Now that the Seattle Wine & Food Experience has closed the books on another year (a smashing success!), it would be easy to sink into the doldrums as we wait impatiently for Taste Washington, the Datona 500 of Washington wine events. We’re all drumming our fingers, tapping our feet, and counting our collection of complementary Viking wine glasses culled from years past to see if we’re close to a full set. It’s Washington Wine Month, and we’ll attend tours, tastings and tweet-ups to keep us mildly satiated and our tolerance conditioned until the big day arrives on March 29, and we go charging into the CenturyLink Field Event Center like children into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
But as you make your preparations and plan your strategy, I submit to you that there are a few things that you absolutely should not do when you attend Taste Washington.
1. Bring out the bedazzle
I get it, you like wine and you want the world to know. You’re going to a collossal wine event with thousands of other enthusiasts, and you want to signal that you’re part of the club. What better way to demonstrate what a classy connoisseur of Jesus-juice you are than to don the official garb of grandmothers who surreptitiously sip Franzia out of re-purposed Coke cans while watching QVC?
I’d like to think that it was a freak occurrence when I saw this on a tee-shirt at last year’s event, but the truth is, every year I see multiple people with some version of this atrocity. It’s an assault on both the eyes and human decency. Do yourself and everyone else a favor, and reserve this shirt for Red Hat Society luncheons or laundry day.
Also, avoid apparel that says things like, “Wine is poetry in a bottle,” “Is it wine o’clock yet?”, “Wineaux,” or anything with the word “diva” in it.
2. Deliver an oratory on wine to a winemaker
You’re into wine. You’ve got subscriptions to both Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, and the current issues are prominently displayed on your coffee table. You attended the grand opening of the latest wine bar in Bellevue. You recently toured Woodinville tasting rooms, and added a couple of cases of DeLille and Tenor to your home wine library, along with a surprising little weekday sipper from an upstart winery in the Warehouse district, all of which you listed on CellarTracker with your notes. You went to Napa for your anniversary last year, and you’re planning an Italian tour of Umbria and Sicilia wineries next year. And, because of the breadth and scope of your erudition, you think the winemaker standing in front of you at Taste Washington could benefit from your expertise.
Newsflash. Winemakers already know this stuff. They make wine for a living. They also taste wine from all over the world, and they’re acutely aware of what their own wines taste like. They are certainly happy that you’re so enthusiastic about vino, but they’re not going to learn anything from you, especially when they just desperately want to pour tastes of their wine to the thirty people standing in line behind you. The winemaker is usually interested to hear if you like their wine or not, or even one or two things that you notice about it, but they do not have the time nor inclination to endure a monologue of everything you know about wine. Save it for your blog.
3. Ask a bunch of esoteric questions
I see this happen often, usually from the same guy listed above. What’s the RS (residual sugar) on this? What’s your oak regimen (new, neutral, French, American, Hungarian, etc.)? What were the brix levels of the fruit at harvest? How long was it in malo (malolactic fermentation)? Is this Syrah co-fermented with Viognier? What exact percentage of Petit Verdot did you blend in to add the body and tannic structure? How would you compare this year’s acidity levels to the 2009 vintage?
Let’s be honest, out of the hundreds of wineries and thousands of wines at Taste Washington, you’re not going to remember the answers to any of these questions by day’s end. In fact, I’d bet the farm that you don’t really even want to know. You’re scraping the edges of your repository of wine jargon to find smart-sounding questions that will impress the winemaker or volunteer pouring tastes for you. Meanwhile, there are two dozen people waiting behind you just to get a taste, rolling their eyes and consulting their imaginary wristwatches. If you genuinely have a few burning technical questions that you must know right now, at least step to the side and let the people behind you get pours while your questions are answered. Please.
4. Sample the entire lineup at one time
There are a few wineries that you’re really excited about. You’ve read the press on Dunham. You’ve heard great things about Buty. You’re interested in the native-yeast fermentation at Efeste. You want to try them all!
Hold your horses, pardner. Each winery pours anywhere between three and ten wines at Taste Washington, according to my experience. And, there’s always that guy: the one that says, “Well, I guess I’ll start here,” pointing to the first of a string of bottles. The winery will pour a taste, he’ll look at it, swirl it, sniff it and sip it, offer a few comments, empty his glass (in his mouth or in the spit bucket), and then say, “All right, let’s move on to the next one.” If this is you, stop it.
And you know what? It probably is worthwhile to taste every last one of those wines. But not in one go. While you’re savoring the experience of each wine, an angry mob is forming behind you, plotting your horrific murder, because they all want a taste. Have some decency, sir. If you want a taste of each wine, continue to move to the rear of the line after each pour. You can spend all the time you want evaluating what’s in your glass from the queue.
5. “Grab-and-run” or “flyby”
I think that we’ve pretty well established that you shouldn’t hold court at the front of the line and soak up the time of those pouring tastes by deploying one of several annoying antics. But, there are those that go to the opposite extreme, and can be just as disrespectful. This can take two forms.
The grab-and-run. You wait in line, get a pour and then dash off the second the wine is in the glass. You can usually then be seen trying to find your friends or the next coveted winery without paying any attention to the wine you’ve got in your hand. You’ve just gotta get to more wine like you’re a contestant in the last seconds of the final challenge of Supermarket Sweep.
