You can learn a lot about wine by reading books, scouring the internet or even taking classes, but the single best way to learn about wine — and more important, understand what wines you like and why — is by tasting as much wine as possible.
With summer right around the corner, now is the time to taste as much rosé as you can, explore the myriad styles being made locally and find your favorites. Long Island rosé is fresh, fun and as at home on the dinner table as it is at the beach, the boat or poolside. Plus, it pairs beautifully with all the fresh local produce and foods we’re beginning to enjoy anew.
There are nearly as many ways to organize and host such a tasting as there are grape varieties. But this is how I have done them in my own home.
Before the Tasting
Keep the Guest List Small.
I try not to invite too many people, and not only for social distancing reasons. I typically max out at six. Any more than that and a single bottle of each wine may not be enough (plus I don’t have endless glassware).
Share the Costs.
Exploring even a single grape from a single region means tasting at least six (and up to 12 or more) bottles, depending on how nerdy you want to get. That can mean spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars for some varieties of wine. To try as many wines as possible without going broke, ask each person attending to contribute money or to bring a bottle that fits the tasting.
Avoid Strong Smells.
This is not the occasion to break out your scented candles: Even the most delicate fragrances can be distracting when you’re trying to smell and taste wine. Give your friends a gentle reminder not to wear perfume or cologne to the tasting.
On the Table
A White Tablecloth.
I like to be able to look at the wine. If you have one handy, a white — or at least light-colored — background really makes that easy.
I’ve attended tastings with up to 12 glasses in front of me — and that’s a little nutty. I like three glasses per person. If you’re tasting more than three wines, break them up into flights. Not every glass needs to match, but each person’s set of glasses should be the same. Eliminating variables is important, and you want the only difference to be the wine itself.
Water and a Spittoon.
Water is a must. Even if you don’t plan to spit the wines out as you taste through them, you’ll want water to stay hydrated and help reset your palate between wines. And giving your guests some kind of spit or dump bucket to pour out unwanted wine in between flights means they needn’t finish anything they don’t like.
Something to Eat.
If you want to take this very seriously, keep to simple crackers and sliced plain bread, because strongly flavored foods can affect how you perceive wine. Like water, a nibble of bread will help refresh your palate between wines and also ensure that you’re not consuming wine on an empty stomach. That said, serving your meal during the tasting can be fun too. Seeing how different wines pair with different foods is educational, not to mention delicious. Charcuterie and cheese are always good with rosé. (We paired our local rosé with local treats, including macarons from North Fork Flour Shoppe and a cheese board from Lombardi’s Love Lane Market in Mattituck.)
A Note Pad.
Even if you’re just tasting for fun, provide pencils and paper so your friends can write down their impressions of each wine. Or you can download more formal tasting sheets that allow guests to score the wines, which also makes it easy for them to remember and buy the wines they liked best after the tasting.
During the Tasting
Blind Tasting Is Up to You.
If you want to eliminate bias or preconceived notions about the wineries you’re pouring, you can use paper bags or even aluminum foil to cover the bottles. But it’s fine if you decide not to.
Pour Two to Three Ounces.
One-half to one-third of a standard pour is enough to smell and taste the wine, but not so much that you’ll not have enough left to go back and drink later if you’d like.
Remember, No One is Wrong.
You might think one of the rosés tastes like watermelon. One friend might say strawberries and another might say cherries. Some wine snobs would argue this point, but you can all be right. We taste what we taste and we like what we like. I always enjoy seeing which bottle ends up being drained the fastest once the tasting is over. It’s not always the wine that is deemed “best” by the group.
Six Long Island Rosés for Your At-Home Tasting
To help decide which wines to include here, I tasted more than two cases’ worth of Long Island rosé, primarily from the 2020 vintage. I tasted bone-dry rosé. I tasted sweeter styles. Some even had fruit flavors added. I chose these six because they are different enough to be perfect for a side-by-side tasting. (Ask a well-stocked local wine store, like Greenport Wines & Spirits or Vintage Mattituck, for help assembling these or another mix of contrasting rosés.)
Croteaux Vineyards 2020 Merlot 181 Rosé
You can’t talk Long Island rosé without talking merlot or Croteaux — the region’s only winery solely focused on rosé. 181 refers to the clone of merlot (a French one) and this wine shows more complexity than most 100% merlot rosés. It’s fresh and lighter-bodied, with just-ripe strawberry flavors accented by hints of white peach and floral herbs. $29
Paumanok Vineyards 2020 Dry Rosé
A lot of local rosé is made using merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon — three of the main Bordeaux varieties. This one is cabernet sauvignon forward (47%) and is a bit bolder than some of the others on the list. Very fruity up front — think ripe strawberries and red raspberries — with savory layers of dried herb, spice and a squirt of lime juice. $20
Lenz Winery 2020 Firefly Rosé
This is another cabernet sauvignon-forward Bordeaux-variety rosé, but a big dose of malbec brings a very unique (and delicious) tropical fruit quality that made this stand out when I tasted it. Unique fruit flavor complexity is on full display here with strawberry, tangerine, passionfruit and papaya flavors. $20
Wölffer Estate 2020 Estate Rosé
I know this wine’s fancy-label sister is more popular, but this Hamptons classic is my preferred Wölffer rosé. It works well for this tasting because it’s nearly 17% steel-fermented chardonnay, giving it a distinct citrusy floral streak. $18
Jamesport Vineyards 2020 East End Rosé
Made from 100% syrah, there is a sprinkling of white pepper over top of a melange of fruits, including ripe peaches, raspberries, and musk melon. It’s fuller-bodied than many of the wines on this list with beautiful savory spice that really steps forward as it warms up a bit in the glass. $33
Anthony Nappa Wines 2020 White Pinot Noir
Perhaps my favorite of all the wines I tasted for this story, this full-bodied, 100% pinot noir rosé screams pinot noir the second you lift the glass, with its berry fruit and slightly earthy, spicy edge. Though light in color, there is great fruit flavor concentration, and the finish is long and elegant. $20