Q: What comes before tasting part-b?

We hosted a Sauvignon Blanc tasting party at our humble little abode (aka: The Cati Shack).  We had about 30 guests, in our backyard, eating good food trying good (and not-so-good) wines and having a grand ol’ time.  We stole the idea, and format, of the party from our beautiful and charming friends: Jen and Gabe.  They hosted a Pinot Noir tasting party at their place back in ’05 and it was great fun.  We couldn’t have had this party without their help, well maybe we could have, but it would have been lame.  Here’s the invitation that was sent out for our party:

you are invited

We asked each couple (or pair of friends) to bring two bottles of wine and some lawnchairs.  We didn’t even consider asking people to bring food as well because we feared that people would begin to leave their houses and realize, “I have chilled wine, food, and lawn chairs on a beautiful summer day.  Why the heck am I going to Alex and Cati’s anyway?”  So we took care of the food ;)

Two 750 mL bottles of wine is roughly 50 oz.  I found volumetric pourers, at a restaurant supply store in town, that would deliver 1.5 oz./pour.  This meant that 33 people could try a full pour of wine from every bottle that was brought, as long as each person brought two bottles.  We had dinner for the party catered by Cardona’s, and Cati and I (along with the invaluable help of Olivier & Estelle and Esti & Ryan) made the appetizers.  I made my soon-to-be-world-famous hummus (with and without roasted red-peppers), Cati made four tortillas espanolas, Esti made these terrific shrimp/cucumber/dill/mayo on wheat bread appetizers, and Olivier made four of his signature quiches.  Here’s a little cheat I use when I serve hummus; add a few tablespoons of toasted pine-nuts to the hummus.  It does for hummus what restraining orders do for break-ups; brings it to a whole new level, if you will, but in a good way.  Oh nevermind, just add the darn pine-nuts.  We arranged the plates at the four tasting stations in the backyard and went from there.  The food for this party was well-suited.  Esti’s shrimp treats were mildly flavored so as not to skew one’s palate, and the quiches were also just what we needed.  It also helped that the appetizers were  rather hearty (egg and shrimp based), this ensured that the alcohol didn’t slow anyone down too badly before dinner. 

As people arrived I recorded what they brought at my little check-in station (our dinner table).  The list of wines and attendees is shown below:

sign in

I then wrapped the wine in a paper bag, sealed the top with a zip-tie, scribbled a randomly selected number on the bag, and inserted a pourer into the spout.  I should have also taped the remaining exposed part at the top of the bottle as some of the more colorful labels were still recognizeable (ah well, live and learn).  After the guests checked in, they proceeded to the backyard and grabbed a glass and a name-tag for the stem of their wine glasses (thanks, Jen).  I bought all the glasses from Wal-Mart, and they cost $0.65/glass.  I always feel a little uneasy about shopping at Wal-Mart, but hey, it’s cheap (so naturally, I feel better), and the glasses were made in the USA to boot.  Yes, those are all justifications to make me feel better about patronizing that depressing establishment. 

So then we all spent the evening milling around the backyard sipping wines on a beautiful summer day while filling out the scorecard below:


After all the wines were sampled, our guests turned in their sheets and Olivier, Jenifer, and Elizabeth went to work entering the scores into the ranking sheet on our laptop.  We added a point to the wines that were marked as the taster’s favorite, and subtracted a point from the one marked as the least favorite.  Thankfully, none of data entry team were strangers to MS Excel.  Here is what the final scoring sheet looked like after it was all filled in:

rank as hell

We were able to tabulate the 1) over-all winner, 2) the lowest scoring wine, and 3) the best-value wine.  We also poked fun at the 4) hardest and 5) easiest graders of the evening.   Below is a list of those recognized:

  • Hardest Grader: Ayesha
  • Easiest Grader: Jami
  • Best Value award: Jenifer and Elizabeth
  • Lowest scoring wine: Matt and Michele
  • Highest scoring wine: Jason and Renee

Wine #21 took the cake!  It’s a wine called Monkey Bay from New Zealand. 

Here is what the various winners’ certificates looked like (click thumbnails for full view):

Hard Grader Easy Grader Best over-all Not so good Best Value

Also, we gave Matt and Michele (our booby prize winners of the night) an assortment of non-wine grape products (e.g.  grape juice, grape jelly, raisins, etc.)  and suggested they start there before tackling the world of wine.  (ain’t we stinkers?)  Esti and Ryan accepted their prize on their behalf since they had already left. 

Renee and Jason took home a bottle of Sebastiani Pinot Noir (one of our favorites) and a box of gourmet Baci European chocolates (which they were nice enough to share with everyone).  I imagine that the best prize of all is the right to brag, but I wouldn’t know, since Cati and I came in 5th place (mumble grumble). 

Gina and Victoria brought the second place wine of the night; they just barely lost to Renee and Jason.  Some interesting things to note:  New Zealand wines were preffered over California wines, the two best wines of the night were brought by people representing Troy, NY, and the least expensive wine ($8.99) came in last place (another $8.99 wine came in as “best value,” so it’s not a hard-and-fast rule).  Food for thought indeed. 

