Get the most out of a wine tasting event & enjoy it like a pro, without getting tipsy
Food and wine tasting events and festivals, where various wineries and restaurants serve small tasting portions of their best stuff, are now held regularly throughout the year. My fellow foodies and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a great opportunity to sample a variety of foods, wine, spirits and beers, learn, and find new favorites. Some of the Central Florida food and wine tasting events with a permanent spot on my calendar include the Swan & Dolphin Food & Wine Classic, Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, Wine Quest and Portofino Bay’s Harbor Nights. Last year I attended Clearwater Beach Uncorked, a fun food and wine tasting event held right on the beach (toes in the sand everyone!) and I can’ t wait to return this year. What could be better than sipping wine at the beach in the middle of winter?
At these events you have the opportunity to taste anywhere from 20 to 100 wines, spirits and beers, so they can get a little crazy if you don’t do it right. More wines are being poured than what you can comfortably taste, plus the crowds and the size of the space can be overwhelming. I’ve attended and participated in many of these over the years so here are my tips to enjoy wine tasting events like a pro.
1. Have a game plan
Accept the fact you will not be able to taste it all, no matter how much you want to. A little planning goes a long way in ensuring you get the most out of the event. Do your research. If there is a guide map, use it. Check out the event website in advance and look for a participants list. Determine which wines you’re interested in tasting. Visit the tables with higher rated popular wines first and beat the crowd. Unless wines are placed alphabetically, the really good stuff is sometimes in the back of the room. I always avoid the bottleneck at the tables near the entrance. Start from the back of the room and work your way around. Avoid jumping from one side of the room to the other as you can miss some really good wines wasting time fighting your way through the crowd.
2. Be Social
Expect lines. This is not a sign of a poorly managed event, unless lines are so long when you get to the front they are out of product. Do keep in mind it is normal for product to run out towards the end of the night, especially the most popular items, which is why tip #1 is so important. Use your time in line to socialize. Make new friends. You already have the love of food and wine in common, why not? Don’t focus on getting to the front of the line or you will be miserable. Please don’t complain about the long lines. No one wants to be standing next to that guy.
3. Make Friends with the Wine Reps
Wine reps are there to showcase their product. In some cases, the winemaker may be the one pouring. Ask questions, chat and show your appreciation for their product but keep in mind there are people behind you. Don’t be a chatty Cathy that monopolizes their time and slows down the line. Share your honest feedback and be respectful. If you love the wine, tell them. They are human beings, and like all of us, they want to know their hard work is appreciated. If you don’t like the wine, tell them it is not to your preference and why. They may have another varietal that is more to your liking. Saying “this wine sucks” is simply not nice. Sadly, I have seen this too many times. Don’t forget your manners. Being kind to the person pouring and showing interest in the wine will likely get you a nicer pour, a taste from a “secret stash” or even an invitation to visit the winery.
4. Tasting Order
I don’t follow this as a hard rule, however, it does make for a better tasting experience if you start with lighter wines, then move to heavier reds and end with dessert wines. Sparkling wines are my favorite to start and end the evening. Nothing sets the tone of the night like bubbly, plus it’s a great palate cleanser. You may also choose to only drink certain varietals first, for example all chardonnays or all pinot noirs, just keep an eye on the lines as you may not be able to make it back to a certain wine producer’s table.
5. Know your limits
A traditional glass of wine is 5-6 ounces and pours at wine tasting events are usually 1 ounce. Do the math. If you’re drinking the full pour, plan on tasting no more than 10 to 15 wines. This is not only responsible but also scientific. Your taste buds may not be able to process much more than that. Pick and choose wisely. Any wine pro will tell you, it is recommended to use the spit bucket and spit out most of the wines you taste. I know this may be difficult when you’ve paid for a high-priced ticket, however it will allow you to taste more wines and then go back and get a larger pour of the wines you really like. You want to remember the event fondly, don’t you? Oh, a note of warning on the spit bucket: don’t spit into a full bucket or you will likely get splashed. Not fun!
6. Try Something New
Tasting events are the perfect opportunity to find a new favorite. Ask for a small pour to taste and if it’s not to your liking spit out and pour out the rest of your glass. Don’t feel obligated to drink everything in your glass. In fact, it is not a good idea to do so (see #5). Remember, these are tasting events so don’t ask for a heavier pour, particularly if it is your first taste and you’re unsure of the wine. Wine reps don’t mind you pouring out wine but don’t be wasteful.
7. Take Notes
If you like a wine, use your phone to snap pictures of the wine label and take notes as you go along. Trust me. You will not remember one wine from another the next time you go to the wine store. Something as simple as putting a star next to the name of the ones you like and a minus next to the ones you don’t, helps, a lot. There are apps to help you with that too.
8. Eat & Drink
Eating is an important part of food and wine tasting events. The food rarely disappoints. You may have the opportunity to meet the chefs and sample from great restaurants in the area to find a new spot to add to your “must eat” list. Ask the chefs and wine purveyors for their recommended food and wine pairings to help you recreate at home. It’s also important to stay hydrated. It’s easy to forget to drink water when there is so much wine (beer and spirits) to drink. A rule of thumb is to drink one glass of water per glass of wine. It will also help cleanse your palate between tastings and avoid purple teeth from the red wine.
9. Turn the Event into a Getaway
Why not make an evening or a weekend getaway out of the experience? Usually these events are held in nice hotels or venues with hotels nearby. If you do ultimately end up getting tipsy, it’s nice to be able to just get a cab and a hotel room and enjoy the night safely. The following morning you can share a nice breakfast and review your favorites of the night.
I hope to see you at Clearwater Beach Uncorked or one of the other upcoming food and wine tasting events. I will be the one juggling a camera with food in one hand and wine glass in the other.
Do you have any tips for enjoying food and wine tasting events? Please share them in the comments below. If you have any questions, just ask.