Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Advice For Attending The Boston Wine Expo

You're confronted with the opportunity to taste nearly 2000 different wines. There's no way you can taste all of them, or even a large percentage, so what should you do? What is the best strategy to handle this dilemma? What other advice should you know about attending such a huge event?

Next month, the Boston Wine Expo will be celebrating its 25th Anniversary during President’s Day weekend, February 13 & 14, at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. Presented by the Boston Guild of Oenophilists, the Expo will be even larger this year with a number of special features to celebrate this milestone. Thousands of local wine lovers will attend this event and they would benefit from advice and suggestions for getting the most out of this event.

At the Expo, there will be the usual Grand Tasting, which will feature over 200 producers and about 1800 wines and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. 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.

What is my best advice for attending these Grand Tastings? Like many endeavors, the key is in your preparation. Don't just show up and drink, especially if you want to learn anything.

1) To make the most of your time at the Expo, you need to make a plan of which wine regions and/or specific wineries tables you want to visit and taste. You cannot taste every wine at the Expo, or probably even 5% 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. Check this site for a list of the participating exhibitors and spend some time deciding on where you want to go.

2) 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. Make the Expo an opportunity to explore the wide world of wine.

3) To avoid the largest crowd, go on Sunday rather than Saturday. Saturdays in the Grand Tastings are more crowded with a huge horde of attendees. Sunday though does not attract as large a horde of wine lovers. It will still be crowded, but is more manageable.

4) 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. It is a casual event so there is no need to get all dressed use, though you are welcome to do so if you desire. Just beware of the possibility of wine spills. It is very important to wear comfortable shoes as you will be on your feet for several hours, walking around the tasting hall.

5) 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.

6) Eat a hearty breakfast or lunch before going to the Expo. 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 much better to start off with a fully belly before you even get there.

7) Make sure all your electronics, such as your camera and smartphone, are fully charged. It's a pain when your battery dies half way through the Expo and you are unable to take any more photos. You might also be posting to social media while at the Expo so you want sufficient power in your smart phone to keep you going for the while event.

8) How will you get to the Expo? 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) Arrive at the Expo early as you'll beat the the long line to get into the Expo. You'll be able to enter the Grand Tasting as soon as it opens and can beat the crowds to your first tasting table. You will also be able to find a better parking spot if you drive to the Expo.

10) If you drive, leave your coat in your car. The coat check room at the Expo is always crowded and you don't want to waste time waiting in line when you could be wine tasting. The parking lots are close enough so you would only be outside for a few minutes without a coat. A New Englander should be able to handle that easily.

11) 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!

12) 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 and the Expo usually has plenty of free water available. All of this will help keep your palate sharp and also try to limit the effect of all that alcohol.

13) Pair some foods with wines while you are there. This will help you better appreciate and understand some of the wines you taste.  Try some McCrea's Candies Caramels and Bubbly. Try some Port and Blue Cheese. There are many possibilities and it is fun to try different wines with different foods.

14) 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. Taking a photo of the label is easy and you'll be very glad later that you have a record of your favorite wines.

15) 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 are 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.

16) At the Expo, consider attending one of the 40 different Wine Seminars as they can be an excellent wine for more directed wine education, in a more intimate setting. You can learn about Champagne and Chianti Classico, Rioja and Burgundy. A few Seminars which sound especially appealing to me include: New England Cider; Sherry for Billionaires and Historians (a chance to taste some very old Sherries); and Decadent & Delicious: Sweet Wines of the World. Buy tickets early though as seating is limited and seminars can sell out.

17) Debuting this year will be a special W?NE Bar,  where you can stop and ask members of the Boston Sommelier Society your wine-related questions as well as get a retrospective of the industry’s past 25 years and what to expect in the next 25 years. This will be an opportunity to ask any of your wine-related questions that might arise at the Expo.

18) Check out one of the free Chef Demos, where you can watch chefs, many local, demonstrate recipes and you often get to sample what they prepare. This can be a fun break from all of your wine tasting and you can see Chefs including Ming Tsai,  Barbara Lynch, Chris Coombs, Louis DiBicarri, and Rachel Klein.

19) For more advanced wine lovers, get a ticket to the Vintners’ Reserve Lounge, a special tasting room for higher end wines, special vintages, as well as unique small production wines. There will be food samples there from a number of local restaurants and this year, you will also be able to indulge your sweet tooth at the 25th anniversary Dessert Bar featuring treats designed to pair with the special wines.

20) Make sure you have fun!


Susan Holaday said...

Some of the best advice one could possibly get - I spent three years just tasting Portuguese wines - so many and so varied and so good. Focusing on a country is very useful if you want to learn the diversity of its offerings and explore them. And spitting is also critical - you don't want to be weaving around a crowded hall and you do want to learn, enjoy and remember!

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Susan. Many people do need some guidance in getting through such a large wine event.