Paid winetasting events are truly valuable events to wine connoisseurs. They are a great tool to explore new wines you haven't tried, taste new vintages of wines from producers you normally like, and talk to the people involved with the winery itself. Besides that, it's fun to be around other wine people and network as well.
Where to Find Paid Winetasting Events
Paid winetasting events are usually put on by major sponsors. Those sponsors can be anyone from wine or news publications to wine groups, or even charity events. Some of the popular wine tasting events around the country are listed below, but there are many, many more. Check your local listings or with your favorite winery for information for large public tasting events. Let's discuss why they are such great tools.
How Wine Tastings Work
When you go to a large tasting event, chances are it will cost you anywhere from $40 to $65 to attend (some of the high-end tasting events are even more, but in general you can find most in this price range). The value to this is that you have the ability to taste wines from several producers in one location.
At the tasting event, you can walk from winery to the next in literally seconds… even in wine country you have to drive from winery to winery, which can be a long day. You can visit your favorite spots, get suggestions for new ones to try, and chat with people directly involved in the winery. Most wineries will send key wine staff to these events instead of general tasting room personnel. Most events have the wineries in alphabetical order, or grouped by region, or by wine, etc., making it easier for you to find what you're looking for.
Planning to Go!
If you do plan to attend an event like this, think ahead. First off, you will be tasting wines in rapid succession…so bring a notebook to take notes on the wines you taste. This will make you slow down a bit and really evaluate the wines which you are trying. If it's a large general format tasting, try picking a wine variety or type and just taste those (i.e. Pinot Noir, or light fruity reds…something like that). If it's a specific type of tasting, like Zinfandels, pick regions to try. With 100s of wineries participating, it's impossible to try them all and make it out on two feet, let alone remember the day.
Which leads us to the next topic…and for some of us it is hard to do, but essential for effective evaluative tasting: Spitting. Each table has a spit bucket, and when you walk in you can grab a big cup that you can use as well. They are called spitbuckets and spitcups for a reason. If you watch people in the trade or wine writers walking around, you will notice they don't actually swallow the wine. They can't be impartial and keep their senses about them if they are swallowing every wine they try. Maybe some of you have gone winetasting and towards the end of the day you buy some bottles from a place you thought was great… until you open them later on and ask yourself what you were thinking when you bought them. Spitting keeps your wits about you and allows you to sample more wine!
That being said, one other thing to consider is what is called "responsible wine tasting." Most of the large events will have that written all over their publications and literature they hand to you when you first walk in. If you know you are going to imbibe, arrange for a designated driver to pick you up, or take a taxi or shuttle. If the event is in a large town that's a bit of a drive for you, consider getting hotel accommodations and make a whole day of it! Bring your significant other along and make reservations at a local restaurant and hotel. Many of these tasting events have links on their websites to accommodations that offer special rates for attendees.
List of Events
Here is a list of some terrific paid event tastings… but again, look for some in your area as well.
- ZAP - Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. This tasting is all Zinfandel. If you're a zin fan this is a must-see. The number of Zinfandel producers is staggering.
- Rhone Rangers - The theme for this tasting is Rhone varieties, so look for Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne to be the theme here.
- Sonoma County Harvest Fair - This local event draws 100s of entries from wineries that make wine from Sonoma County grapes only! If you're a fan of Sonoma County wines, this is the place for you.
- San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition - This is one of the largest wine competitions in the country. All wines from many wineries are sampled here, and you can see how the judges did with their assigning of gold, silver and bronze.
- Wine Spectator Wine Experience - New York City is not only a great place to go, but this is probably considered the wine tasting experience. Most of the rated wines from the magazine are showcased here, along with conferences and other types of educational sessions. This is a costly event comparatively, so check it out thoroughly.