Tips for maximizing your wine-festival enjoyment

Love them or hate them, there is no denying that wine festivals are a great place to try a lot of bottles under one roof. Whether you are checking out one of the local shows in Calgary like Wine Fest or the Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival, a festival at your local wine store, or even one of the big shows in Vancouver or elsewhere, there are a few tricks or things to know to get the most from your evening.

Have a Plan

First off, make a plan to get home safely. It’s very easy to plan on driving home and planning on having only one or two samples. Unless you are the most disciplined guy or girl heading to the show or an absolute teetotaller, one runs the risk of having one too many. Just make a plan. Trust me, parking is a pain at these shows too. For most shows in Calgary, taking the train is pretty easy and cost-effective.

How to Taste

The key is consistency. Look at the wine; is it clear? Cloudy? Dark in colour or light? Take a sniff. What do you smell: fruits or spices? Take a tiny sip, if you can, and try to draw in a little air into your mouth while the wine is in there too (try not to dribble). How does it taste? Are the flavours appealing and are the tannins just right? Most importantly, are all the flavours in balance? If the wine terminology is a little daunting, feel free to ask the booth attendant what they taste or identify in the wine. Strangely enough, there are a lot of right answers when it comes to describing how something tastes or smells.

Don’t Wear Perfume or Cologne

Seriously, don’t wear it. Here is a great way to think about a personal scent. If it’s expensive, use it sparingly. If it wasn’t, use it even more sparingly. At wine events, cologne or perfume is a major no-no and chances are good you’ll upset a lot of people. If visiting the wine show is only a small portion of your night on the town, put on the man-musk after the wine show.

Taste Strategically

I get it, moving around the room is usually an exercise in getting groped and jostled so planning to only drink whites, then reds, then whatever, is a bit tricky. However, feel free to plan to try a few wines, take a short break, maybe get a bite, and head back to the tables. In addition to pacing yourself, you also get a chance to talk about the wine samples with your friends, but maybe to pair them with a little nibble as well. Hang onto that little tasting book you get as well; at the very least, put a star in the book by things you like.

Don’t touch the water

Just don’t. If you must, while taking your breaks, have a glass or two to stay hydrated, but don’t have water between samples or rinse your glass with water. You are much better off rinsing your glass with a little of the next wine, swirling it around and pouring it into the spittoon. Then, with a little more of the wine you want to taste, go nuts. This should really only be done when moving from red to white and vice versa. Rinsing your glass with ice cold pitcher water adds a lot of odd smells to your wine, chills the glass, and also buggers the pH of the next wine, not letting it taste its best. That said, bottled or filtered water is a much better option than that pitcher.

Ask Questions

It’s a great opportunity to discover a great new wine, beer, or even spirit at these shows. Ask questions — the people most often manning the booth represent those products well and know them back to front. Don’t like it? No problem. Tell them, and they just might be able to find something else right up your alley. Love it? Find out more, they may even be able to tell you some wine shops or liquor store you shop at that may carry it! Several shows now have a “store” on site so you can easily stock up before heading home.

A Word on Etiquette

This piece of advice is not just for wine or drink snobs, but just for the best enjoyment of the evening for everyone. Be polite, ask questions, and engage with the attendant at the booth. Once they pour your sample, step back or allow other patrons to try something. If you are spitting, try to hang out near the spit bucket, but don’t monopolize it — let other people empty their mouths and glasses too. If you take your beverages pretty seriously or need to take notes, gaze at the legs of the wine, or pontificate at length, some wine shows might not be for you, but you might be best showing up earlier or for a less-busy session to give you the time you need to best enjoy yourself.

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