That’s right, fellow wine lovers. Taste Washington, the mother of Washington wine events, is just a couple of days away. The format is simple – two days of education, socializing, great food and glorious wines at the Century Link Events Center. Last week I tapped the expertise of Washington wine’s head honcho for advice on how to how to best enjoy Taste WA. Here’s what Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission, had to say.
Today’s offering polls the masses – a sampler of advice from some of the winemakers and media that will be attending the Big Show. Hey, these guys are professionals so they have to know what they’re doing, right? I’ve sorted their advice into different buckets, the first of which, appropriately, is the spit bucket.
Bucket No. 1 – SPIT, dammit!
“SPIT,” says Zach Brettler of SYZYGY and Anne Schafer of áMaurice, making the point emphatically in capital letters. Others are a little more verbose.
“Spit. If you spit, you can taste more wine, which is the point,” says W. Blake Gray, who writes the outstanding Gray Report and will be a panelist on several seminars this weekend. “You can get drunk easily enough when you’re ready, but it’s more fun to keep fresh longer by taking a little taste, swishing it around your mouth and spitting it out. It still tastes pretty good.”
“Don’t try to see too many wineries; you will never see them all,” says Ron Bunnell of Bunnell Family Cellars. “Spit! Don’t try to drink all the wines. That can be disastrous. Eat! Taste WA has an incredible array of restaurants, more than almost any other wine event of its kind. Drink … plenty of water! Above all, have fun!”
Two Washington wine legends, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon and Gordy Venneri of Walla Walla Vintners, took this whole spitting thing a little farther.
“Hydrate, even if you spit!” Small says. “Drink water throughout the entire event, and then go enjoy dinner in one of Seattle’s many great restaurants.”
“If you want to try a lot of wines ask for a small pour and don’t be afraid to spit on some of the wines,” Venneri says. “You can’t taste them all if you drink everything without spitting.”
And if this whole spitting thing worries you from a social etiquette perspective, fughggedaboutit, says veteran NW wine journalist Chris Nishiwaki.
“I know it is counter to proper table etiquette you’ve been taught,” Nish says. “At wine events spitting is actually the polite thing to do.”
Or you can dump – as in swirl, sniff, taste, spit and then dump the remainder of your glass into the spit bucket. “Dump, dump, dump,” advises Matt Rawn of Two Mountain.
Bucket No. 2: Plan in advance
Nearly all of the experts agree: Plan the work and work the plan.
“Go both days,” says Tom Glase of Balboa Winery. “There are so many wines and so much food that you really need two days. And having a plan and sticking to it is also helpful.”
Glase’s recommendation: Target 20 wineries to visit during the show. “Sure, it’s a lot, but probably doable if you have food and water,” he says. “Don’t try and do them all. Palate fatigue will keep you from the truth.”
Advance planning can make a huge difference at Taste Washington.
Ron Bunnell agrees. “Plan out a course through the hall that will get you to your favorite wineries first. Remember, the most popular and ‘cult’ wineries often pour out early. Pick maybe 15-20 wineries for this first assault. Take them in order, progressing across the hall. During this progression, make notes on wineries you would like to visit on the return journey. Hey, it’s all good exercise.”
Matt Rawn suggests a slightly different approach. “Be like Phish and ‘Bounce around the Room,'” he says. “The stupid hall typically is arranged in alphabetical order so it can be confusing. Start wherever and wander. Listen to the other attendees as to what is blowing their hair back and don’t be afraid to go try a suggestion.”
Plan ahead, recommends Yashar Shayan, superstar somm who formerly was wine director at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island and now is launching a new venture at ImpulseWine.com.
“A few days before Taste WA, go to their website and look at the list of participating wineries and other vendors you might be interested in,” Shayan says. “Make a game plan of which ones you want to go to for sure. Ask yourself which ones are going to be most popular and get to them first before the lines build up and they run out of the good juice.”
“Check the list of participating wineries and create a schedule,” advises Ashley Bruton of Skylite Cellars. “Give yourself a plan of attack or else you may find yourself making circles or worse missing those wineries you don’t normally have a chance to taste on the West side.”
“Have a couple goals for the event, otherwise it kind of all blurs together,” says Clive Pursehouse of Northwest Wine Anthem. “Think about goals that you’d like to come away from Taste Washington with, and “buzzed” probably shouldn’t be on that list.”
Bucket No. 3: Expand your horizons
Open your eyes to new experiences at Taste WA.
“You already know your favorites, so why pay $85 to taste them again,” Matt Rawn says. “Instead, why not incorporate new (to you) wineries into your repertoire? There are a lot of really, REALLY good wineries in the state … both well known and unknown. Use this as a chance to educate yourself on us and where we are from, but educate us on what you like. Basically, step out of your comfort zone; you may be surprised!!
“Don’t just go around trying all the same wineries you’ve already had and know are good,” Yashar Shayan says. “Go and try some you’ve never heard of. If you run into some friends or acquaintances, be sure and ask them if they’ve had anything they feel is a ‘must’ try. I’ve do this all the time, and I’m surprise at how often I’ll get the same answer from a lot of different people, and I figure if multiple people are raving about it, then that’s one worth trekking to!”
“It’s impossible to try all the wines and the tendency is to go for the popular and/or expensive producers,” Chris Nishiwaki says. “Fight that urge and try wines you haven’t tried before. There will be wines at Taste WA that will not be available elsewhere. Take advantage of the opportunity.”
Bucket No. 4: The random bucket
“Ask questions and engage. Wineries are more than happy to pour, but it’s nice to know people aren’t there just to get drunk on ‘free’ wine.” (Matt Rawn)
“We stopped attending a few years back. It is a drunk-fest, in our opinion.” (Anonymous winemaker from Eastern WA)
“Don’t go and start tasting on an empty stomach, especially if you’re not one for spitting. Sample a few snacks first, before hitting up the vino.” (Yashar Shayan)
Bucket No. 5: Matt Dodson’s mom
A whole bunch of winemakers, bloggers and media folks respond to my call for advice, and perhaps my favorite responses came from Matt Dodson, the assistant winemaker at Alexandria Nicole Cellars. Well, not from Matt, technically. But from his mom.
Mother knows best when it comes to Taste WA!
“My mother asked me what I was doing on the computer before we ate dinner, and then offered some advice of her own,” Matt says. “It’s interesting since she is more on the consumer side and I was thinking of it from an industry standpoint.” So, without further ado, take it away, Mom:
“So many wines, so little time … so pace yourself.”
“It’s like taking a wine tour without needing to drive your car and spend money on gas.”
“There’s no way you can try everything and still have taste buds left at the end of the day. So focus on wines you’ve never heard of or never had before.”
“300 wines and 200 restaurants … I’ve died and gone to heaven!” (Actually, there are more than 225 wineries pouring north of 800 wines and 60 restaurants. But who’s counting, Mom, particularly after the first hour.)
“Sip and spit, sip and spit. You’ll last longer that way!”
“Talk to the winery staff manning the tables. You learn a lot about wines and they are such nice people!”
“Have fun. Wine and food is about enjoying yourself, so just go with the flow.”
Etcetera , Etcetera, Etcetera
Want more? Check out Taste WA previews on Washington Wine Report, Northwest Wine Anthem and Wine Peeps.