Sunday, January 12, 2014

Creating Your Own "Cork Popper" Party!

More than once, after posting about our "Cork Poppers" gatherings, someone has mentioned that when it comes to wine, it is hit or miss for them. How do you decide? Several of you have asked in the past about how we pulled together our Cork Poppers wine tasting group. I've replied to those individually but thought it might be post-worthy.
First, it's important to know your goals for this venture. Is it to learn more about wine or simply to find wines you enjoy? For me, it is a little of both, but that's up to you. You might also think how often you want to meet. The more people, the harder it is to find a date. We generally end up every couple of months.
Rick and I were brought into our group by Dick and Cheryl, the original hosts (Dick is our wine guide). Dick had taken some classes, so he would pick a theme, provide the wines and some background on key terms ("tanins," "finish," etc.) and what to look for when tasting. (Color, region, etc.)
But one needn't be a wine "expert" to figure out the basics. A little digging on the Internet will help, or talking with the wine merchant at your area wine store or grocery. And don't forget to read the labels!
Now, Dick and/or the host determine the theme (because our meetings always include dinner and sometimes the meal will reflect the wine region). And, on occasion, someone will have visited a country and want to learn more about the wines from that area. (And it's a really good time to share your stories with friends!)
For the most part in our group, Dick brings a selection of wines of various prices. This is sort of his "thing" and we're happy to have him do it. But we also recognize that it can be an expense. Sometimes we will do alternatives to that.
For example, at our last tasting, every couple brought a bottle of wine and did the presentation to the group.

Details for a Cork Poppers-style gathering.

First, decide how many are part of your group. We have 11. We would love to have more (and occasionally will have a guest) but if you are including dinner as we do, you'll need to have the space to feed them. At my house, it's pretty tight!
Then determine the number of bottles of wine you will need. We find that for 11 or 12, one bottle of wine gives each person a good taste and there is generally a bit left over to share for "seconds." Remember, you are "tasting" not having a whole glass of wine!
So, we generally figure 6-7 bottles of wine, depending on the theme that week. Remember to have a combination of reds and whites.
Then comes the "theme." You can go by region ("Northern Italy," "New Zealand and Australia," "Bordeaux," "French" (in general),  "South American," etc. Or, you can go with something like "Wines for a Summer Night" or "Wines for Thanksgiving." Or, you can go with a type of wine like "Sherry" or "Pinots."

The Host

The host provides the main course for dinner. This may be thematic or just something they love to cook. They also provide the table wine and water for the tasting (unless you have someone like Clayton in your group who always brings water!).
Other guests bring bread or crackers and cheese for tasting (this can get pricey -- in a group our size, one person gets the cheese, another the bread); salad, dessert, a veggie.
The host also should have enough wine glasses for the group. These glasses don't have to match and they can come to the table for dinner. Don't make it hard on yourself!
Most of our hosts also provide party favors or place cards because we're a creative bunch and that's just what we do!

 Let the Tasting Begin

When Dick is guiding us, he shares a little about the region (often his wife, Cheryl, provides this info) and something about the wine. A lot of this info can be pulled from the web or the label. He also brings paper with info on the wines for us and pens so we can take notes.
Then we taste and laugh and share our thoughts which can range from "the best ever" to "I can't even finish this." We guess at the price, which is then revealed to us. And of course we love it when it is a reasonable price!
(Don't hesitate to "take it on the road!" One of our members has a boat and a highlight each summer is a cruise on the Grand River.)
After the tasting it is on to dinner. We've had everything from cookouts to casseroles, chili to Boeuf Bourgougin.
That's a typical Cork Poppers gathering, but you could pull off a wine tasting cocktail party very easily.

The Stand-Up Version

Have every guest or couple bring a bottle of wine and enough cards with info about the wine to put nearby. Then just have people taste and they can take a card with the wine info for those they like. (It will help to remind them to take "tastes" versus full glasses, so everyone has the chance to try everything!)
Either the host can provide ample cheese, hors d'oeuvres, water and coffee or guests can also bring something for the table.
I've also been to one where everyone brings a bottle of wine for the tasting and one that is wrapped to trade (drawing numbers or simply picking up one that you didn't bring.)

Not Everyone Likes Wine or Drinks Alcohol!

This is an important point to remember -- some in our wine group have issues with reds, which may trigger migraines. Others may have medications that prohibit alcohol. So make sure you have something they would like -- sparkling waters are always festive, coffee or iced tea.

At the End of the Day...

At the end of the day (or evening) everyone heads home -- safely (be responsible!) and filled with new favorites at a variety of prices -- and list of wines that are a "thanks, but no thanks!" 
And you'll all have a wonderful time!
Trust me. I know!


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Great post, Jeanie! This is such an awesome tradition that you have started and I would love to do something similar when I move back to a region where I have more friends! I always love reading the recaps and seeing the tablescapes! :)

Bella Rum said...

I would enjoy a group like this. We like wine but know only a little about it. This looks like a relaxed group that enjoys the company of each other as much as the wine. Cheers!

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Hi Jeanie,
What a great post! Show you what an odd duck I am, I am looking at all the corks thinking of what I could make with them.. haaa. I know, there is always one odd duck at the party...

I am so happy you are enjoying yourself.. You are full of life and looking wonderful!

shoreacres said...

Great post. I'm with Penny - I just read an article somewhere about interesting and creative things to do with all those wine corks. I had no idea there are places where people who don't drink enough wine can buy corks by the boatload - but it still would be more fun to use your own!

anno said...

What a excellent way to sustain great friendships and make delicious memories -- these are always my favorite posts, Jeanie!

Joanne Huffman said...

Good organizational skills and goals applicable to all sorts of gatherings (dining group comes to mind).

Jennifer Richardson said...

I sent a copy of this to my sister
because it's such a grand overview
and helpful tool
for someone mulling over the idea
to have a go at this (she's talked about it).
I love your group and the zest for life you all seem to share
along with the wine:)

must love junk said...

I think this sounds like SO much fun! Thanks for sharing more details about your tastings-I'd love to do something like this!

Sally Wessely said...

These are great pointers. They could be used for any kind of dinner gathering. Fun.

Tamara said...

Thank you for this introduction into your wine group. This sounds like a fabulous way to spend an evening with friends. I think you've just inspire a Paris in July event for me - I'll host a wine night.... Merci!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun party and looks like it was a success! There you are being all cute and stuff! :) Thanks for popping in to see me.
Be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

Mae Travels said...

Just wondering: did you all know each other before forming the group? How did you find each other?

Barb said...

Jeanie, I loved reading this! Your wine poppers group sounds like fun. Bob and I love wines and try to experiment a little whenever we restock. Of course, we also have our favorites! We have a good friend who visits Breckenridge once a year and is quite knowledgeable in a quiet and sharing way. We enjoy letting him select the wine and tell us something about it.

The Artful Diva said...

you two come up with the BEST ideas!

DearHelenHartman said...

Wonderful! Good wine, good food, good company, what more does one want in life?

Marilyn Miller said...

Reading over this post I realized in a way I belong to a wine group that meets monthly just as this one. There are 7 women in the group. Someone hosts and prepares the entree and the rest bring the supporting food and there are always a couple bottles of wine. I am the only non-wine drinker, so I had not thought about it before. I usually bring a sparkling juice of some kind. It is indeed a fun gathering of the girls with wine.

O-town Ramblings said...

Thanks for this post. A friend of mine is in the process of organizing a wine tasting group. Just last week we were talking about how to organize things. I'll definitely share this information with her.

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