The Grand Tasting is the big finale of the Taste Washington experience and I do mean BIG! Here are our Top Ten Tips to help you enjoy the Taste Washington Grand Tasting to the fullest. It has evolved over it’s 19 years into a two day venture in the almost cavernous Century Link Field Event Center. Featuring over 230 wineries and 65 restaurants, in addition to special lounges and event areas and vendors; the Grand Tasting can be exciting, overwhelming, daunting, exhausting and one heck of a good time. I have evolved with the Grand Tasting, at least my hair is a lot grayer since the first time I went to Taste Washington! I like to think that I have learned a thing or two with all of those grey hairs. This certainly isn’t the only survival guide you will find for Taste Washington but I hope these Top Ten Tips will help you avoid some of the mistakes that I have made over the years and help make 2016 Taste Washington Grand Tasting your best ever!
2- Have a Plan of Attack
3- Talk (& Listen) & Taste
4 – Hydrate
5- Camera Capture
6- Portable Phone Charger
7- Its Hip To Spit
8 – Protect your Palate
9- EAT, Drink and be Merry
10-Leave the Driving to Someone Else
Comfort at Taste Washington
You may think it is silly that I am putting this at top of the list. However if you are sweating in the crowds, trying to juggle your wine glass, your food tray, your swag bag, your large designer tote bag and your heavy coat while wincing at the blisters that your fabulous new shoes have given you; you probably are not having a good time.
- SHOES: It is hard cement floors that you will be traipsing over. There will be thin runner carpets placed on aisle ways but they don’t offer much support. I don’t mean you need to wear your tennis shoes. I used to have heels I could wear anywhere all day and I also had heels that were for show, not for walking. You need your best walking shoes. This is NOT the day to test drive a new pair of shoes for anyone – guy or gal. There are a lot of aisles to explore!
- CLOTHES: It can get HOT and crowded. Make sure that you are prepared. Only you know how you react in that situation and dress accordingly. Getting too hot will make you dehydrated faster at Taste. Take advantage of the coat check. It is well worth the line to save the hassle of juggling your coat and wine glass in a crowd.
- SEATING: There is limited seating opportunities at the Grand Tasting. If you have health issues and need time off your feet you have several options. If you are an Alaskan Airline credit card holder, you have access to their VIP lounge. Attend one the great chef demos to learn something new. Get to the Grand Tasting early with your friends to snag one of the coveted seating spaces.
There is no way to do it all at the Grand Tasting, not even if you are doing the VIP 2-day pass, that is why every single guide to Taste Washington will tell you to have a plan. Go to the 2016 Taste Washington Event Guide to browse or download the 48 pages of goings on. Some people like to plan to focus on a certain varietal, vineyard or AVA. Others just plan to make sure to hit the long established rock stars of the Washington Wine world. Another great plan is pick one thing you want to learn more about like Riesling or Food and red wine pairing. You can start with a seminar before the tasting and continue through with wine and food tastings, chef demos etc.
Talk AND Taste at the Grand Tasting
Don’t be afraid to throw out parts of your plan. Yep, you heard me right, Plans are a great idea, I always bring one to Taste Washington but I keep my ears open. Listen to what others are enjoying. The most popular wines will pour out quickly. You may not want to miss Sean Sullivan’s favorite wine of the day or the food pairing Chris Nishiwaki raved about. There will be screens streaming social media hashtag #TasteWA for suggestions. from them and many others. The wine makers and their volunteers are going to be really busy this weekend. It’s really important and just plain courteous not to hog their time and tie up their line with a lot if questions. However if there is a lull and no one is behind you, and you are really enjoying one of their wines:
- ask them what other wines do they think you would enjoy (their own or someone else with a similar style and fruit)
- what other of their wines are they excited about (sometimes they have something under the table – a barrel sample, reserve, or library wine they will offer to only a few people).
Drink water before during and after the Grand Tasting. Your palate will thank me during the Grand Tasting and your head will thank me afterwards. Even if you don’t get hungover, its really easy to get a simple dehydration headache from drinking alcohol in a crowded event space. The Grand Tasting has a centrally located water station and water bottles will be easy to grab-to-go on your way out.
It is always tricky to try to remember all of the great food and wine that you taste at Taste Washington. Some people try to write it down in a notebook but then it can feel like you are spending more time writing than enjoying what you are tasting. Been there, done that! I have tried the same thing taking notes on my phone and iPad, same problem.Others will collect business cards and wine/food descriptions if they are available. The business cards won’t have the specifics about the wine nor the dish that you enjoyed so much unless you take the time to write it down. You will find specific write ups on maybe 25% or less of the wines because most people aren’t that interested in the specifics of most wines. This is where a camera can be your best friend. Bottles will be on display and you can quickly take a picture of the bottle label.
Capturing a picture of the food with the details you want to remember can be a little bit trickier. If at all possible, try to take a picture of the dish next to a description and name of the restaurant. If that isn’t available, I will take two pictures: one of the dish and another that helps me identify the name of the dish and restaurant. Sometimes that is a picture of the chef standing in front of the restaurant sign, a distinctive logo or napkins next to the sign describing the dish. The goal is take pictures that will help remember that it was Dungeness Crab dish from The Kalaloch Lodge that you loved so much and want to take your college room mate to when they come to town.
