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8 “survival” tips for large-scale Wine Events

I’m always amazed at the volume of people willing to pay well over $100 to get into wine events under the notion that they’ll somehow get the chance to properly sample tons of wine – the primary problem is, however, that these events do not cater to helping one develop a good palate for what’s being poured because of many factors. Here are a few guidelines I use if I choose to go to an event like the upcoming Taste WA:

1. Make a mental note to yourself that it’s perfectly acceptable to NOT try every wine being poured.
The reality is that your palate (or anyone else for that matter) gets a beat-down like Mike Tyson on crack at an ear-biting contest whenever you subject it to too much stimulus from more than a dozen or so glasses of wine.

Before you go to the event, get a list of the participating wineries and select (randomly if you want to be adventurous) only a handful to try out during the few hours you’ll be at the event. This way, you get to try out new wines without overwhelming you and your palate.

2. Do make it a point to have some food:
Either sneak some food in (if you’re on a budget) – *cough* I know some folks who will sneak in a pocketful of blue cheese in plastic wrap – or get food from whomever is serving food at the event. You need to do this to be able to coat your palate between glass pours; if you don’t, you’ll find that your ability to pick up on the varying flavors of wine will quickly diminish within the first hour or so.

3. If you do the “sneak” thing:
Here a few examples of foods that should hold up okay in the confines of a loose jacket pocket or backpack etc.:

•    Dried Fruit
•    Nuts
•    Blue Cheese
•    Jerky snacks

Bottom line is that you need the sort of sugars and fats these foods being to the table to make sure your overall tasting experience is good and one to remember.

4. Write things down:
If you don’t have an excellent memory, then bring some sort of notepad and pen to jot down your thoughts on each wine and make it a point to take those notes with you next time you’re out at the store, looking for wine.

Outside of tasting notes about wine, I’ll also make notes about the people pouring the wine, such as:
•    Were they cool?
•    Did they strike me snobs?
•    Did they seem passionate about the wines they poured?

I will purposely avoid buying wine from folks who inappropriately represent their products and the wine industry. It’s a food product; it should be fun and never snobby.

5. Ask as many questions as time allows for:
This is one you’ll need to feel out the situation for. If you you’re at a rather empty table and have some time with the folks pouring, you should ask them questions about the wine, the people behind it etc. Take time to get to know them – many of whom are good, honest folks who love what they do.
If the table is busy, remember, there are others there who also want some time tasting the wine and to chat a bit – be courteous about this. Come back when things “die down” and talk to the folks at that time.

6. Please Spit:
I can’t begin to tell you how many people I run across who either don’t know about spitting or say things like “why would I want to waste the alcohol”? Those spit buckets are there for a reason folks.

For starters, you should be spitting due to the obvious reasons of what too much alcohol intake can do – nobody should ever drive back from an event like this without doing a lot of spitting.

Secondly, if you consume too much, you can easily misjudge the tastes after awhile – why do you think many people start pouring the cheap crap after a few bottles with friends? Because after awhile, it all tastes the same, that’s why.

Lastly, the spit bucket is NOT for rinsing your glass out! I was helping with a pour back in the summer of 07 and there was some lady who came up and rinsed her glass out using the wine in the spit bucket! Ewww – I didn’t have the heart to tell her what she had just done.

7. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes:
Aside from coming across as a wine snob (shudder the thought), wearing those formal clothes and shoes will do nothing for your overall comfort.  I always go casual – jeans, good shoes – you know, the kind of stuff you’d wear on a daily basis (just promise us, you’ll shower).

8. Drink water – don’t rinse with it:
There’s nothing wrong at all to ask the person pouring your taste to have a little “rinse action’ with the wine they’re about to pour. Rinsing with water will only add water into your taste and while I’m sure the local water supply is safe for human consumption, I don’t want it in my glass.

I would, however, highly recommend to everyone to pack in a bottle or two of some good h2o – remember, alcohol dehydrates the body of water – you need to keep yourself well hydrated.

  • http://beyondthebottle.com Thad

    These are 8 great suggestions for tackling any wine event, let alone Taste Washington. You’re spot on with the advice on eating some food, drinking a lot of water, and spitting. And I fell out my chair reading about the woman who rinsed her glass in the spit bucket – that’s one of the better wine stories I’ve heard in years.

  • http://winefoot.com dp

    For sure – the gal and her glass – was an awkward moment for me… Had I thought about it, I would’ve told her what she had done and tried to snag her a new glass.

    But by the time it had really sunk in what had just happened, she was already sipping from it again.. :/

  • http://1winedude.blogspot.com 1WineDude

    Nice one. I’ve got a previous post that touches on some similar and probably complimentary tips for these events – http://1winedude.blogspot.com/2008/02/spy-in-house-of-booze-how-to-survive.html .

    Cheers.

  • http://winefoot.com dp

    hey dude.. nice to have you posting here…:)

  • Storme

    We recently visited Cave B wine estates in George, WA. Upon entering the tasting room, my boyfriend was greeted by an older man who worked at the tasting bar. All the man did was hand him the tasting list. No mention of tastes, or anything. When I arrived at the bar, I said we would like to taste. The charge was $5 each which bought you a glass that you could keep. It should be noted that this is the only way you were able to taste, as they did not have ther own stock of tasting room glasses. The wines were ok, and luckily someone i knew from high school was working behind the counter, and he soon took over our tasting session. if this had not happned, we would not have stayed for the hour taht we did. The wine was sufficiently over priced, even with my 20% industry discount, and was said to all be grown on the estate (of which an insufficient amount of vines was readily visible to my eye). Overall, this was definately a snooty place to visit, and one taht I will probably never again make the effort to go back to.

  • http://winefoot.com dp

    Hi Storme,

    Would you mind posting that up in our forums under the “Snobby Winery” section?

    http://www.winefoot.com/forums/

    Thank you!

  • KSyrah

    Very good tips. This will be our 5 year going to Taste of WA. It is definately at “large” event and can be quite intimidating at first. My goal this year is to stop and take more notes and I like the point about making note of the people pouring the wine as well. Food is a must as well, if we are going winery touring, I always keep some snacks and water in the car.