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We are all wine tastersI had a friend a few days ago ask if I thought she had what it takes to be a wine taster. The answer to her and every other person is yes, yes and yes. If you drink wine you already are a wine taster.

The art of tasting wine is no different from tasting any other flavors familiar to your taste buds. If you were asked to taste coffee versus toothpaste, you could do it blindfolded as your familiarity would guide you, and you’d be able to identify different flavors (peppermint, cinnamon, burnt toast).

The same is true for wine except that the variances are more subtle. Practice makes one better but not always perfect. It’s a vast subject with thousands of variables at any given time. The most important aspect of tasting wine for the consumer boils down to, do you like it or not? However, a little education and experience can help you explain why you’ve reached a conclusion.

Wine-tasting groups, which promote discussion and save money, can be an enjoyable way to further one’s wine-tasting skills. Below, I’ve listed a few guidelines for setting up a group.

Set a clear start time for guests to adhere to, because this is one party that’s difficult to restart if someone arrives late.

Select a theme that focuses on a single grape variety, region or price.

The setup should be simple: all-purpose wineglasses, water glasses, a tasting sheet for notes and spittoons. Food is not a necessity but neutral crackers and bread refresh the palate between wines of varying styles.

Taste the wines from dry to sweet for whites and light bodied to full-bodied for reds. Good lighting is essential for visually experiencing the wine.

Try to create a neutral space for the tasting. Strong odors such as air-fresheners, smoke, scented candles, perfume and kitchen aromas can play havoc on taste buds and sense of smell.

Speak up and talk about the wine. For some reason, wine tasting makes people sheepish. If a person smells aromas of strawberries and you smell figs don’t simply nod, be sure to speak up to keep the discussion moving forward. The different perceptions are part of the fun.

Last but not least, the wines. Consult with your favorite retailer for recommendations on quality and price. If you’re having a potluck-style tasting, with each guest contributing a bottle, be sure everyone stays with the theme to get the most out of the tasting group.