A few days removed from one of Canada's largest wine and food shows, I felt the need to throw a few tips out there to help you get the most out of your next big wine event. I know what you’re thinking... Isn't it as easy as grabbing a glass and tossing back as many samples as you can until you find your favourite? The answer to that is no... Not so much.
1. Read the Map
So at pretty much every wine and food event, show, or festival that I have attended, the organizers almost always put together a rather informative floor map to tell you where each vendor is situated. This is super important especially at the beginning of the show as taking a wrong turn or heading down the wrong isle or getting stuck in the wrong alley can (depending on the show) set you on a path that gets you to everything you don't want, and a long trek away from everything you do want. The maps are also pretty handy when it comes to washrooms and water stations, and believe me, those two things could probably be argued as the most important locations of the evening. Keep in mind that every show is different and some are easier to get around than others, having an idea where your headed at the beginning can really help you when it comes to a few more things I am about to list.
2. Start High! (and maybe don't drink them all...)
This one is a bit simple to understand once someone says it, but seems to be further from common sense than I thought. When you are cruising around the event floor, winery to winery and tasting glass in hand, it is pretty obvious that you will become slightly intoxicated (or maybe not so slightly) by the time you hit a little past the halfway point of your evening... It is usually a long event and there is usually a lot to taste. So that being said, when you start your tastings I always recommend that you give the more premium wines a try first. This does go against some conventional wisdom of starting with lighter wines and working your way to the more full-bodied examples, even though light to full bodied doesn't really have anything to do with quality (contrary to popular belief). If the show you are attending uses a ticket system, for example, and you stop at your first booth to taste their feature wines ranging from 3 tickets per pour to 10 tickets per pour, don't shy away from the 10 ticket wine because it is your first stop -- you will likely be more alert at that point and probably pay a little more attention to what you are tasting. That being said, it is not a bad idea to try more than one wine per booth and work your way into their more expensive wine as they probably have some correlation and you will better understand what makes that high-priced wine worth more. Do this instead of jumping from booth to booth, inevitably comparing apples to oranges, and you may find that you are enjoying more wines than you previously thought. If you really want to try as many wines as possible while staying alert, use those empty chrome cans on the side of each tasting table (they are spit buckets) and I promise we don't get offended.
3. Rinse! Rinse! Rinse!
The most horrifying thing any winemaker or representative will see at any wine event is that person that walks up to them and holds out their glass with that fresh layer of beer foam sticking to the sides of their glass... NO!! You cannot try the Cabernet Sauvignon!! (not until you rinse at least). Another common sense, that isn't so common, is taking the second or two to give your glass a good rinse before taking your next sample. There should be a rinsing station at every sample table no matter which show you attend, and if there is not, make sure you know where they are. Even if you are going from white wine to white wine, or red wine to red wine, give the glass a quick rinse with water and try to start as fresh as possible. The amount of Rosé that I saw walking around at last weekend’s wine event when I knew there was certainly not any Rosé being poured was quite comical. Always remember, there are men and women that get paid very well to blend wines, and even they don't get it right every time.
4. Take Pictures!
This is a tip not to be forgotten. I see countless people take a sip, analyze, and proclaim that it was the best wine they have tasted all day, only to then turn around and walk away to the next vendor, surely forgetting that sip and the wine responsible for it. Unfortunately, there are many instances like this and probably a lot of disappointed people when they head to their local wine shop and try to fumble their way through a description of the wines label, or try to pull some familiar words out that COULD be the first or second word in the wineries name, usually to no avail. One simple answer... CAMERA! We all have one and we all use them, so pull that thing out and snap a quick shot of your favourites so you can enjoy them at home. I have had a few people bring up the usefulness of apps like Vivino and other wonderful wine review and information services. I personally think for the purpose of a wine event or tasting, allow your opinion to be the only factor through the night and stick to using your camera without the aid of an app that will fill your head with a bunch of info that could sway your opinion after tasting something that you enjoyed. This time when you go to your local shop you won’t need to remember anything other than the fact that you loved the wine, and want to buy it!
5. Taste Something New!
The beauty of attending a big wine event is that there is bound to be some wineries that you have never tried. It is also a safe bet that you will see some of your big name favourites; but if you don't have the time, skip some of those in search of something new. The world of wine is such a vast ocean that you have to take every opportunity to discover the new and emerging wineries that are poised to make their mark, and what better place to do it than a room full of winemakers.
If there are also food vendors at the show or festival you attend, try pairing some of the dishes with a few wines. It is not super common to have a plethora of food and wine in one room and what better time to experiment and find something delightful.
Enjoy your next wine show, tasting, or festival everyone.