The flyby. While en route to a particular booth, you see that there’s no line in front of another one and swing through to get a quick pour without even paying attention to what it is or who it’s from. “Uh, whattaya have in a red? OK, cool, I’ll take that one, thanks.” It’s just something to wet your whistle while you pursue what you’re really after.
This applies to the food vendors, as well. The nosh isn’t just there to keep you from getting drunk.
6. Get drunk
Speaking of getting drunk: don’t. Hey, I understand. I had to learn this one the hard way. At my first Taste Washington, there were so many things I wanted to try, I rode the endless waves of vino like a body surfer in Baja. I have photographs where I’m pink-cheeked, red-nosed, and purple-toothed. I have video documentation of my sudden conviction (immediately after Taste Washington) that I was the next Sammy Davis Jr., executing an unskilled but unfettered tap performance that was described by a friend as a mixture of jazz and kung fu. We’ve all been there. Maybe.
Every year since, I’ve seen the few folks who lean heavily on their friends or loved ones as they clown-shoe toward the exits. I’ve seen the guys with stains on their shirts and the gals with their skirts disheveled beyond all conventional standards of propriety. I’ve seen the dropped glasses, the spills, and the clumsy, half-hearted gesture of acknowledgement followed by inaction. If this sounds like you, you need a new strategy.
While there definitely is a mind-boggling amount of wine at the event, the value of your ticket is in the education and exposure to premium wines, not in the volume of booze you can pour down your gullet. It’s called Taste Washington, not Chugalug Washington. It’s not a frat party.
That’s not to say you can’t be casual. This is the Northwest, after all. You’ll be just as at home in jeans as you will in that Hugo Boss suit of yours. You should laugh, you should have fun, you should be darn ebullient, because you’re at the biggest wine event in the state. But, you should know, you can’t taste it all. Believe me, I’ve tried.
7. Pour wine in the trash can
Do you dump your spent beverages in your kitchen trash can at home? No? Of course you don’t, because the trash bag could spring a leak and make a big mess all over your floor. Well, although the boys in the back room over at Hefty have advanced trash bag technology quite a bit over the years, the commercial-grade bags in the garbage cans at Taste Washington pose the same risk. Keep in mind that somebody has to empty those cans, and their day will be significantly worse if they have to clean up a spill just because you couldn’t keep a little liquid in your glass for another minute.
Every winery’s booth has a dump bucket for the wine you spit and the wine you don’t finish. If you want to get rid of what’s in your glass, head in any direction and use this bucket. You might even find an exciting wine while you’re there.
8. Bring your own gear
You are much too serious a wine aficionado to use the complimentary stems you get with admission at Taste Washington. They’re glass for chrissakes! No, you’ve brought your favorite crystal Riedel Grand Bordeaux wine glass, a far superior kind of wine glass that signals to all that you’re no plebian. A glass without rival in size, sparkle, and the neat ringing sound you get when you whimsically circumnavigate the rim with your damp finger. You bought the VIP ticket, after all.
Here’s the thing. That Grand Bordeaux glass really is a magnificent piece of stemware…for Bordeaux. Companies like Riedel manufacture a large variety of wine glasses, each specific to a certain type of wine. A Burgundy/Pinot Noir glass isn’t the same as a Grand Bordeaux, which in turn isn’t the same as a Sauvignon Blanc glass, or a Riesling glass. Each of their many silhouettes are specifically designed to bring out the primary characteristics of a particular style of wine. If you’re using your big, beautiful Grand Bordeaux glass at Taste Washington, you’re going to amplify your experience with those big reds, but you’ll probably have a bit of trouble with the whites, or with the Tempranillos and Sangioveses. You will, however, look super cool.
If you really want to get technical, you should use the universal wine tasting glass developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). This popular glass has been optimized to do the greatest good for the broadest range of wines. The stemware at Taste Washington probably aren’t ISO glasses, but they’re pretty close.
The glasses you get at Taste Washington are fairly friendly for the full range of wines you’ll try at the event. You can use them for reds and whites, full-bodied or austere. And because it’s not specialized, you’ll be better able to taste the differences in fruit and style as you move from wine to wine.
And if you break it, no biggie.
9. Tweet like a primadonna
You’re an aspiring wine blogger. You’ve staked out your corner of the internet on Blogspot and gave it a name that you think is damned clever. You think you’re a pretty big deal, and you try to get invited to every wine event for free, because, hey, you’re “media.” You obsess over Facebook likes and Twitter shares, and think if you can just get access to the right circles, your online popularity will grow exponentially, and you’ll get invited to even more wine events and drink even more free wine! Just the thought of it is intoxicating!
So, while you’re at Taste Washington, you can be seen glued to your phone. You raise your eyes only to see if there’s someone nearby that you can tag in a tweet with the hopes that you’ll get more follows by association. You’re constantly dangerously close to colliding with other attendees as you refresh your feed to see if anyone has retweeted or @mentioned you. You post selfies.
Here’s a thought: why don’t you use social media to provide actual information to the reading public? Talk about your favorite wines. Post short tasting notes. Describe the edibles you just wolfed down and throw a bone to the foodery that made it. No one cares who you just saw and tagged except maybe the person you saw and tagged. Instead, try providing meaningful content for all those following #TasteWA from home, instead of clogging up the internet with the great Twitter circle-jerk.
Take my word for it friends, if everybody follows these few simple rules, the already mind-bogglingly awesome Taste Washington event will be even better for everyone. Do you have any advice to offer? Share it 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.