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It’s no secret, wine club is the new book club. With so many internationally renowned wines right on our doorstep, starting a wine club makes perfect sense. It’s also a lot of fun and is an interactive way to get to know your wine in the company of new and old friends. Yet, with so many wines on offer it’s difficult to know where to start.

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Maryna Strachan, Managing Editor at Wine-Extra magazine and consultant to The TOPS at SPAR Wine Show – the national wine exhibition that tours South Africa every year between May and November – says it’s easier to get going than you think. You don’t need to be a wine expert and you certainly don’t need to have a wine A-Z on hand to understand what to do. Here, she advises top tips on how to start a wine club and which wines to buy to taste and try at home.

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How many people should you invite?
The ideal number of members for a wine club is up to 20. Any more than that will increase costs and make the tasting less intimate. Having 20 members also means you can easily share out 20 samples per 750ml bottle.

Plan a theme night:
Once you know who’ll be attending, and how often, decide on a theme to follow for each tasting. This will determine which wines you’ll taste every time. Ease in by selecting wines from one of the wine regions, such as Stellenbosch or Franschhoek or Cheap and Cheerful wines under R40 to get started.

Which reds, which whites?
Keep it simple by choosing a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc for the whites and a Shiraz, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds. Rosé wines are either sweet or dry, so consider trying both to compare their characters. For something a bit special you could even have a bubbly night; select a variety of sparkling wines or MCC (Methodé Cap Classique) and let their fine fizz do the talking.

What equipment do you need?
Everyone at the tasting should drink from the same shape and size glass. Tasting notes can be found in Platter’s guides, on the back of the bottle or on the wine farm’s website. It’s a good idea to supply your club members with a few buckets or cups to spit in. This will ensure everyone maintains a lucid and discerning approach to the tasting and for those who want to or are designated drivers. Plain crackers are also essential to help neutralise your palate.

Before you taste….
As tempting as it is to get stuck in, restrain yourself and let a bottle of wine breathe before tasting it. This includes the white and rosé. In doing so, the flavours and aromas are loosened up and exposed. Also, make sure you smell the wine before pouring to ensure it’s not corked. Look out for a musty smell. If the wine has oxidised, white wine will appear rusty orange or brown if it’s a red.

Scoring your wine:
Tasting notes can be downloaded from the internet or a Platter’s guide and used to introduce the wine to the group. Swirl the wine in the glass and smell again to stimulate your olfactory senses. Then sip and swirl the wine around in your mouth before spitting (or swallowing if you prefer). Remember, wine tasting is subjective so it’s recommended to ask everyone in the group to describe what they pick up during a tasting as there will quite likely be a number of different opinions around the table. If you want to take your wine club to the next level, introduce a wine scoring method such as the 20 or 100 point method or even just a star rating.

How to describe what you taste?
If you pick up berries or cinnamon on the nose, then that’s how you’ll describe the wine. Common flavours in white wine are freshly cut grass, asparagus, tropical fruit or butterscotch, depending on the varietal, and in red you’ll often hear descriptions of spices or coffee. No taste is ever wrong and, if you pick up a hint of something that others can’t, you may even be a ‘Supertaster’, i.e. someone who has an extraordinary ability to pick up specific smells and tastes in food and wine.

Keep your palate clean:
If you want to get the best out of your tasting don’t chew gum, smoke, brush your teeth or wear perfume or cologne just before tasting. A clean palate is essential in wine club culture as you want to properly pick up all the different tasting notes in every wine.

Where to buy your wine:
With more than 6000 wines available in South Africa you’ll never run out of wine to taste. You also don’t need to live in the Cape to taste wine from this region; the TOPS at SPAR Wine Show brings hundreds of fine wines from the Western and Northern Cape Winelands to you to taste and buy. Meet the wine-makers, taste a variety of labels and cultivars and take home a few best buys to get your first wine club started.

Taking place between 12th – 14th May in Johannesburg at the Sandton Convention Centre, tickets can be purchased pre-show for R160 from www.wineshow.co.za or at the door for R180. Price includes a crystal tasting glass, all tastings, and access to both Wine Theatres and a map to help navigate the show.

Images: Carmen Lorraine Photography.

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