Taking pictures can help you remember the details but please be considerate of those behind you. You will want to take a quick picture and move out of the way. It can be a dangerous thing to get between people and their food/wine 😛
Portable battery charger for Grand Tasting
If you are going to follow tip #5, especially with your camera, you are going to want to bring a FULLY CHARGED portable battery charger and charging cable with you. Taking pictures can really drain your battery. Every year, I see people crouched around electric outlets trying to charge their devices. That takes too long, is uncomfortable and that really isn’t how you want to spend your time at Grand Tasting is it? If you don’t already have one, you can pick up a lipstick size portable size battery charger for about $10 that will quickly recharge your phone. Slightly larger battery chargers have the power to recharge cameras and tablets.
It’s Hip to Spit
There aren’t too many other places outside the schoolyard where you will hear that it is hip to spit but a wine event is one of them. Spitting allows you to taste more wines and I mean REALLY taste the wines. Too much alcohol will of course make you drunk but even before then it starts to numb your tongue. I don’t mean that you necessarily need to spit out every sip like the pros do but if you haven’t tried the sip-spit routine at a tasting, I strongly encourage that you give it a try to see how much more you can end up tasting over the course of the afternoon. If you are nervous about how to do it without looking like a fool or having wine running down your chin, check out Leslie Kelly’s brief article and video about spitting at wine tastings like Taste Washington’s Grand Tasting.
Protect Your Palate
Spitting as you sip is the traditional way to protect your palate. Staying hydrated can help as well but one of the best ways is BEER!
- Beer – Beer is a great palate cleanser. That is why Pike Brewery has been a part of Taste Washington for years and Stella Artois has a beer lounge where you can recharge your palate and pick up an iconic glass.
- Drinking order – In the “official” wine rule book, it states drink white wines before red, delicate to bold and dry to sweet to preserve your palate. That works really well when you are planning a dinner party but that could a be a LOT of running back and forth Century Link Event Center. Even when I am in a smaller space and I am faced with judging 40 wines I still mix it up a little because I can get palate fatigue with 20+ Cabs. Consider doing the whites you were planning on tasting of one aisle or winery or corner of the event space then go back and try the reds. Use a cracker or something to clear your palate before going from big reds to delicate whites. You’ll get a better sense of comparison between the different wines when you drink similar ones in roughly the same time frame.
- Food – So much great food to enjoy at Taste Washington to make your taste buds sing but there might be times when you want to calm things down a bit or switch gears. Check out the cheese trays for crackers and white bread as classic palate cleansers. Tortilla chips provide salt and fat that will help vegetarians reset the tannic grippiness of the big reds. Meat lovers can look for rare beef for the same relief.
Food pairing – Don’t assume that the foods served next to the wineries are made to pair with wines. The wines being poured will vary, if there isn’t a line ask the winemaker or volunteer if they have a recommendation. A whole bunch of “rules” apply to the art and science of wine and food pairing just like the drinking order of wine. Part of the fun is breaking the rules BUT your mouth will thank you if remember at least this one:
Don’t pair your wine with food that is sweeter than the wine!
Even though Baer Winery’s table is right close to the dessert section, if you pair the Baer 2015 Stillwater Creek Vineyard, Unoaked Shard Chardonnay with a cupcake you will not be happy. Individually they are delicious, but once they are paired, the cupcake and the wine will bring out the worst in each other and mess up your mouth. YUCK! Some of the delicious food at Taste Washington will be best served and savored with a cup of coffee from the Fonté Coffee Lounge. Give yourself a break from the wine and give yourself a chance to REALLY enjoy that luscious dessert like it was meant to be. NOTE: Some sweeter dessert wines can be found on the White Wine Table next to the Oyster and Chowder Area which is close to the Dessert section. As I mentioned above, don’t assume that was tabled together will taste good together. Hogue Cellars 2014 Late Harvest Riesling will NOT taste good with those oysters nor will those oysters taste very good after a sip of dessert wine.
What grows together, goes together but things that are placed next to each in an event don’t necessarily make each other taste better!
EAT, Drink and be Merry!
Taste Washington is the biggest regional FOOD and wine event in the country. It’s not a speed drinking nor even a marathon drinking event. Take the time to really enjoy the different tasty treats from the 65 restaurants at Taste Washington, there is a lot of delectable and delicious delights to indulge in. Regale in the bounty of the great Pacific Northwest from beautiful, briny local oysters to artisan cheeses reflecting the terroir from when the animal grazed to the burgeoning spring vegetables to our amazing salmon.
Leave the driving to someone else (AKA Don’t add a DUI ticket to your Grand Tasting ticket)
Reasons abound for letting someone else handle the driving for Grand Tasting:
Parking is crazy expensive, Seattle traffic is NO one’s friend and we won’t even go into the details about the expense, drama and danger of Driving Under the Influence and adding a DUI ticket to your Grand Tasting ticket.
Thankfully, there are a number of options to ensure you get to and from the event safely with your loved ones:
- Carpool/Designated Driver – Lots of benefits to going to Taste Washington with your herd. You can snag a table, sample each other’s wine, save on parking and play rock-paper-scissors to determine the designated driver who is going to stop drinking early. Another idea is to exchange favors with that soccer mom neighbor with a mini van to drop off and pick your group up. Promise to buy her a really great bottle of wine or offer to take her kids next weekend.
- Public transportation – Light rail and public bus tunnel stations are located just blocks away from the Century Link Field Event Center for convenient and safe transportation.
- Taxi/Car Service – Phone numbers for taxi services will be posted at the Grand Tasting. Expect potential surge pricing for Uber and Lyft services but it will still save you time, hassle and quite possibly money.
- Hotel Packages – Turn your Grand Tasting afternoon into an overnight or weekend. Visit Seattle has worked with Seattle hotels to create an assortment of hotel packages that might include wine, meals and transportation, as well as lodging at a variety of price points. Click here to see which hotel package may best meet your needs.