Lift Your Spirits

Lift Your SpiritsGood Friends and a Great Vintage Promise Big Fun on a Small Budget

By Ashley Kahn

With the holidays behind us, we can all return to our normal lives. For many people, this reality entails a nine-to-five job, loads of laundry, bundles of bills and sky-high stress.

To revive the fun in your every day and night, don’t sweat the small stuff – celebrate it. Occasions need not be occasional. With tips from professionals who enjoy life for a living, you too can make the most of any moment.

We called upon a pair of Emerald Coast event planners and one savvy sommelier to create a wine and cheese party guaranteed to entertain your entourage without breaking the bank.

Party On
Monark Events takes its name from “mon,” meaning “one,” and “A-R-K,” signifying “act of random kindness.”

According to event designer Hillary K. Fosdyck and event director Briane M. Workman, the No. 1 rule of party planning is not allowing your stress to compromise the celebration. 

In other words, they say, “Remember to enjoy yourself and you will automatically enhance the experience for your guests.”

The amateur event planner should begin by establishing the purpose for the party and selecting a unique theme that will engage guests, said the owners of Monark Events. Next, determine a budget and decide how to allocate funds. Finally, solicit help from close friends and family to alleviate your workload and ensure the details are covered from beginning to end.

Monark’s Masterful Moves
The Invitation: Use high-energy, creative words to pique your guests’ interest.

Greet Guests at the Door: Everyone likes to feel welcomed, and the energy level will instantly rise.

Create the Ambiance: Enhance your guests’ experience by stimulating all of the senses. Music, lighting, design, color, flowers and seating make an impact as soon as guests walk through the door.

Give Guests Something to Do: Add a little flavor to an event by providing an engaging activity.

Fun Food and Great Beverage: Choose a unique menu of food and drinks to enhance the event’s established theme.

To create a more intimate setting that allows you to make each guest feel welcome, Fosdyck and Workman recommend inviting no more than 15 or 20 friends to your home. In other venues, invite as many people as your useable social space allows. 

“The easiest way to ask a guest to contribute is to creatively communicate your request in the invitation,” they said. “That way they can take ownership of their selection and explore their creativity.”

To ensure a smooth, successful event, the owners of Monark Events suggest the host be organized and over-prepared; create a timeline of activities to be executed pre-, mid- and post-party; and maintain a reference sheet with contact information for all vendors. When it comes to food and drink, it is better to have too much than not enough.

The same is not necessarily true of theme and décor. Sometimes the most striking décor is also the simplest. A good theme can stand on its own without being overdone.

Fosdyck and Workman take full advantage of the Internet to explore the latest trends. But the majority of their inspiration comes from assessing the people, cultures and art that surround them.

Possible themes for wine parties include “The Grape Escape,” in which each guest is asked to bring a bottle from a different region, price point or style; “Blind Wine Tasting,” an interactive process of rating white and red wines ranging from $6 to $60 that have been covered with wine bags and assigned numbers – your favorite may surprise you; and “Wine Blending,” a slightly messy venture for teams to mix single-varietal (one grape) wines into creative blends.

When planning your own wine tasting, take a cue from the owners of Monark Events, who said, “We try to ask ourselves, ‘What do people love to do, see and experience, and how can we combine those things in a way that has never been done before?’”

Take Flight
Todd Reber of Vin’tij Wine Boutique & Bistro uncorks a new trend in wine tasting – the wine flight. Also referred to as tasting flights, these samplings of multiple wines allow the taster to discern the breadth or depth of each selection.

“Wine flights are usually intended for those new to the experience of tasting wine, or those who want to increase their understanding of a specific region, vintage or varietal,” Reber said.

At Vin’tij, flights are offered by style: full-bodied, fruit-driven and oak-flavored whites; dry whites and blends with solid levels of acidity; aromatics featuring floral and spicy scents; full-bodied reds with dark fruit and firm tannins; dense-flavored reds with big fruit profiles; and light-bodied reds with spicy notes.

“The possibilities with wine flights are virtually endless, and a well designed flight can be a remarkable opportunity,” Reber said. “Wine flights usually provide smaller pours than normal, because of the amount of wine being offered.”

Vin’tij offers affordable flights from $12 to $50, depending on the quality of the wines.

When pairing wines with food, Reber uses a simple guideline. Light, delicate foods require a light-bodied red or white wine. Heartier foods pair well with richer, more full-bodied wines.

