Acing a Walk-Around Tasting
Everything you always wanted to know about wine and food events but were afraid to ask.
An increasingly popular form of entertainment for people interested in learning more about wine and food is the walk-around tasting. Smaller than an industry trade show, but larger than a wine or food class, these now often feature dozens of restaurants and 200 to 300 different wines and spirits. You not only get to sample a wide range of tastes, but you also get to watch chefs prepare their signature dishes, and you can chat with winemakers and spirit producers. But how do you get the most out of this cornucopia, without becoming overwhelmed? Here are some tips to help you navigate the wine and food highway, planning your route in advance, so you know when and where to stop.
Review the tasting booklet beforehand (Look for it online, or, if not available, skim through it quickly once you arrive.)
Plot a course of action, going from light to heavy (see below).
Select those stations which are of special interest, note the table numbers and location, and outline your route in advance.
Sign up for the VIP Session or arrive early. (Many of these tastings offer a special VIP session. Although it’s more expensive, this session is less crowded, and in addition to pouring special and rare vintages, there is plenty of food, there are no lines, and you get to talk to the people behind the table in a more relaxed fashion. )
If you’re set on the regular session, then make sure to arrive early. At popular events, the line starts forming 15–30 minutes before it opens, since several people want to be the first in the door. Even though restaurants prepare adequate amounts of food, the most popular stations are heavily hit, and inevitably some run out.
At a wine/spirit table: Take advantage of the person behind the table—a representative of the producer, importer, distributor, or even the winemaker himself—and ask questions that might not appear either on the winery’s Web site or in the printed giveaways. Find out how much the bottle costs, where you can buy it in your city, what food pairings they recommend.
At a restaurant table: Chat up the chef. See if the restaurant has any special wine events, and any special wine and food paired menus. Ask more personal questions as well: how the Chef became interested in cooking in the first place, where he or she trained, or what is his or her favorite dish and why.
Listen to word of mouth/Twitter recommendations.
Remember, the point of a walk-around tasting is to be adventurous and to get the widest possible range of experiences. On your first spin around the floor, don’t limit yourself to what you already know; save the familiar dishes and beverages for later.
Put your new skills to to the test at Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town tasting events in five cities in 2010. April 8, Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, GA; April 22: War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA; May 6: The Field Museum, Chicago, IL; May 24: Lincoln Center, New York, NY; June 11: The National Building Museum, Washington, DC. toastofthetown. com.