Taste Washington arrives every year like that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Sir Lancelot storms the castle to save what he believes to be a damsel in distress. While the hapless guards watch, Lancelot can be seen barreling toward them from afar, while seeming to never quite get any closer. Suddenly, pow! He is at the gate and catches the castle guards, well, off guard.
In much the same way, we wait for a solid year for Taste Washington to arrive, maintaining a sort of mental advent calendar that begins the morning after the last one. And now, the big weekend is just around the corner–March 29th and 30th–the two days of the Grand Tasting where, by my count, 232 wineries will pour their juice, seventy eateries will dish up their nosh, and legion winos and foodies will converge on the CenturyLink Field Event Center like fire ants at a caterpillar convention. I, for one, am already drooling.
Recently, I presented you with 9 Things You Shouldn’t Do at Taste Washington. Here, I offer up some survival tips that’ll help you conquer Taste Washington like a commando.
1. Have a plan
You can’t just run around Taste Washington all willy-nilly. You’ll still have fun if you take the flight-of-the-bumblebee approach, mind you, but you won’t get the most out of the experience. A better plan is to have a plan.
Decide in advance what you want to get out of Taste Washington. Do you want to learn to pick out the characteristics of wines from particular vineyards? Then you’ll want to hit up the vineyard booths, where you’ll get to try a variety of wines that were made with their fruit. Do you want to taste the latest releases from your favorite wineries or try things you haven’t had before? Then make a list of the wineries you want to visit, and methodically work your way through them. Have you been reading foodie blogs and are curious about a bunch of the latest gastronomic hotspots? Decide in advance which eateries you want to sample, and dutifully check them off your list throughout the day. You may also want to squeeze in a seminar before the Grand Tasting (guaranteed nerdgasm). There are also a grip of other exhibitors you may want to swing by, and you should figure out how to fit them in.
You can’t just run around Taste Washington all willy-nilly.
I would recommend that you steer clear of the wines you drink all the time. For example, if you’re a big fan of Brian Carter Cellars (and who isn’t?), you’re a member of their wine club, you visit their tasting room in Woodinville every Saturday, and you tasted the entire Brian Carter portfolio just a few weeks ago at the Seattle Wine & Food Experience (they won “Best In Show” there) then for chrissakes, you don’t need to spend valuable time visiting Brian Carter Cellars again at Taste Washington. On the other hand, if you’ve never even heard of Brian Carter Cellars, then you should definitely swing by their booth to try their Opulento, if nothing else. Or, if you’re already making a list of summer patio wines and you haven’t tried the latest vintage of the Oriana, then it’s definitely worth a stop. Capisce?
You can’t do it all; there’s too much. Even if you attend both days, you’ll only make a dent. So, treat it like a one-day pass at Disneyland and make sure you get to go on all the rides you want to instead of spending the entire day stuck in the gift shop, or worse, Splash Mountain.
2. Arrive early
Whether you have VIP or General Admission tix, you’re going to have to wait in line outside the Clink before being let in like throngs of teenagers at a Macklemore show. And, like anywhere worth going in Seattle, parking will be a b*tch in the surrounding area. Be prepared to white-knuckle your way through traffic, scouting the sidestreets for that perfect, overlooked parking spot; or be ready to pony up some cash to claim a slot in one of the many opportunistic lots offering “event parking.” Better yet, take the bus or Uber.
In any case, arriving early will secure your spot closer to the front of the line, and get you through the doors that much quicker. It may increase your pre-event wait time, but it’ll decrease your stress and maximize your wine time.
3. Take pictures
We’ve all seen folks snapping selfies for Twitter or Instagrams of everything they’re sluicing down their throat-hole. This may be fun for many (groan), but your phone’s camera can be put to much better use at an event like Taste Washington.
If you’re like me, your memory ain’t what it used to be. And while adding wine certainly improves your dance moves and sexual allure, it does nothing for the acuity you’ll need to keep track of the wines and wineries that you’ve spent several hours cross pollinating. This is where your phone earns its keep beyond Angry Birds.
Taste Washington is where your phone earns its keep beyond Angry Birds.
Taking pics of food and wine may be a major faux pas at the table in restaurants (you’re supposed to just sit there and enjoy it, dammit!), but the point of Taste Washington is to simply expose you to food and wine that you can just sit there and enjoy at a later date, so no one will be offended if you’re capturing images that will help you find them in the future.
