Wine Wednesday

Debauchery Debunked

An insider’s guide to surviving (and conquering) Taste of Washington in style.

By Julie H. Case March 21, 2012

Courtesy Washington Wine Commission

Two days and countless wines from more than 200 wineries mean opportunities to try something new, as well as one big faux pas waiting to happen. Here’s how to go like a pro.

Even just navigating Taste of Washington can be confusing. Do you go for the oyster bar before the crowds, or wait until you’re hungry? Wend your way through the convention center in a paint-by-numbers fashion, hoping to happen on something while tasting every wine you pass, or beeline for your favorite winery?

One option popular among wine nerds is making a tiered list of the wineries you can’t miss. Taste, for example, is the place where the general public can explore Betz Family Winery, which doesn’t have a tasting room. You can also map your way by varietal. If you love syrah, for example, identify the wineries pouring it and cut for those first.

To that end, it’s a good idea to taste your way through whites first, then move on to reds, saving sweet wines for last.

Don’t just taste at the tables. Wine is being poured all over the event, including at the “vineyard tastings” (typically at the edge of the room) where growers pour wines from different wineries. It’s an attempt to showcase terrior, allowing consumers to see how grapes from the same vineyard are expressed (similarly or not) in wines from different wineries.

The vineyard tasting section may also be a place to try wines that wineries aren’t pouring. You won’t find the Maison Bleue’s 2010 La Montagnette Grenache at its table but you will find it at Upland Vineyards. You won’t find Two Vintners grenache blanc anywhere on the floor (especially since it hasn’t even been bottled yet) but you will find some with Dick Boushey.

A few more ways to explore Washington wine during Taste:

Take a Seminar
The Wine Commission previously held seminars at one location on Saturday, the tasting event at another on Sunday. This year’s schedule brings seminars and tasting to the same venue, spread across two days. The downside? The seminars seem a little less rigorous—and more consumer focused. The first one is officially titled “Washington Wine: Delivering at Every Price.” It’s a blind tasting pitting Washington wines against the similar iterations from other parts of the world. Expect Price is Right–style oohs and aahs when the price of the Washington wines are revealed.

Still, the seminars can be a blast. Where else can you sit in a room full of winemakers and grape growers and sommeliers and hear an argument about terroir? When else do you get to watch the men and women who make the state’s best wines go head to head in a blind tasting? Plus, the seminars offer the general public the chance to blind taste the exact wines, at the same time as some vintners, providing an inspiring, or sobering, gauge of your abilities.

Look for Hidden Gems
This year’s two-day format also offers the possibility of surprise. Officially, wineries are expected to stick to what they’ve listed, and while no one is publicly stating they’ll be pouring a little something special on one day or another, expect it to happen. Besides, many wineries have a bottle or two of something special hidden away—a library wine, something that’s sold out—that they pour to select tasters, often during the VIP hours.

For those who can’t leave the smart phone behind, some savvy wineries are also expected to have a wine hidden away to pour as part of a "secret" Facebook or Twitter promotion during the event.

Make the Most of Two Days
With a two-day ticket going for just $25 more than a one-day, it makes sense to shell out for the entire weekend. In the past many winemakers have abandoned ship by the end of a single eight hour–plus day on Sunday, spreading the event across two four-hour sessions can help eliminate winemaker fatigue. Or, as Efeste’s Brennon Leighton cheekily puts it: “Winemakers have fragile egos and short attention spans," which means he’ll likely be more cheerful on Saturday, but is also less likely to drift away by the end of Sunday. For once, regardless of whether it’s the start of Taste or 15 minutes before closing, you might actually get time to chat with the vintners, too.

Okay, so with Taste spanning a weekend now, how do you do it like a master?

Leave Aroma and Bouquet to the Pros
Ditch the perfume or cologne. Not just so you can smell the wine, but also for the sake of every single person standing near you who would like to be able to pick out those grassy notes in a sauvignon blanc without being confused by the aromas of musk and begonias wafting from your neckline.

Be Judicious
Don’t try to taste every single wine, from every single winery. Don’t even try to taste one wine from every winery. Pick and choose. While it’s great to check out the wineries you may not have ever heard of, tasting everything will just wreck your palate, and your sobriety. And don’t finish wines you don’t like. In fact, you don’t even have to finish the wines you do like.

Spit, Don’t Swallow
It’s not gauche, it’s the right thing to do. If every taste is a 1-ounce pour, by the time you’ve tasted 24 wines you’ve polished off a bottle. How can you tell if the bottle that’s about to command your next paycheck is truly great if you’re already three sheets to the wind? Besides, getting bombed at Taste—and being one of the people who shatters one of the 50 or so glasses on the concrete floor each year—is just downright embarrassing. So, spit. (We’ll teach you how next week.)

And of course, eat well. And take a cab.

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