How to Host a Swirl Party

By staff July 28, 2008

With co-blogger Robert Fottler.


The business of food and wine is surely the “Golden Ticket” of a Willy Wonka dream come true. Forget all the poundage that comes with the tastings and samplings (the average food writer gains 40 pounds during their career), we just tend to dive in with fork, knife, or, in this case, wineglass. Sarasota Magazine was fortunate to receive numerous cases of wine this past spring, no doubt the vineyards hoping we would write about their grape varietals and tannins. Well, it worked! Pam Daniel organized our first “Swirl Party” a few weeks back. So, with 30 odd wineglasses and a host of some of my favorite editors (or wine drinkers) in town, we swirled.



Robert Fottler teaches us about swirling while associate editor Hannah Wallace and her boyfriend, Steve Jones, listen contentedly in the background.


Of course when you host a swirl party, most important besides the art of swirling is the designated swirl aficionado, aka Robert Fottler. I have known Marsha and Robert for at least 12 years, and Bob has never steered me wrong in his wine selections. So no wonder when we gave him the task of teaching our staff the ins and outs of swirling and the background of the wines, Robert taught as though he were at UC Davis. We swirled, we pondered and we did not spit (waste of a good wine, and besides it was past 5 p.m., a respectable hour indeed). So, without further ado, I pass the corkscrew to our sommelier du Sarasota Mag swirl party guru, Robert Fottler.



Swirlfest 2008


(Bless the Robb Report for this opportunity)


The common denominator of these wines is that they represent Southern Hemisphere (New World) expressions of Northern Hemisphere (Old World), specifically French, grape varietals. The wines produced by Chilean producer Viña Calina use grapes brought to Chile from the Bordeaux region of France, while Yangarra is an Australian producer whose wines are made from grapes most often associated with the Rhone Valley.

Viña Calina is a Chilean vintner in the Maule Valley, between the Andes Mountains and the Costal range. It’s owned by Kendall-Jackson. Calina produces wines under three different labels: Calina Reserva, which sells in the $7-10/bottle range; Alcance, in the $15 range (this mid-level wine was a good example of this grape); and Bravura, their flagship Bordeaux blend. It lists for about $50/bottle.  

The grape of greatest interest for Americans is Carmenere, which is no longer favored in Bordeaux. Calina’s 2005 Calina Alcance Carmenere was a gold medal winner last year in Chile, and its 2003 Carmenere won Best of Red blends in Chile. Ideally, its flavor should reference blackberries, blueberries, and cassis. It most closely resembles merlot.

Yangarra is an Aussie producer in McLaren Vale, about 40 miles from Adelaide in South Australia. Yangarra is an aboriginal word for “from the earth,” an attempt to emphasize a sense of terroir as well as political correctness, in an era when people have become concerned with their carbon footprint.

While Calina’s wines emphasize Bordeaux’s grapes, Yangarra produces a variety of wines whose grape origins are in the Rhone Valley of France. Their 2005 High Sands Grenache ($80) received a 93 in the Wine Advocate. The other grapes of the Rhone Valley emphasized in Australia are syrah (called shiraz down under) and Semillon, often blended with chardonnay in Australia but used to make sauternes in France.

Two wines are worth special attention, but for different reasons. Yangarra Viognier,  first released in 2007 ($25), should taste of apricots and have a somewhat floral aroma, full body with low acidity. Then there’s Yangarra Cadenzia, the name taken from the musical term cadenza (a vehicle for brief solo improvisation). It’s a classic blend of the Southern Rhone Valley consisting of 68 percent Grenache, 27 percent syrah, and 55 Mouvedre. It also retails in the $25 range. (We tasted Yangarra’s Grenache and syrah. Both were smooth and finished versions of these grape varieties.)


A few ideas for your swirl party: Get tasting notes and then decide what foods would pair best. It’s both fun and cost effective once you know the tasting notes to have people select a dish to bring that matches a wine.

When serving all red wines, bring teeth whitener! By the end of the night we all had a cabernet blend on the pearly whites.
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