A word of warning, though: there’s bound to be a bogie or two. That amazing wine that you tried late in the afternoon while chatting up a pretty girl that laughed at all your jokes may not withstand scrutiny on a subsequent weekday. Neither may the girl. Such is the nature of both wine and human interaction. You won’t know for sure until you see each other again.
4. Use your swag bag
You may feel like Tinky Winky, and it may clash with your shoes, but if you’re really looking to gather information at Taste Washington, the swag bag can be your best friend. Aside from using your phone to take pictures of wines, you can store a lot of data in the free reusable shopping bags they give out at the event.
The bag comes pre-loaded with flyers and coupons for many of the sponsors. For the rest of the day, you can take business cards and brochures from exhibitors, restaurants and wineries and dump them into your swag bag to be sorted and perused at a later time.
This is another great way to augment your memory of all the things that impressed you at the event, and gives you a launchpad for further exploration. “Where should we go for dinner? Hey, what was that one chophouse we liked at Tasting Washington? Let me check my swag bag.” If it made it into your swag bag, it already has an endorsement of sorts, and it’s worth checking out again.
It’s also probably spacious enough to shove your coat into when you start to overheat from alcohol and exertion, and you can use it to carry out your complimentary wine glass and tray when you leave. The swag bag is all kinds of handy.
5. Drink beer
In past years, I’ve never been so happy to see the legendary Charles and Rose Ann Finkel of The Pike Brewing Company as I was at Taste Washington. Palate fatigue is a real thing, and after hours of sipping vino, you begin to lose your ability to differentiate between them, or to really taste any of the nuanced characteristics. At a certain point, wine tasting becomes an exercise in futility, and you’re just sadly sucking it down like a melted “Alexander the Grape” Otter Pop on the last day of summer.
There’s a popular adage in the wine industry: “It takes a lot of cheap beer to make a great wine.” This is partly because nothing comes to the rescue quite so effectively, in my view, as beer does. In the middle of marathon wine-tasting, beer is refreshing, invigorating, and will snap you back to your senses so you can head once more into the fray. It’s like giving a cup of coffee and a puppy to a toddler.
It takes a lot of cheap beer to make a great wine.
And, if you’re looking to rub elbows with a bunch of mucky-mucks in the wine industry, the beer garden is like a honeypot. Find the beer, and they will come to you in droves.
Every time I go to a wine event, I’m reminded of the popular childhood spoof of the Toreador song from Carmen:
Don’t spit on the floor-ah
Use the cuspidor-ah
That’s what it’s for-ah
I can’t help it. Maybe it’s the part of me that refuses to grow up, or maybe it’s just that nowhere is spitting more appropriate than at a wine event.
At every booth at Taste Washington, there is a smallish bucket strategically placed to collect discarded wine. It offends no one if you don’t drink everything in your glass–it doesn’t mean you don’t like it (though maybe you don’t like it). The point is to taste wine, not guzzle it. Many wineries will pour more than a sip’s worth to ensure that you get the full experience on the nose and palate (smell and taste are bosom friends), especially when your glass has been “contaminated” by other wines (some will suggest you rinse your glass with water). But though you might be poured two or three ounces of vino, you’re not expected to polish it off like Doc Holliday in a saloon. You can dump the excess in the bucket.
Likewise, you won’t offend anyone if you spit instead of swallow. Everyone has a different comfort level with spitting. Some can spit with bravado like a cowpoke with a lip full of chaw, while others spit daintily like they tasted something unsavory while sitting through high tea with the Queen of England. Some people like me who are decidedly poor spitters manage to spit all over their own shirt (avoid that if you can).
Whatever your style, spitting instead of swallowing will help your endurance by prolonging the time it takes to get lit. It will allow you to taste more wines, and to remember more about the wines you tried. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
You won’t offend anyone if you spit instead of swallow.
But don’t you get more out of a wine if you swallow? In my opinion, yes. Yes you do. But, with so many things to try, you’ve got to narrow the field. Though admittedly I don’t always practice spitting, when I do, I use it to determine which wines intrigue me enough to swallow. If you have a sobriety budget of, say, 20 oz., then you need to spend it wisely. You can get a pretty good sense of each wine without swallowing, but then there’s the one that raises your eyebrows and makes you do a double-take. That’s the one with which to spend more time, to get more intimate, and to swallow.
