Tutorial - How To Throw An Around The World Wine Tasting

You can probably imagine that after all of the time and energy spent planning other people's celebrations, it's sometimes hard to find the time to plan a personal event...  But recently I decided to plan a dinner party for my husband's birthday, and I wanted it to be a memorable experience for all of our friends and family, but also incorporate some of his favorite things.  As an accountant for an International company he usually travels to a different country several times a year (a bonus for someone who already loves to travel).  And anyone who knows him knows he is quite a wine snob (no offense, sweetie!)  So I decided to combine these passions into a wine tasting party that would take our guests 'AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY SIPS' - what could be more fun than that?

         The answer is 'Nothing'. :)  Yes, nothing is more fun than a  travel-themed wine pairing party!

         The answer is 'Nothing'. :)  Yes, nothing is more fun than a  travel-themed wine pairing party!

I decided to begin by creating my menu, with lots of online research regarding the best wine regions and regional varietals as well as local cuisine.  But I had to go one step further and fully understand each wine's flavor profile and what would be a great pairing (for instance, a German Riesling and a Bratwurst would be famed German offerings, but would not be a great pairing).  I also needed to create a progressive menu that would follow the wine palette from light and crisp to dark and bold, AND be sure to pair foods that followed the typical course of a meal (what's a good appetizer? main course? dessert?)  Yes,  it's more complicated than it first seems, but the end result was well worth it!

                   Here's a good sample of wine and food pairing suggestions and progression.

                   Here's a good sample of wine and food pairing suggestions and progression.

Once I had the menu decided, I began brainstorming decor and details.  If I'm taking everyone around the world, and we're essentially having a 'flight' of wine, then an airplane-theme was perfect!!  Cha-ching!  I ordered a vintage flight attendant costume for myself online (and even pieced together a super handsome pilot costume for the hubs)! ;-)

                                                   Looking for this costume?  Here it is:                                            Don't forget the white gloves, tights, and heels!

                                                   Looking for this costume?  Here it is:  

                                         Don't forget the white gloves, tights, and heels!

To inform everyone of the menu that evening, I printed custom boarding passes (found through a fabulous Etsy vendor!) with each course described, including airport codes and time zones for each destination country.  It's all about the details!!  I also found an adorable boarding pass envelope design online and printed those to create jackets to hold all the passes.  OMG!!

                                      You can easily customize these printable boarding passes found on Etsy

                                      You can easily customize these printable boarding passes found on Etsy

                                                         Download and print this boarding pass jacket here

                                                         Download and print this boarding pass jacket here

Then I was thinking, how cute would it be to have passports for all the guests?  And they could have them stamped for each country we 'visit'??  After finding another fabulous Etsy artist who offered a template, I sleuthed around Facebook for photos of all my guests and customized each one, even down to their birthdates!  I printed the covers on adhesive back paper, printed the insides on blue wash paper to resemble the official pages, and sandwiched the two together.  Voila!!  And my standing shutter was a perfect display for all the travel documents!  I created a "Ticket Desk" sign, and also commissioned an Etsy artist to create a custom departure board for me, listing all of the destinations we would visit throughout the night.

                                                 Want to print your own passports?  Here's the listing I used

                                                 Want to print your own passports?  Here's the listing I used

                                                           I borrowed a podium to use as a ticket counter!

                                                           I borrowed a podium to use as a ticket counter!

                                                        You can commission your own departure board here

                                                        You can commission your own departure board here

It was going to be a lot for me to serve the food and wine AND stamp the passports, so a couple of my sweet friends volunteered to help in any way they could.  A few Toy Police Officer kits from the Dollar Tree later (and custom name tags via Sharpie...) and I had two Customs Agents outfitted with badges, name tags, and walkie talkies.  As guests arrived, they checked their passports and asked them questions to verify their identities, and as each course progressed through the evening they circulated and stamped their passports.  Who says you can't find good help these days? :)

 Don't forget to pay attention to presentation.  I served my Italian Crostini on a Pizza Peel for added authenticity.

 Don't forget to pay attention to presentation.  I served my Italian Crostini on a Pizza Peel for added authenticity.

                                              Looking for stamps?  Here are some similar to the ones I used

                                              Looking for stamps?  Here are some similar to the ones I used

In case anyone needed to hydrate between courses, I custom printed water bottle labels with our own airline logo, and set up a hydration station.  And since it's a wine tasting, you'll also need a pitcher of water and a dump bucket for rinsing and discarding unfinished wine from the glasses (in the event that you don't finish your wine, but why would you do such a thing?!)

                              These water bottle labels come with templates you can customize like I did

                              These water bottle labels come with templates you can customize like I did

I decorated foam gliders to suspend from our patio trellis with inflated globes and bistro lights.  And to set the mood, I also created a play list with song selections from each country throughout the evening.  I wanted our guests to feel like they were truly going on a journey with us, and no detail was overlooked...

