Inside an East End Home Wine-Tasting Party

Labor Day Weekend in the Hamptons is all about celebrating the best the East End has to offer—and that includes Long Island Wine Country. One of the best things about Long Island wine is that you can go visit a vineyard to enjoy your vino, or you can bring the experience home to you. So when it came to getting the low-down on how to host a wine tasting at home, we asked Theresa (Tree) Dilworth, the owner of Comtesse Thérèse Vineyard & Bistro in Aquebogue, for her expert insights. [expand]

Writes Tree Dilworth: Dan’s Papers asked if I was interested in writing about organizing an in-home wine tasting. Coincidentally, I was asked to conduct an office party wine tasting at an East End weekend home, so I decided to write about it.

1. How many people attending?

BEFORE: The hostess told me 30, from the NYC office of one the big firms. I’m actually an alumna of the firm, having worked there for about 10 years.

REALITY: I only knew a few party guests. But we did have a common connection and a good rapport.

2. Standing up or sitting down?

BEFORE: Standing up. The dynamics are different than a sit-down. Need to shepherd them in a little more; sometimes it’s hard to be heard over a crowd of 30 chatting drinkers. Wonder whether to bring my portable public address system, i.e. microphone and speakers.

REALITY: Brought the P.A. system, but didn’t use it. The wine tasting was on a sheltered deck, just the right size, and the audience very attentive and polite.

3. Will food be served?

BEFORE: The hostess said a local North Fork chef would prepare the dinner. She wanted finger foods with the wine tasting, so I developed a short menu to complement the wines.

Goat cheese. Good with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Catapano Farms in Peconic is a good, local option. A contrast to the stark acidity of the white wines, especially the Sauvignon Blanc.

Manchego cheese. I remember Andrea Zimmer, formerly of Windows on the World, saying at a class at the French Culinary Institute in New York that this cheese is good with almost any wine.

Nuts. Brings out the toasty and nutty components from the oak barrels. A simple finger food for standing around and wine tasting.

Prosciutto – good complement to Rosé wine; also reds.

Thin-sliced smoked local duck – the smoky, meaty and fatty goes well with reds.

Crudites – green and fresh to complement the fresh qualities of the wine (especially whites), and a good offset to the fatty meats and cheeses.

REALITY: The hostess followed the appetizer suggestions to a T. Delicious black figs wrapped in prosciutto. Two goat cheeses, a Stilton that was great with the red wines, a unique cheddar with cranberry bits, interesting crackers. Several types of flavored nuts.

4. How many wines?

BEFORE: My hostess suggested either three whites and three reds, or two whites and two reds. I’m thinking six – Sauvignon Blanc, Russian Oak Chardonnay, Rosé, two Merlots and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

REALITY: Six was a perfect number.

5. How much wine is needed?

BEFORE: Each person doesn’t get a full glass of each wine, they get a taste. I pour small amounts so people focus on listening. Figuring 6 ounces times 30 people, that’s 180 oz. or between 6 and 9 bottles. Figuring 8 ounces total per person, that’s 10 bottles.

REALITY: My estimate was about right. We went through a bottle, bottle and a half of each wine. A lot of people showed up late, either midway or near the end of the tasting. Also, not everyone drank wine.

6. How long does the wine tasting last?

BEFORE: My hostess suggested 1 1/2 hours.

REALITY: It took 1 1/2 to 2 hours. That’s including my spiel, answering questions from the audience and the guests socializing amongst themselves between pours.

7. Will there be enough wine glasses there, or should I bring some?

I have a couple of racks of wine glasses that we occasionally use for liquor store wine tastings. Each rack holds 36 glasses. However, the hostess told me she had enough.

8. What did I talk about for 1 1/2 hours?

REALITY: Lots of stuff, like my overall framework for wine styles and wine tasting, vintages, what’s it like to be a vineyard owner, the times of year that the grapes ripen, stainless steel, barrels, oak forests, barrel and bottle aging, the weather and varmints that attack the grapes. I really enjoyed it!


A resident of Manhattan and the North Fork, lawyer/vineyard owner/winemaker/restaurateur Theresa (Tree) Dilworth is the owner of Comtesse Thérèse Vineyard & Bistro in Aquebogue.

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