Friday, January 9, 2015
Advice For Upcoming Grand Wine Tasting Events
In the New England area, it's now the season for two huge wine tasting events, the Mohegan Sun WineFest (MSW), which will be held January 23-25, and the Boston Wine Expo (BWE), which will be held February 14-15. I'm planning on attending both of these events and suspect I'll see a number of my wine-loving friends there too.
Both events have a Grand Tasting which showcases hundreds of different wines, and present a unique tasting opportunity, the chance to experience a diverse selection and hopefully find some new favorites. Though there are some differences between the two events, there are plenty of similarities as well. As such, I want to offer some advice and suggestions for everyone who may be attending either of these two events.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed at these Grand Tastings. People attend these events for a number of different reasons. Though many don't like to discuss it, there is always a contingent that goes just to get drunk. I don't advise anyone to do this. Instead, have fun, taste wine, but don't over do it. You will want to remember what you experienced. Use this opportunity to learn about wine, to find new favorites, and to socialize with other wine lovers.
1) Make a plan of which wine regions and/or specific wineries you want to visit. You cannot taste every wine, or probably even 10% of the wines. So you need to be very selective as to what you taste. If you don't go with a plan, you may waste time wandering around the hall, and might even miss a winery that you really wanted to check out. With a plan, you can best take advantage of your limited time. The BWE has a detailed list of Exhibitors on their website which makes such pre-planning easier. The MSW also has a list of Exhibitors.
2) At the BWE, you will find primarily only wine available for tasting, with possibly a handful of exceptions. At the MSW, you will also find beer. cider and spirits available, with a separate area for beer and cider. The spirits are presented within the wine tasting room, and I recommend tasting them after you have already tasted the wines you wish to sample.
3) Don't drink wines you already know and like. You can do that anytime and anywhere else. Instead, take this opportunity to expand your palate and try different wines, hoping to find new wines to enjoy. Never had Portuguese wines? Then make an effort to venture to their tables and try some of their wines, from Vinho Verde to Altejano reds. With all the diversity of wines available, it makes little sense to spend your time drinking the same wines you drink at home all the time. Be willing to experiment and taste something different.
4) To avoid the greatest crowds, go on Sunday rather than Saturday. Saturday in the Grand Tastings are more crowded with the huge hordes of attendees. Sunday though does not attract as large a horde of wine lovers. It will still be crowded, but is more manageable. And it is worth getting to the event as soon as it opens, as it tends to get more crowded later in the day.
5) Dress comfortably, noting that there is always the potential you might spill wine on your clothes. So leave those white shirts, blouses, pants,etc. home. Wear comfortable shoes as you will be on your feet for several hours, walking around the tasting hall.
6) Don't wear perfume or cologne as they will interfere with your ability to smell the wine, and will also interfere with the ability of other people to do the same. So show consideration for your fellow attendees and please don't wear it.
7) Eat a hearty meal before going to these events. If you are going to be tasting all that wine, you want to have a full stomach to help nullify some of that alcohol. If you go on an empty stomach, the alcohol will hit you harder and quicker, and you won't last long. There will be some food available at these events, but it is better to start off with a fully belly before you even get there.
8) How will you get to these events? Remember that you will be tasting lots of wines so you may not be able to drive home safely. No one should ever drink and drive! So, if you can, take public transportation, book a nearby hotel room, or have a designated driver. Please don't drink and drive. That is the most important advice in this entire post. DON"T DRINK & DRIVE!!
9) When you are tasting wines, please spit. Every sip you swallow adds to your alcohol level and if you do not spit, you will soon find yourself intoxicated. Even small sips can add up quickly. Once you are intoxicated, all of the wines will start tasting good to you and you probably won't learn anything. Spitting is the only way to navigate through a large number of wines, trying to discern which new wines appeal to you. So spit, spit, spit!
10) While you are tasting wines, take frequent breaks to drink water and eat snacks to help cleanse your palate. There are numerous food vendors at these events, many offering free samples, so there is no excuse why you can't find something to nibble upon. Water is also necessary to stay hydrated. All of this will help keep your palate sharp, and also try to limit the effect of all that alcohol.
11) If you find a new wine you enjoy, how will you remember it? You can take notes, writing down the name of the wine, or use your smart phone to take a picture of the wine bottle label. Nothing is worse than tasting a great wine but later forgetting its name. You will taste plenty of wines at the Expo so the only way to ensure you remember which ones you enjoyed are to take notes or pictures.
12) If you really enjoy a wine, ask questions about whether it is available or not. Unfortunately, not all of the wines poured at these events is yet available in Massachusetts. If it is available, they should be able to tell you the name of the distributor. Write that info down as it will help you locate the wine later. You can go to your local wine store with that info and they should be able to get the wine for you.
13) At the BWE, consider attending one of the Wine Seminars. They can be an excellent way for more directed wine education, in a more intimate forum. Check out seminars such as Iconic Wines of Spain, Sake..Is It Just For Japanese Cuisine, Wines of Uruguay and The Modern Wines of Ancient Greece..
14) At both events there are free Chef Demos, where you can watch chefs, many local, demonstrate recipes and you often get to sample what they prepare. At the MSW, the chefs will also do book signings of their cookbooks. This can be a fun break from all of your wine tasting.
15) For more advanced wine lovers, both events have higher-end wine tasting events, with more expensive wines available for tasting. You can check out the BWE Vintner's Reserve Lounge or the MSW Elite Cru event. You have to buy a separate ticket for these events, and they are pricey, but they are compelling. I attended last year's Vintner's Reserve Lounge and I found it to be well worth the price, with an excellent selection of high-end wines as well as plenty of food.
16) Make sure you have fun!