Tasting Alert! This week the Vancouver International Wine Festival is upon us, in all its glory. Winefest is amazing: it’s rightly hailed as one of the best of its kind anywhere. Just ask the people who spend their lives going to these kinds of events around the world.
It’s also big.
For first timers, even just walking into the Acura International Tasting at the Vancouver Convention Centre can be a truly daunting experience.
It doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to make the most of those three hours.
1. Decide why you’re there
• Make a tasting plan. If you want to treat your palate gently, you can always start out with whites for the first hour before moving to reds. Or, if you like to mix things up, take a ‘bubble break’ half way through. Taste some sparkling wines. There’s a plethora of Prosecco on hand this year.
• Set a couple of hours aside to study the tasting room guide (find it here under Festival News) before you go, and make a short list of your ‘targets.‘
• Focus on a region.
• Taste beyond what you know.
2. Track down the principals
One feature that has always set the Vancouver International Wine Festival apart is the insistence that a winery principal be in attendance. It’s one of the most undervalued aspects of the festival. After all, what could be more interesting, educational and, above all, fun than tasting with the very person who made the wine or owns the winery?
Here’s one of my favourites (back again this year): The ‘Prof’, Brian Lynn of Majella…
Train yourself to watch for the principals’ badges and make a bee-line for them.
3. Draw up a budget
If you’re planning to buy wine (and why wouldn’t you?) decide ahead of time how much you want / can afford to spend. Little known fact: if you buy a case of wine at the festival store you can have it shipped free of charge to your local BC Liquor Store to pick up later. And, should you absolutely fall in love with something to the tune of wanting a case, this year you can order it right at the tasting table without even having to worry about the store. Not a bad plan, especially if you find that perfect ‘house wine.’
4. Learn new stuff
The seven, specially themed Regional Tasting Stations are your best friends. Not only will you always learn something new, they’re also the most efficient way to compare wines and varieties from a specific region. For instance, the easiest way to understand Valpolicella is to head right to the tasting station. Then work your way through a quick flight of Valpolicella Classico and Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto—from the likes of Bolla, Bottega, Cantina Negrar, Cesari, Monte delFrà, Montresor, Pasqua and Zonin.
This year’s tasting table themes are: Savour Australia • Wines of British Columbia • Chianti Classico • Organic and Biodynamic Wines • New Zealand Wines • Valpolicella • BC Liquor Stores
5. Eat before you go
Even though you’ll be spitting (see nbr.10), you’ll still be absorbing a fair amount of alcohol. Personally, I like pub food. A short walk from the Convention Centre, The TC Pub is a good bet (and fave hang-out for lots of industry types and their guests). Or head for the St. Regis and a plate of the Yorkshire pudding sliders.
6. Take cabs or free transit
Don’t even think about tasting and driving. If you want to avoid the taxi rush at the end, seriously consider spending time with your notes over a coffee—or cleansing ale.
7. Dress comfortably
Even though some people think it is, it’s not a fashion show. You are on a mission. Wear good walking shoes and loose clothing with lots of pockets or bring a bag for your program and tasting sheets you might pick up. Make sure your phone’s charged for those label pics… And make a note of what you like and why.
8. Step away from the tasting table
Successful ‘power’ tasting is all about being able to get around the room easily. Remember to make way for others as soon as you have your pour.
9. Don’t pollute!
Wine is as much about smell as taste. There’s nothing worse than being overwhelmed by someone’s aftershave or perfume. Make this a scent-free day, at all costs.
Train yourself to follow a strict “Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Spit” tasting pattern with every wine you try and you’ll soon become regimented. And yes, if you want to make it to the end, spitting—everything, well, almost everything—is the only way to go.
Follow me @hiredBelly on Twitter and Instagram. I’ll be tweeting and posting my ‘finds’ at several tastings during the week. Many of those wines will be in the tasting room, so you can include them in your plan.