Paid wine tasting 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.
6 Excellent Wine Tasting Events
Here is a list of some terrific paid event tastings.
ZAP-Zinfandel Advocates and Producers - offers an annual 3-day all Zinfandel tasting called the Zin Expo in California's Bay Area. Along with Zinfandel wines, you can also taste foods from the participating chef vendors. If you're a Zin fan this is a must-see. The number of Zinfandel producers is staggering. Ticket prices range from about $45 to around $250.
Napa Valley Wine Auction
This is one of Napa Valley's most celebrated wine tasting event, and it all benefits charity. The event typically occurs in June, and visitors can enjoy four days of wine and food tasting, vintner hosted parties and dinners, as well as a barrel auction and live wine auction. Proceeds benefit Napa Valley charities.
Sonoma County Harvest Fair
Sonoma County Harvest Fair is an annual event hosted in October. This local event draws hundreds 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
The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is one of the largest wine competitions in the country. Occurring in February, it features more than 1,500 Gold Medal winning wines from all across the United States. 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 Experience
The Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience occurs annually in New York City during the month of October. It 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 (a VIP ticket costs around $2,500), so check it out thoroughly.
Wine Spectator Grand Tour
If you can't make it to NYC, then you can also enjoy the Grand Tour events from Wine Spectator. The evening event visits three cities in the US on the West Coast, East Coast, and in the Midwest. It features 90-point or above wines.
Where to Find Paid Wine Tasting Events
Paid wine tasting 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. Check your local listings or with your favorite winery for information for large public tasting events.
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 slow you down a bit so you can 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 hundreds of wineries participating, it's impossible to try them all and make it out on two feet, let alone remember the day.
Use the Spit Bucket
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 spit buckets and spit cups 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 wine tasting 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, rideshare, 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.
Enjoy Wine Tasting Events
Wine tasting events give you the opportunity to taste wines you may never have tried before. Be adventuruous, and try to branch out from what you normally like to drink. You just may discover a hidden gem.