wine in each pair.
>How to taste
Check the color. See if darker wines have more flavor. Swirl the glass to coat its inside to bring up the aroma. Sniff the wine to see if you can tell, for example, the lemons from the pineapples in that sauvignon blanc-chardonnay pairing.
Take a small sip, roll it around in your mouth, then swallow or spit. See if you can identify the fruit flavor, whether it's sweet or tart, whether it's soft and jammy or astringent and tannic.
See which you like best. That's kind of the point of the whole thing.
Finally, take notes. Don't be the hundredth person to come up to me later and say, "I had the most marvelous wine last night, but I can't remember what it was."
You don't want to see a grown man cry, do you?
If you can't find these exact wines, explain the concept to your friendly local wine shop clerk and let him or her show you what's on hand.
*2010 Dry Creek Vineyards Fume Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc), Sonoma County: crisp and intensely fruity, with flavors of lemons, limes and Granny Smith apples; $12.
*2009 "Avant" Chardonnay by Kendall-Jackson, California: ripe pineapple and pear aromas and flavors, very rich; $14.
*2008 Penfolds "Bin 128" Shiraz, Coonawarra, Australia: sweet, spicy and fruity, with flavors of red raspberries and cola, rich, ripe tannins; $19.
*2009 Hogue "Genesis" Syrah, Columbia Valley, Wash.: spicy black plums, black cherries and black pepper, full-bodied and rich, firm tannins; $16.
*2010 Don Miguel Gascon Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina; soft and rich with flavors of black cherries and milk chocolate; $15.
*2008 Casa Silva Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile: classic cassis and licorice flavors, powerful, with firm tannins; $12.
*2010 Robert Oatley Rose of Sangiovese, Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia: tart and crisp, full-bodied, with intense strawberry flavors; $15.
*2009 Pink Truck Pink Wine, California: soft, sweet, red raspberry flavors; $9.