Exclusively for readers of Emerald Coast Magazine, Reber created a flight utilizing Syrah or Shiraz. (Syrah is the dark-skinned grape that produces the wine of the same name. In France and the United States, the wine is called Syrah; in Australia, it is commonly known as Shiraz.)

‘Que Syrah, Shiraz: A Fun Tasting for Friends’
Layer Cake Côtes du Rhone 2007, $20
Layer Cake is 100 percent Syrah. The nose shows mostly cherry, with undertones of fig, asparagus, vanilla and black pepper. The palate is rich and beautifully balanced. Perfect acidity and tannin levels create a simultaneously lively and soothing feel. The flavors are mostly cherry and berry, plus some mid-palate chocolate and spicy black pepper on the finish.

Hahn Syrah Santa Lucia Highlands 2005, $34
Opening with peppered and balanced aromas of blackberry and raspberry fruit, the Hahn SLH Syrah softly suggests a nose of toasted oak, baked fruit, plum, blueberry and cinnamon butter. Rounding to hints of vanilla and mocha, this wine is full-bodied and approachable. The voluptuous texture allows for a velvety feel complete with tobacco, coffee and cranberry flavors followed by solid tannins and white pepper on the finish.

Falcor Napa Valley Syrah 2004, $39
Falcor 2004 Syrah comes from the Shifflett Vineyards in Yountville, Calif. and the Castle Rock Vineyard on Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley. Aged for 15 months in French oak barrels, the wine features aromatic notes of fresh berries, black truffle and smoke, married beautifully with toasty aromas imparted by the wooden barrels.

Molly Dooker The Boxer Shiraz 2007, $25
This powerful and complex Shiraz pairs sweet fruit with lovely structural tannins. Combining the regional flavors of grapes from McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Padthaway, this wine has incredible power and purity. The 2007 vintage of The Boxer received 90 points from Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman and was chosen as one of the “Editor’s Most Exciting New Wines.”

Concha y Toro Syrah 2005 Puemo Marques de Casa, $20
This wine is dark and plush with espresso, fig paste and plum sauce notes, pushed by mocha and dark licorice on the finish. The rich, smoky finish shows fine-grained tannins and the density for moderate cellaring.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah 2005, $20
This soft, ripe Syrah features dark berry aromas and hints of vanilla, brown sugar spice and toast. Serve with strongly flavored cheeses.

Today’s market provides innumerable ways to explore the flavor wheel of wine and its components. Reber’s advice? Taste, taste and taste.

“If you intend on being a serious taster, always spit. Everything that you recognize will be from your palate and olfactory,” he said. “Swallowing will only lift your spirits, albeit many times the purpose of a glass of wine.”

Todd’s Tasting Tips
» A great way to discover preferences is to taste wines side by side. Visit wine festivals to sample cellars across the world.
» If you want to track your favorite wines, use a journal to note specific likes and dislikes. This information is helpful when making selections at a wine store or a restaurant.
» Join a wine club or gather a few friends to exchange your favorites.
» When planning a wine event, set a theme such as price, grape type or region.

“Carpe vinum,” Reber said. Translation: Seize the wine.

Say Cheese
Create a classic cheese tray with an assortment of soft and hard fromage from around the globe. Add fresh fruits such as grapes, sliced apples or pears, and provide crackers or bread, as well as knives for slicing and spreading. Experiment with such cheeses as Gouda, Pepper Jack, Brie, Cheddar, Havarti, Swiss, Camembert, Mozzarella and Bleu.

Be Charming
For an added gesture to show your guests what they mean to you, consider making personalized wine glass charms like the one shown here.

You’ll need an assortment of wire hoops, beads, crystals and charms, all available at the arts and crafts store. Look for letter beads to spell out your friends’ names or monograms, or try to find charms that match their interests (flowers for gardeners, shoes for shoppers, footballs for sports fans, etc.)

Begin by laying out your beads in the order you will place them on the wire. This will allow you to map out your designs in advance, preventing the need to start over. Run the straight end of the wire through each bead or charm, making sure to leave enough room to hook the hoop together when you finish. Secure each charm around a wine glass to present to guests as they arrive.

Celebrate the charms of life – good friends, good wine and good laughs.


Uncorked Resources

Vin’tij Wine Boutique & Bistro
10859 Emerald Coast Parkway
(across from Silver Sands Factory Stores)
(850) 650-9820

Monark Events
70 Bay Haven Court
(850) 491-0212