                                                              Looking for inflatable globes?  Click here

                                                              Looking for inflatable globes?  Click here

                                               Dress up plain foam gliders using cardstock and Sharpie markers

                                               Dress up plain foam gliders using cardstock and Sharpie markers

It was time for the big event!  Here's an outline of the menu we enjoyed, with links to the recipes and wines we purchased (all of which were hand-selected by our favorite wine expert, Yurika, at Total Wine & More in Tampa, Florida).


Menu

Course 1 - FRANCE

Pertois-Moriset Brut Cuvee Champagne + Lavender Fleur de Sel Shortbread Cookies

(I swapped Fleur de Sel for Sel Gris because it was easier for me to find)

                           Lavender Fleur de Sel Shortbread Cookies by Leite's Culinaria

                           Lavender Fleur de Sel Shortbread Cookies by Leite's Culinaria

In Champagne and sometimes in other regions producing sparkling wines by the traditional method, the cuvée also refers to the best grape juice from gentle pressing of the grapes. In Champagne, the cuvée is the first 2,050 litres of grape juice from 4,000 kg of grapes (a marc), while the following 500 litres are known as the taille (tail), and is expected to give wines of a coarser character. Many Champagne producers pride themselves on only using the cuvée in their wine.

A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards on the southern slopes towards Sezanne. This balanced light-bodied Champagne has a creamy nose with a serious and deep mid-palate. Precise fruit (apple & citrus) with a long finish and fine bubbles. It is refreshing and perfect as an aperitif. Champagne is said to pair perfect with nearly everything. It balances sweet and salty foods with a refreshing cleanse of the palette, and cuts through rich buttery foods like cheeses.

For the amuse bouche (a French word meaning mouth amuser) I wanted a single-bite course that immediately made you think of France. When I think of France, I picture Parisian cafes and patisseries and I picture French lavender fields, so I combined them in a shortbread cookie which is also topped with a little sugar and sel gris (which is a type of coarse salt from France that translates to ‘Grey salt’).

The champagne should highlight the botanical quality of the lavender and brighten the salt on your tongue like a spark!
— Christi Winsor
             Tuscan Kale & Cannellini Bean Crostini by Williams Sonoma

             Tuscan Kale & Cannellini Bean Crostini by Williams Sonoma

Vernaccia is a type of grape local to Italy, with a name that comes from the Italian word Vernaculo, meaning ‘common’ or ‘indigenous’. The location of the grape varies; this one is from San Gimignano, Tuscany, hence the name. Its bouquet is intense and penetrating, with notes of floral, citrus, and subtle tropical fruits. The flavor is medium-bodied and harmoniously crisp, dry, and refreshing, with a characteristic bitter almond finish that could be described as spicy or zesty. Given its unique structure, it is one of the few whites that benefits from a brief ageing.

Tuscan Kale & Cannellini Bean Crostini
This type of wine pairs well with white foods (starches, white fish, white meats) as well as antipasti and vegetables, so I thought a vegetable crostini was perfect! This Crostini (an Italian appetizer of small slices of toasted bread and toppings) is topped with Tuscan kale and Cannellini beans (which are white Italian kidney beans) sauteed with vegetable broth, olive oil and garlic, all of which are distinctly Italian.
— Christi Winsor
                                     Fresh Cheese Spaetzle by Food & Wine Magazine

                                     Fresh Cheese Spaetzle by Food & Wine Magazine

Because Riesling is rarely made with oak or blended with other grapes, its dry wines showcase the varietal’s pure green apple, citrus and peach flavors with bright and refreshing acidity. In Germany, where the variety originates, Riesling wine labels indicate five different sweetness categories: Kabinett (dry to off-dry), Spätlese (sweet), Auslese (sweeter), Beerenauslese (very sweet) and Trockenbeerenauslese (super sweet).
This wine shows a bright and lively nose. The flavors are fruity and reminiscent of stone fruit and pear, and cherry blossom flowers. You’ll also notice a mineral quality, common in German rieslings. The acidity and sweetness are beautifully balanced, perfect for
Fresh Cheese Spaetzel.
Spaetzel is a soft egg noodle found in Germany, where the noodles are boiled and then pan-fried, so they’re both soft and crispy at the same time. This one is traditionally made with Quark, a type of tangy soft cheese from Germany, similar to Mascarpone (which is what I used).
— Christi Winsor
BBQ Ribs via Food.com and Apple Slaw via Real Simple

BBQ Ribs via Food.com and Apple Slaw via Real Simple

Zinfandel has a long history in California. During the Gold Rush, miners primarily drank Zinfandel, largely because the Zinfandel vine was prolific. For the most part, Napa Valley Zins all have good fruit, with blackberry, raspberry, plum and cherry aromas and flavors. Some have hints of earthiness, chocolate, leather and spice, but are not overly complex. The tannins are moderate and generally balanced, with good acidity and nice mouth-feel. The brambly flavors associated with this vineyard are complemented with just a hint of spice along with a lingering vanilla finish. Sometimes described as a JamBomb. This wine was the winner of the Silver in the San Francisco Wine Competition. Zin pairs great with meats and bold sauces, because the lower tannin in this wine can accommodate some heat from chiles, so ribs with a spicy barbecue sauce are considered almost a classic match.