I should also point out, that although the wine with the highest average score won, we also factored standard deviation into the adjusted final score by adding (1/SD) to the mean.  This way, we were not just rewarding the highest score, but the consistently higher scoring wine.  We also did this for the three lowest-scoring wines by subtracting (1/SD) from the mean.  This way we further punished the low scoring wine for consistenly scoring low with tasters.  This may have been a moot point seeing as how the variance around all the means were pretty similar, but I didn’t want any controversy. 

The keen eye might also notice that the standard deviations around the mean for the top two wines are large, and doing a quick t-test on the two data sets show that there is no statistically significant difference in the data sets (P-value = 0.29 > 0.05 = alpha, accpet null hypothesis, no difference in means).  Here are the results from the t-test:

T-test result

Gina and Victoria should take comfort in that, even though they didn’t take home the trophy.  I guess I could have awarded a tie, but hey, this ain’t soccer.  The Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc was an excellent wine and a great choice by team Gina&Victoria. 

After all the wines had been tasted, we served the food.  We had three salads and three entrees from Cardona’s on Delware Ave.  We served gnocchi carbonara (excellent), fetuccini alfredo (really super-excellet), and pesto penne (meh, at best).  Two outta three ain’t bad.  The salads were greek salad, caesar, and a tossed salad. 

Anne baked a delicious chocolate cake, to which I could dedicate an entire blog entry.  It was not too sweet, the chocolate tasted like chocolate (a touch bitter), and it was perfectly moist.  Jen brought two incredible pies from The Bread Basket Bakery in Saratoga.  They were Dutch apple and blueberry and went perfectly with the coffee.  Big thanks to Bob and Nola for lending us their percolater which allowed us to end the night with some fresh brewed coffee. 

A great time was had by all, and I wound the evening down in front of the chimnea drinking wine #6; the Kim Crawford brought by Jen and Gabe.  It was delicious and I wondered why it wasn’t my favorite earlier in the night.  Maybe I should demand a recount, anyone interested?

Thanks to everyone who came and helped organize, let’s keep the summer party machine rolling. 

Here are a few select photos from my camera:

mm mmm

Tom and Alex process the wines

Nacho makes a friend

tasting station


tasting the night away

we likey

I love this picture

serious business

and the winner is…

The lovely and talented Renee, yes, that Renee, took some beautiful photos as well.  Her photos make my photos look like they were taken on a camera phone, wrapped in a plastic bag, by a blind guy with a hook for a hand.  Her shots of the food look delicious (try not to drool on your keyboard).  She pretty much captures everything I described above, but more clearly (thanks, Renee).   

Also, Gabe posted his photos from the day too.  See here for his, always entertaining, blog post. 

Also, here are the Excel sheets I used for the party.  Feel free to “steal with pride” for your party; I’d better get an invite though. 

The master sheet

There is a lot more we could have done with the data, like select the ladies’ favorite over the guys’ favorite, or run correlation analysis to find wine-palate twins (or look for negative correlation to find wine-palate evil twins, MWAHAHAHAA).  Oh well, I guess we’ll have to have more parties to fully utilize all the features.

A: tasting PART-A!

11 Responses to “Q: What comes before tasting part-b?”

  1. Lydia says:

    What a fabulous entry! Thanks for all the pictures. Gabe and Renee–thank you as well. If felt as if I visited with all of you. The food looks great.

  2. jen a. says:

    great recap of a super fun amazing party! you two sure know how to host a party – thanks so much again for an awesome time!!!

  3. renee says:

    what a wonderful night! thank you so much for including team skfl nene! we had a great time (and are limiting ourselves to one chocolate a day). i’m so glad you are enjoying the photos. it’s all in the lens!

  4. thanks again for a rockin’ party, alex & cati! you are the data mastah, alex.

    my comments are the following:

    1) i picked out the dutch apple pie, yet jen gets all the credit. what gives? :)
    2) YES, of course we need a recount on wine #6! KIM CRAWFORD! KIM CRAWFORD!

    …and now my techie geek-out for the remaining points of feedback:

    3) we need to discuss lossless image quality & the benefits of using .PNG file format for screenshots vs. your choice of the lossy .JPG.
    4) no more perma-resizing your original digital photos! there are great photos that come from your camera that can be repurposed in so many ways with the high-res. versions (prints, photo calendars, photo books, desktop wallpapers, actual digital wallpaper for our homes of the future, etc. send the origs to me first if you don’t want ’em. :)

    and you’re welcome, lydia!

  5. t~heff says:

    Excellent recap of the Sauvignon Blanc taste-off! If only our wine hadn’t tasted like pizza and chicken wings, I think we would have had half a shot. And to think that we almost left the wine store with a bottle of the Monkey Bay. I was more interested in the legend of the frolicking monkey, than I was about zesty berry flavors that dance in unison upon the taste buds.

    But really… what a great party– and the food was fantastic as well. Alex’s pine nut sprinkled concoction got me thinking about the potential for a Hummus taste-off sometime in the near future. I can almost visualize the glow of the Excel spreadsheet through a cloud of cumin dust…

  6. Victoria says:

    thank you for a wonderful night. i learned so much and met so many interesting, funny, warm people. it was so much fun and education too! love that.

    by the way, it was not a party, it was an EVENT!

  7. Gina says:

    It really was such a great night! Thank you so much for hosting one of my dream tastings and the consolation for coming in second–I’m just glad people liked it at all; if they hadn’t, I would have to question my so-called wine knowledge and put an end to my moonlighting as a wine salesperson and critic.

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