7. Take a break
Yes, time is limited. Yes, there are scads of things you must put in your mouth before the clock runs down. You want to get your money’s worth, after all. But, I’ll tell you, taking a break or two during the event (and not just to use the restroom) is a good way to gather your wits. It’s nice to set your things down, take a load off, and sit at a table with your latest score of food and wine and sip and nibble like a human being for a few minutes.
This may also be a good time to grab a cup o’ joe from Fonté Coffee; the caffeine offers a pick-me-up, and it’ll reboot your palate before you run headlong back into the sea of wine. (There’s a reason many fragrance counters will have you sniff a demitasse of coffee beans between the Shalimar and the Chanel No. 5.)
While you’re on recess, you can review the progress you’ve made on your list of planned stops, compare notes with a friend on favorites or things you might have missed, and strategize the remainder of your day. Taking a short break will not only relax you, it will energize you so you can finish strong.
8. Establish a designated meet-up location
If you attend Taste Washington with friends or loved ones (and who doesn’t?), it’s a good idea to settle on a place to meet in case you get separated. If you’re both adventurous, it’s likely that you’ll head in different directions from time to time, and trying to find each other via text directions is a bit like trying to find your spouse in Wal-Mart on Black Friday. Communicating via text isn’t all that effective when all parties have their hands full with their glass, their plate and their swag bag, not to mention their laser-focus on the next taste.
When you first walk through the doors at Taste Washington, you should pick a spot at which to meet up should you become separated. You might choose a certain winery’s booth, a certain pillar, the first section of doors on the north side of the entrance, or the men’s room. It doesn’t matter where it is, as long as you both have physically stood in that location, and can navigate back to it at a moment’s notice.
The trick to this, though, is that everyone involved has to be committed to returning to the meeting spot when summoned, or somebody will just be waiting all alone and getting angry. If you’ve been summoned to the meeting spot, go immediately rather than trying to get one or two more tastes in. You can always come back to the booth at which you’re waiting in line once you’ve collected your friends.
If you’re all the independent type, the kind of person that will go to the movies alone (that’s the best!), then you might be completely comfortable saying, “See ya when I see ya,” and just head off on your own until you bump into each other from time to time. Otherwise, pick a meet-up spot and swear a solemn oath to use it when necessary.
9. Carry water
According to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. For an attendee at Taste Washington, it’s a bottle of water.
At every Taste Washington I’ve been to, there’s always a table with bottled water. Grab one. Toss it in your swag bag; you’re going to need it.
A bottle of water can be used to clear your palate of something unsavory. It can be used to rinse your mouth of something delicious, but with tremendous staying power that taints everything down the line. It can be used to rinse your glass in the event a booth is out of water and you’re, say, going from a voluptuous red to a delicate white. It can be used to wet a napkin to wipe off the sauce you spattered on the front of your shirt or smeared across your face. Also, water can be used to keep hydrated.
Being sure to taste both wine and food is a good way to prevent getting crocked, and so is drinking water. Staying hydrated can lessen the negative effects of alcohol consumption, and it’s also really refreshing when you’re starting to feel a little buzzed. Keep swigging from that bottle of water throughout the day, and you’ll be a happy camper.
10. Exit gracefully (and safely)
If you actually drove (and parked!) to Taste Washington, don’t be in a huge hurry to drive home when the event is over. It might be a good idea to err on the side of caution, and grab some dinner at a nearby hashery before getting behind the wheel again. Even though you’ve been eating small bites all day, sitting down to even a light dinner will allow you to relax, recap the day, look through your swag bag, and most importantly, let your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) ease itself back to safe levels. As an added bonus, you’ll avoid the traffic nightmare as everyone else scrambles to leave the Clink at the same time.
You might also consider just staying downtown for the weekend. Taste Washington has partnered with a bunch of hotels who are offering deals and special amenities to attendees. Make it a weekend getaway. If you hurry, you can grab a couple of bottles of your Taste Washington favorites at Esquin, DeLaurenti or Pike & Western before they close (on Saturday), take them back to your hotel and have sexy-time without the kids screaming in your ear after stepping on a Lego.
I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but I do want you to make it back to real life in one piece. You spent a lot of time planning your attack, you should also lay out the logistics of your withdrawal once the battle is won.
These are just a few things I’ve learned over the years attending Taste Washington, most by trial and error. Do you have some great survival tips? Share them in the comments below!
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Visit Seattle, Washington Wine Commission, Taste Washington, TableTalk Northwest, their partners or their affiliates. But, c’mon, it’s pretty accurate.