(or, Tips for Navigating a Wine Festival)
Written by Derek Mims
Walking into a large-scale wine event can be both amazing and overwhelming. As I walked into the Family Winemakers tasting at Fort Mason back in August, I was confronted by a huge warehouse-size space containing tables from over 325 wineries! The picture I took from the balcony will give you some idea of the scope of the event. Also realize that each winery was pouring, on average, 4-5 different wines. That’s a lot of tasting to do! Of course, that’s way more wines than you could sample over a few days, much less in the few hours of the event. Next week’s Top 100 Tasting is going to provide a similar conundrum: What’s an oenophile to do?
My first tip is “Have a plan.” It doesn’t have to be formal, and of course there will be diversions and digressions, but have some idea of how you’re going to attack this behemoth. Many times, the website of the event will list the wineries that are scheduled to be present, and often the list will include which wines they will be pouring.
Maybe you’ve heard of some specific wineries and want to be sure to try their products. Perhaps you want to taste as many different Syrahs as possible, allowing you to compare wines of a single varietal. Or maybe you want to seek out more unique varietals you’ve never tried before, so you look for tables offering things like Verdelho, Arneis, Counoise, and Lagrein (all of which were available at Family Winemakers, by the way).
Continuing the theme of pre-planning, the second tip is to be sure your body is ready for a lot of wine! That means eating a decent meal before the tasting event, and drinking a lot of water before, during and after it, as well.
Now for the third tip, and this is important: “Don’t be afraid to spit!” There’s no way to get the most out of the event if you consume everything you taste. I’m not saying you should spit everything; you’re there to have fun, and as long as you’re not driving, a little buzz isn’t a bad thing. But it’s WAY too easy to get too drunk too fast, and then you’re not only missing out on tasting more delicious wines, you may also find yourself spending too much time in the bathroom or parking lot. I’ve seen this happen (to other people, of course), and it’s not fun.
So, what is the approved etiquette here? Well, don’t just tell the server to give you a small pour; that would mean cheating yourself out of fully experiencing the sight and smell of the wine in your glass, as well as an opportunity for a second taste. So go with a standard pour. The wine professionals at these events fully expect people to spit, and they will not take it as a critique of their wine. So, after you’ve swished the wine around your mouth a few times, politely spit it into a separate cup (often provided at these things) or into a nearby dump bucket (almost always provided at these things).
When you find a wine you really like (or just feel like you need refreshment) that’s the time to polish off a glass. Most pourers will be happy to give you a second taste of something, especially when you express how excellent it is.
Okay, last one: “Have fun!” This might seem obvious, but too often I’ve run into people at tasting events who are too concerned with sticking to their exact plan or too anxious to show off how much they know that they miss out on opportunities to try new things, meet new people, and learn something new! So don’t feel like you have to try all the whites before any of the reds, and keep an eye out for wineries or labels that might interest you. And realize that, yes, your teeth are just as purple as everyone else’s!