There’s nothing more American than slow roasted pork ribs with BBQ sauce, which I’ve elevated with a creamy, crisp Apple Slaw to balance the sweet and spicy sauce.
— Christi Winsor

Course 5 - AUSTRALIA

Thorn-Clarke Terra Barossa Shiraz  + Aussie Beef Sliders with Old Croc Smoked Cheddar Cheese, Fried Egg, and Balsamic Ketchup

(instead of homemade ketchup, I created a balsamic ketchup by adding balsamic glaze to store-bought Heinz, omitted the beet relish, and to make it even more authentic to Australia, I used an Australian smoked cheddar cheese)

                                                Aussie Beef Sliders by 'What Katie Ate'

                                                Aussie Beef Sliders by 'What Katie Ate'

This Shiraz from Australia (a variety of the Sirah grape) is more consistently full-bodied with softer tannin, jammier fruit and spice notes of anise and earthy leather due to the warm weather climate. NOTE: it’s pronounced Shih-RAZZ (like Taz-mania) - what a nifty way to remember the pronunciation, right? This one is from the Barossa region. The palate is rich and full with spicy plums and creamy oak. The tannins are fine and give the wine great length of flavor and a superb smooth mouthfeel. Pairs well with foods with richness and flavor such as meat and pasta dishes.

These beef sliders are spiced with mustard, herbs, and red chili flakes, and are topped with Australian smoked cheddar cheese, fried eggs, lettuce, tomato, balsamic ketchup, and fried onion straws. Grab a napkin for your drool!
— Christi Winsor
I spread Savannah Bee Company Winter White Honey over Boar's Head Canadian Cheddar Cheese

I spread Savannah Bee Company Winter White Honey over Boar's Head Canadian Cheddar Cheese

Ice wine is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing a more concentrated grape must to be pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. Vidal is a hardy hybrid grape that is grown in Canada and the northeastern United States. It is best known as one of the ice wine grapes of Canada. This one features a nose of pineapple, peach and honeysuckle. A luxurious wine, soft and velvety that delights your senses with aromas of honey-dipped apricot, hints of pineapple and sumptuous sweetness. You always want your wine to be sweeter than what you’re eating (with the exception of sparkling wine), so you can pair this with a sweet dessert or a creamy rich cheese!

This Canadian cheddar is aged for over 3 months, resulting in a sharp, nutty flavor with a bit of a dry-crunchy texture. The dab of winter white honey is whipped honey from the wildflower fields of the Rocky Mountains, has notes of pear and peach, and hints of spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Together these will dance on your palette - a true match made in Heaven!
— Christi Winsor
                                 Portuguese Egg Custard Tarts via The New York Times

                                 Portuguese Egg Custard Tarts via The New York Times

Tawny Port is a ubiquitous style of fortified wine from northern Portugal. It is lighter than Vintage Port and Ruby Port in both color and aroma, and is often made from grapes grown in cooler parts of the Douro. Unlike Ruby, which ages for most of its life in bottle, Tawny Ports are aged in barrel for several years. This allows oxygen to interact with the wine, which gives Tawny Port its most distinctive characters, and leads to the pale, ‘tawny’ color that gives the style its name. With an attractive red-tawny hue, typical of an older wine, Offley Porto Tawny has a delicate aroma reminiscent of ripe red fruit and enhanced by nutty notes that provide it with an added complexity. In the mouth, there is a fine balance between soft tannins and natural sweetness which combine harmoniously towards an elegant and fine finish. Flavors of caramel and raisin are introduced by an enticing aroma. The texture is rich and sweet with layers and layers of fruit and hints of walnut and vanilla leading to a velvet finish.

These diminutive egg tarts — pasteis de nata — a specialty all over Portugal, have a cinnamon flavored custard nestled in a flaky puff pastry crust. The sweet and creamy texture pairs perfectly with a nutty, rich port.
— Christi Winsor

At the end of the evening, guests collected their parting gifts from "Baggage Claim" area: hand-decorated gift boxes made to resemble suitcases, complete with handles, travel stickers, and luggage tags with each guests' name handwritten (as a keepsake)!  They were so stinkin' adorable that people didn't want to open them!!  I couldn't blame them, but the best part was inside...  What do you give as a party favor for a travel-themed-wine party?  A travel wine bag of course!  Everyone left with a collapsible wine flask (each holds an entire bottle of wine!) with a message that read "For wherever life takes you!"  

                                I used mailing paper (like kraft paper) to wrap gift boxes to look like suitcases. Jot mailing paper rolls / Gift Boxes / Printable travel stickers / DIY handles template

                                I used mailing paper (like kraft paper) to wrap gift boxes to look like suitcases.

Jot mailing paper rolls / Gift Boxes / Printable travel stickers / DIY handles template

                                         To print a similar Baggage Claim sign, click here (I made a few edits)

                                         To print a similar Baggage Claim sign, click here (I made a few edits)

                                           Use cardstock to decorate each box with colorful suitcase straps and corners.

                                           Use cardstock to decorate each box with colorful suitcase straps and corners.

                                                                To purchase similar luggage tags, click here

                                                                To purchase similar luggage tags, click here