You know those amazing hot summer days spent relaxing in the sunshine by the pool/sprinkler all day – the ones that drift seamlessly in warm summer evenings where the only sound is the hum of crickets and the occasional frog? That was the kind of day I was envisioning for our “summer whites”. That wasn’t so much the kind of day we got – but the rain held off for the most part, and the borrowed heater (thanks mom!) kept us warm, and the company was amazing … so it pretty much felt like that kind of a night.
In the end there were about 20 of us. The only thing that made me nervous about this year’s summer whites was that we’d invited a bit of a random group to come together – we were trying a new thing in our new neighbourhood. Friends new and old, neighbours and family – a lot of people had never met before coming over sometime between 7 and 730 that night … but as it turned out this is a very small world and many connections were made over the awful ‘gasoline’ taste of one wine, or the delicious stone fruit of another.
I took the day off Friday to clean up a bit, grab some rentals, and make some food to pair with the wine. All in I made two dips, 4 appies and 2 desserts – each were made to pair with one of the wines we were serving. The tables were also filled with cheese boards and caramels, fruit and bread, and chips with cam’s salsa (my favorite – worth a post all in itself … maybe a guest post). The menu looked like this:
And thanks to the amazing manager at Everything Wine – the blind wine tasting was a pretty fun success.
We started everyone out with sangria or a cherry-lime punch, and then once everyone had arrived we launched into the tasting. Everyone got a clip board with tasting notes for the top 7 wines we were tasting, a wine glass, and a pen. After each pour people chatted about the colour (insert most common response here: “um it’s yellow-y-ish and clear/opaque” ) and the smell (“fruit! I smell fruit” “or is it grass?” “gasoline – ew” “butter!) to finally the taste (“dry-ish” “flowery” “peaches”). They tried to guess the type of grape and the region/country that the wine was from.
At the end of the evening we revealed each of the wines – we first asked people which were their favorites – and then to guess where they thought each of the wines was from. We handed out the results of the wine grape, winery, region and price so that people could take that home with their notes in case they wanted to re-try any of their favorites from the night.
The best part for me came after all the wine tasting – when everyone was gathered outside sipping on their favourite revealed wines or sangria and just chatting… it was so much fun to see everyone connecting and laughing and to have this summer get-together be outside despite the ominous forecast.
Some tips I’ve learned along the way in case you’re planning a last minute summer wine party:
- grab some crayola ‘window writers’ – they make the best name tags for glasses – everyone writes right on their glass and you don’t have to fumble with charms before and after
- for cost effective decor try using local cut flowers – we had vases all over the house and patio of hydrangea from my mom’s garden
- chose a sandbox: make your tasting either region, grape, year or other specification to narrow down the types of wine you are tasting and make it a little easier for your guests who have no idea what they are about to taste
- make your own wine bags- I made ours in about 10 mins from burlap – just sew simple bags to the measurement of the tallest bottle and tie with natural cord. I used white fabric paint to paint on the numbers but you could also stick on numbers or if you’re in a hurry use brown wine bags for the blind tasting.
- make your own clip boards! this super easy craft took very little time and meant we had a dozen clip-boards for the event that we can re-use. Or you could buy them – but people need something to write on (and write with) so be sure to plan for that – for wine tasting template wine
- have alternate drinks. everyone needs a break from the wine at some point (some are reluctant attendees to begin with) so have water, punch, beer, sangria or other drinks on hand that people can help themselves to throughout the night
- this one is the most important I think … and I don’t always do a good job of this: make everything ahead of time. you don’t want to be in the kitchen all night. plan a timeline – make appies that don’t require a lot of last-minute fuss – and label anything that needs an oven or bbq with temperature and timing so that anyone can throw things in for you if you get busy.
It is always a bit of a dream come true for me when we get to entertain. I really do genuinely love the process of getting ready for events like this. I felt a little awkward last night when a friend asked what kind of prep this took and how long – because the truth is that I’m always thinking of the next event. I think I answered about 3 days – which is also true – I bought the wine and groceries wednesday evening, made the crafts thursday evening, and cooked, cleaned, and picked up rentals friday.
But to be honest I’d had this in my head for months – one of the most relaxing things I do is read cook books. I love them. It’s a happy place for me. So having a night when I get to pull out recipes that I’ve wanted to try but I know we’ll never eat – or that are a bit scary – but I hope someone else will like even if we won’t … that’s like a gift for me. I hadn’t made anything on the menu before except for the baked brie and I was excited by all the crazy flavours we would never normally try… I used blue cheese in three recipes (we never eat blue cheese), used figs in two recipes (never had them in our house before), made shrimp and a salmon dip (we don’t usually eat seafood), made lemon curd for a delicious make-ahead lemon dessert, and pureed white kidney beans (what? eww!) for a crostini recipe that surprised me with how tasty it was.
I think one of my favourite things in the world is planning and having people for an ‘event’. I love planning the details, love thinking of what it could look like and what unique thing we could do or make, and love making the menu… but the real joy comes in seeing people’s faces when they are genuinely enjoying themselves. It’s a selfish thing – i admit that – but some people get their high going for a run or riding a roller coaster … for me – it’s all about the details of entertaining. Where do you get your biggest selfish joy?
Below are two of the recipes that people were asking about last night – thank you for reading!
Lemon Dacquoise (courtesy the lesley stowe fine foods cookbook)
I adapted this recipe a bit because I tried making the meringues the night before our event and they flopped. In the original you’re supposed to mix in an almond/sugar mixture to your meringue – for me it make the mix flop … so i have noted my go-to meringue recipe below and also adapted by adding a little zing to my whipping cream with the addition of lemon zest and lavender.
- 1 cup sugar, 6 egg whites, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
blend egg whites with cream of tartar on high until stiff peaks form – gradually add sugar (add vanilla or other flavouring if you like) – should be glossy and firm. drop onto parchment lined baking pans for 25 minutes at 300 degres. turn off oven and let sit for one more hour
- 6 egg yolks, zest and juice from 2 lemons, 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar
melt butter and sugar over low heat. add egg yolks, and lemon and stir over medium heat until thick – stirring constantly. refrigerate until firm (2 hrs)
- heavy cream, lemon zest, 1 tsp sugar, lavendar (optional)
blend cream until it forms whipping cream – add sugar and flavouring.
Put a meringue at the bottom of a clear glass, drop in some seasonal fresh fruit (i used blueberries), add in lemon curd and top with whipping cream. Can sit all day in fridge. yum
White bean- pesto crostini
This one is adapted from a Canadian Living magazine.
- baguette with light crumb – sliced thinly: rub with olive oil and cook at 300 for 6 mins. Cut a piece of garlic in two and rub on each crostini (can be made 24 hrs in advance and sealed in container on shelf)
- White bean puree: blend together a can of white Cannoli beans or white kidney beans with salt, pepper, and 2 cloves of garlic
- Pesto: use your own favorite recipe. Mine is:
- 1/2 cup fresh parm cheese, 1/3 cup pine nuts, 2 cloves garlic, 3 cups basil, 2 Tsp olive oil ( i don’t like it runny) – blend together. will stay good in fridge sealed for 1 week.
…add the layers together and top with fresh cherry tomatoes, fresh parmesan, or a little basil leaf – a great make -ahead appy as no cooking is required after the crostini are done!