Tuesday, January 3, 2017

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 intimidating dilemma? What other advice should you know about attending such a huge wine event?

Let me provide some advice and suggestions.

The annual Boston Wine Expo will be held during President’s Day weekend, February 18 & 19, at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. Thousands of local wine lovers will attend this event and many would likely benefit from advice for maximizing their enjoyment and education during this large-scale wine event. Even if you have attended the Expo before, you might find some valuable suggestions here.

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 and tasted. 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. Take some time and make a plan. I've attended numerous of these Expos and, based on my experience, I'll help you make an informed plan so you can best enjoy the Expo.

Initial Planning

1) Your first decision needs to be which events you want to attend at the Expo, whether the Grand Tasting, Vintners' Reserve Lounge, and/or the Seminars. You can purchase your tickets online here. Take some time and examine the Boston Wine Expo website and look at which events most appeal to you. I can even provide you a special Promo Code: BloggerTaste17 (not case sensitive), which will provide you a 10% discount if you buy your tickets between January 4 and January 18.

2) It is important to realize that each year the Boston Wine Expo contributes a portion of their proceeds to a local charity and this year the major charitable benefactor will be the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center’s Summer Camp Program for Children with Disabilities. To date, the Boston Guild of Oenophilists has raised over $1.4 million for worthy causes. So you can feel good, knowing that some of the money you pay for your tickets will go to help children in need.

3) The Grand Tasting is the main event, where the 200+ wineries showcase nearly 2000 wines. This is the most popular of the events and the one that will most likely appeal to you. You can go on Saturday or Sunday, or get a Weekend Pass which allows you access on both days. If you can only go one day, I recommend going to Sunday to avoid the largest crowd. Saturdays are usually the busiest day at the Expo. Sunday will still be busy but the crowds are much more manageable. If you want to spoil yourself, opt for the VIP Experience, giving you an early VIP entrance, some swag, and more.

4) For more advanced wine lovers, I'd recommend tickets to the Vintners’ Reserve Lounge, a special tasting room for higher end wines, special vintages, as well as unique small production wines. There will also be food samples there from a number of local restaurants. It is a more intimate event, albeit pricier, and you will taste some amazing wines.

5) Whether you opt for the Grand Tasting or Vintners' Reserve Lounge, you should consider attending one or more of the 35 different Wine Seminars as they can be an excellent choice for more directed wine education in a more intimate setting. You can learn about Port and Chianti Classico, Riesling and Champagne. A few Seminars which sound especially appealing to me include: Fun With Food & Wine Matching, Back To The Future With Georgian Wine, and Decadent & Delicious-Sweet Wines of the World. There are even some spirit-based Seminars, such as The Art of Japanese Whiskey and Gin--From Bathtub To Bottle To Your Glass. Buy tickets early though as seating is limited and seminars can sell out.

6) If attending the Grand Tasting, the sheer number of wines available for tasting, nearly 2000, is intimidating. To make the most of your time at the Expo, you shouldn't just show up at the Expo and wander around tasting wine. You'll probably miss plenty of wines you wished you had tasted. Instead, I strongly recommend that you make a plan beforehand, deciding 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. Check the list of Participating Exhibitors to see which wineries will be at the Expo and select a number you want to visit.

7) When choosing which winery tables to visit, I also recommend that you 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. Never had Greek wines, they check out their wines made from grapes like Xynomavro and Agioritiko. 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.

8) In the near future, prior to the Expo, I will post an article with my own recommendations for wines you should check out. That will give you some suggestions to help you expand your palate and try some different wines, hoping you'll find some new favorites. For example, at last year's Expo, thirteen of the wines I tasted ended up as some of my Top Favorite Wines of 2016.

Pre-Expo Preparation

9) 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!!

10) Eat a hearty breakfast or lunch before going to the Expo. If you are going to be tasting all that wine, you should 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 relatively full belly before you even get there.

11) 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 up, 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. Those high heels might be beautiful, but standing on them for four or five hours could be painful, and dangerous if you get too tipsy.

12) Please 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. It is very important for a number of attendees to be able to smell the aromas within the wines. That becomes so much more difficult when a strong perfume or cologne clouds their sense of smell. So please show consideration for your fellow attendees and don't wear it.

13) 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.

14) At the Expo, you'll be able to pick up a free plastic bag which can be used to hold any pamphlets, maps, books, business cards, souvenirs, and other items you acquire. However, you might want to bring your own bag instead, maybe a cloth bag, something which has a strap which can rest easily on your shoulder and you won't mind carrying for several hours. The plastic bags you get at the Expo generally must be held in your hand and can't be easily carried on your shoulder. I prefer to have my hands free at the Expo if possible.

15) Arrive at the Expo early so you can beat the the long lines 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 are driving to the Expo. Opting for the VIP Experience is another way to gain early VIP entrance.

16) 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 at most without a coat. A New Englander should be able to handle that easily.

At The Expo

17) 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! At the very least, minimize the amount of wines you swallow and spit out the rest.

18) 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.

19) Carry some napkins in your pocket. They will help if you spill any wine, letting you quickly blot up such a spill. In addition, your wine glass is likely to get a little sticky after you've tasted a number of wines and a napkin can help clean off your glass for continued tasting. Plus, if you nibble on some food, an extra napkin can come in handy.

20) 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.

21) 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.

22) Pair some food with some of the wines you taste. This will help you better appreciate and understand some of the wines you taste. If you taste some dessert wines, find some sweet foods to pair with them. Try pairing cheese with various wines to determine which pairings you like best. It can be important with some tannic wines to pair them with food, such as meat dishes, to better appreciate how they are best enjoyed. There are many possibilities and it is fun to try different wines with different foods.

23) Check out one of the free Chef Demos, held on two different stages, 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 some excellent local Chefs. For example, you can see Bing Lu and Preston Miller of the new Peruvian/Asian restaurant RUKA, Johnny Sheehan of Liquid Art House, David Becker of Sweet Basil/Juniper, Justin Winters of Cinquecento Roman Trattoria, and more.

24) Bring cash/debit card/credit card with you just in case you want to purchase anything at the Expo. There will be some food vendors selling their items, as well as other lifestyle vendors, selling everything from jewelry to magazines. Some of these vendors offer special deals for Expo attendees so you can save some money off their regular prices.

25) Most importantly, make sure you have fun!


Sue said...

Excellent advice not just for newebies but for all attendees! I agree that a plan is essential. I spent two years tasting only Portuguese wines because they were so diverse and I wanted to learn more about them. I probably will try more this year, along with those of several other countries I haven't decided on yet. Keep it simple and you will learn more and have a great experience.

Beachloving Goddess said...

Yes, I second these comments. This year's Expo was the second time I attended the event and enjoyed it so much more. Why? Because I had a plan and wasn't overwhelmed by the sheer number of vendors. I concentrated only on a small number of countries/wine producers and was then able to sample the foods offered and even take in a food presentation. HINT: we were expecting to wait in line to get in, arriving about 15 minutes before the "official start" time but they let us walk right in. The morning had been open to Trade so the doors were already open and the vendors set up. It was so much less crowded than at 3 p.m. so I heartily recommend arriving EARLY (and bring your own tote bag as only the VIP customers were handed an Expo bag.)