Optimizing your Wine Festival Experiences

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by Cole Danehower | Photo © Seattle Wine & Food Experience

Wine festival season starts early in the Northwest. Well, actually, it’s always wine festival season in the Northwest. Regardless of the time of year, somewhere someone is celebrating wine in this part of the country.

With so much festive imbibing, how does one decide which festivals to attend, and how do you get the best out of them?

First, decide what sort of wine experience you want. Are you desirous of a vinous diversion, or would you prefer a little enological learning?

Some festivals focus on the fun factor. The Seattle Wine & Food Experience, for example, is a famously fun fest. Grab some friends, do some booth hopping, maybe buy a bottle for dinner, and don’t give the wines much thought beyond “Does this taste good?”
Other wine events are structured to help you learn more about wine (but with plenty of opportunities for fun as well). Perhaps they’re themed around a geographical region, or a particular grape or wine style, and the event centers around tasting, not drinking. Taste Washington and the International Pinot Noir Celebration are top examples.

Whichever wine festival style you’re going for, a few guidelines are vital to getting full enjoyment of the event. The most important guideline should really be an ironclad rule: Always sip and spit. The corollary should also rule: Never gulp and drink.

Nobody likes to hear this advice. It’s the one wine rule non-wine professionals stubbornly refuse to observe. “I don’t want to waste the wine,” people say. Or, “that’s so undignified and messy.”

Whether you’re a serious sipper trying to understand a wine’s terroir, or a casual quaffer wanting to find the wine that tastes best, you’re still dealing with alcohol. Wine is an intoxicant and the more you consume the less in control of yourself you become.
And, when you sip and spit, you’ll be able to taste more wines, because you won’t get so blotto so quickly that you can’t taste any further. Not only that, when you spit at a more serious wine event, you’re identifying yourself as a serious wine person—and the pouring wineries take notice of that, often granting you access to “something special” from under the table.

You should also designate a non-drinking driver (I shouldn’t have to explain why). And, if your goal is to learn about wine, take a pencil and notebook for notes—maybe even a smartphone so you can take images of wine labels. It doesn’t take too long tasting different wines before they start to blur in your mind, so having a record you can consult later is always a smart move.

Armed with this advice, now is the time to start planning your 2015 wine event visits. Above are a few favorites from the dozens of wine festivals in each category.