Below is a list of things that I thought worked well and didn’t at this year’s Taste of Washington. I enjoyed this year’s event as much if not more than any I have attended in the past. Part of this was due to familiarity with the event and going in with the expectation that we would not be able to get to many wineries we wanted to visit. Focusing on the quality of the experience at each table rather than succumbing to the almost irresistible pull to stop by as many wineries as possible also made for a more enjoyable experience.

What worked
Wines – The opportunity to sample an enormous array of Washington wine in one sitting is a unique experience. With over 200 wineries large and small, you can explore an unlimited number of wines you might not otherwise have a chance to try and decide if you want to buy a wine or visit the winery in the future. Many wineries were pouring wines that had not yet been released. Sampling so many wines together also allows for fascinating side by side comparisons. This is one of my favorite things as each wine draws out something in the other.

Winemakers – As in previous years, many of the tables were staffed by winemakers. This provided an opportunity to put a face to the winery and spend time talking about their wines.

The crowd – The event seemed less crowded than in previous years.This actually made for a more enjoyable experience. Fewer people allowed for free movement around the floor, easier access to wine tables, and fewer lines. These have been issues in the past. It also meant that if you did stop to talk to the people at the tables, you weren’t creating an angry mob behind you. Interestingly, one of the stores I talked to that was selling tickets said that they sold many more VIP tickets (which allow entrance 2 hours earlier) than they did general admission tickets. Indeed, the floor was completely full of people at 4pm – the start of general admission. While the number of attendees seemed down, the event still seemed very well attended.

What didn’t
Wine temperature – As you may know, I am a stickler about wine temperature. I don’t believe many wines show particularly well once the temperature starts getting to 70 degrees and over. Elegant wines seem thin and big wines too aggressive. At an event like this, over the course of six hours, obviously the bottles warm up to the temperature of the room. Many of the wines I sampled were 70-72 degrees and not able to put their best foot forward. This is almost impossible to mitigate in a large function room environment, although interestingly Andrew Will managed to keep their wine at 63 degrees. I am not sure how they accomplished this but their wines shined as a result. Personally, I would advocate making the room into an ice box. The people (and business) would suffer but the wines would benefit.

Palate cleansers – As in previous years, I found myself wishing bread and crackers were liberally distributed thoughout the event room. This is not to say that there was not an adequate amount of (excellent) food. Palate cleansers however were lacking. As palate fatigue inevitably sets in, it makes it less likely that wineries people visit later in the event are getting a fair shake. As usual, the event provided reusable grocery “gift bags” with promotional material and other assorted items. The bags included a number of snacks. However, the snacks were as follows: Crunchy Cheetos, jalapeno pretzel bites, and salt and vinegar potato chips. Very strange snacks for wine drinking although who is to say. I didn’t try them until later, so maybe there is the surprise perfect pairing in there. Perhaps putting a baguette in every bag is not practical but…

7pm pack-up – Many wineries seem to shut down starting about 7pm. While there is a limit to the amount of wine any winery can pour at this event, it is still disappointing to stop by wineries at this time and see so many that have packed up shop with an hour to go. That said, perhaps they were getting out while the getting was good. Around this time many people – especially those who had started at 2pm – are starting to think it is Friday night in Belltown…or was that Kirkland?

Overall, it was an exceptional event again this year. Kudos to the folks at the Washington Wine Commission. To those who didn’t make it, I definitely recommend attending in the future. Let me know your thoughts if you were there. More on the wines to follow.