I visited the DC International Wine & Food Festival this past weekend—which, as you surely already know, is "The # 2 Food & Restaurant Industry Event in BizBash Washington's Top 100 Events, Fall 2008."
(I can understand tooting your own horn if you're #1, but why trumpet second-best? Especially when it's only out of four? Kind of reminds me of a restaurant sign in my old neighborhood: "Probably the Best Pizza and Pasta In Town.")
This festival is securely positioned at the top of my own list, however, considering that it was the first one I'd ever been to (as a journalist rather than a consumer, anyway). So rather than pretending to be a qualified wine critic and offering you a bunch of snooty reviews, I offer these amateur observations:
1) Wine glasses will be provided. This seems obvious, but they were nowhere in sight at the entrance and I panicked a bit, wondering if I should have brought my own. Fortunately, I was befriended by a much older and wiser attendee, and we succeeded in our joint quest to find and plunder the mystical table of glassware.
2) It's pretty easy to get drunk in a situation where you could theoretically taste more than 800 wines (though I'm not sure if anyone would actually have had time for that feat, since there's chatter involved—I managed to sip only about 20 in two hours). Thus, you should only swallow a sip or two of each pour, and dump the rest in the little buckets at each table.
3) If you really, really don't want to get drunk and are fairly un-self-conscious, you can also spit into those buckets rather than swallowing any wine. Pick up the bucket and hold it directly under your mouth to be as discreet as possible. I spotted only one person doing this, but his nametag indicated that he was a professional wine critic.
4) Rinse your glass with...something...when switching between reds and whites. I imitated what I saw most people doing in this case, which was to use the water provided in small carafes at each table. But one fellow taster saw me doing this and scolded that water "destroys the taste" and the glasses should be instead rinsed with a tiny sample of the next wine. I tried this at the next table and was scolded for wasting wine. I give up!
5) Striking up conversations with fellow tasters whose name tags say "trade" can be useful, since it means they work in the wine business and might be a veritable font of wisdom. Of course, just as often, the word "trade" on their name tag simply means that they have a friend who owns a wine shop and finagled a free ticket for them so they could get free drinks and pick up chicks. (That's why rule number 2 is important, or you may lose the ability to tell the difference!)
A few wines I particularly liked, for what it's worth:
-From Tuscany, the Cantina Pieve Vecchia winery's Chorum 2007, a Sangiovese which made me feel like I was sitting at a sunny sidewalk cafe on the Mediterranean coast. I think I also liked their Pieve dei Monaci IGT 2006 (a Syrah-based red table wine), though my notes read simply: "Spicy!"
-From the Southern Rhone, the Domaine Chaume-Arnaud 2007 La Cadene Blanc was a lovely blend of Marsanne and Viognier grapes (50/50) that struck just the right balance of everything. And I'm not a big chardonnay fan, but I quite liked the same winery's Chardonnay Classique 2007, which was aged in steel rather than oak, making it taste light and citrusy rather than creamy or oily. ( Serious Eats has a 'Chardonnay 101' page that explains why some chardonnays taste creamier than others.)
- From Argentina, the 2007 Don Miguel Gascon Malbec, a hearty red incorporating some of my favorite tastes (blueberries, black cherries, and coffee), which I imagine would pair nicely with two of my other favorite things, sharp cheese and dark chocolate. Then again, I've never met an Argentine Malbec I disliked!