Drowning in wine

I have something to admit. I hate big wine tasting events. Same thing for beer. I keep getting drawn into these types of events for the opportunity to try new things, to overload on whatever it is that is being poured. But I really tend to regret it afterwards, kind of the way one feels after eating too much at an all-you-can-eat buffet, shamed by participating in something that goes beyond reason, ready to perform penance for your sins (whether gluttony or greed or even envy of others).

Why do I hate these types of events? Insert rant here… because I hate large tents or ballrooms full of lots of people pushing their way through crowded aisles trying to get in as many sips as possible in an allotted time. After the tenth taste or so, your tongue begins to numb to any joy of tasting anyway. The atmosphere suppresses any ability to sit with a drink, to get to know it beyond a cursory sensation. Outliers become more notable simply because they stand out from the norm. There’s simply too much followed by even more, even if (maybe especially because) you’re spitting after every sip so as not to get intoxicated or simply full. And that ain’t right.

Sure, you get the benefit of trying many new things at a big tasting event. And at a high profile event, you actually get the opportunity to meet and speak with the owners and/or winemakers and/or people who really know their stuff and are passionate about their product. That is, at least until the next guy in line starts shoving you out of the way so he can get his free pour.

I went to a trade wine tasting event today. It was for the High Museum of Art’s annual wine auction weekend. This is a big deal wine event, with big deal winemakers present, passionate small producers, all kinds of names I’ve heard but never tried. It’s also for a great cause, the fine art museum that calls Atlanta home. I had to be there, right? Well, I did get to meet some fascinating people. I did get to try a few wines that were really interesting (among many things that were not). And I did get to reconnect with some friends in the business that I don’t get to see often enough. But that doesn’t change the fact that I felt a bit depressed at the end of it, yearning for something like the wine tasting I went to a few nights before, where it was one passionate person sharing her family’s story with a small room of people who really cared about the topic at hand. I’d rather meet that one person, taste that one winemaker’s wines, than speed date through a crowded room for the opportunity to taste a tantalizing array of too much. Sure, each type of event has its purpose, and each has its place. I’m just sharing my preference, the way I find more relevant to the enjoyment of wine (or spirits, or beer, or whatever), the more intimate route. (Dear public relations people: if you must blacklist me from future events for my remarks, so be it)

So, with that said, I’m happy to share the winemakers I met whose wines really did manage to break through the crowd and leave an impression upon me. The next few notes will probably leave you saying, “wait, didn’t he just say he hates events like this?” True enough, I have to be honest, I did enjoy a few moments among the masses.

First off, I really dig the pinot noir of Kosta Browne. These are fairly pricey wines that I’ve only rarely tasted, and it was great to try a few of their wines and meet Michael Browne in person. Their Russian River has a great mossy forest floor aspect to it (yes, that’s a good thing). I may have liked their Sonoma Coast pinot even more, with a bit more balance between the woods-y notes and the dark fruit, a fairly voluptuous take on pinot noir. The pinot noir being poured by Andy Peay from Peay Vineyards also impressed, especially the “Scallop Shelf Estate,” superb floral and spice nose, lovely body.

Pierson Meyer‘s Heintz Vineyard chardonnay was fascinating, more mineral and then intensely vibrant than other Heintz vineyard chardonnay I’ve had (there are many, and they all tend to be excellent in different ways). I learned that their winemaker, Robbie Meyer, is actually from Atlanta and went to the University of Georgia – always good to meet Atlanta folks who have made it in the wine world. His L’angevin Russian River pinot noir is also my kind of wine, full of spicy undertones.

You’ll notice I don’t mention many cabs or other big reds, they were present in abundance, but none of them really spoke to me. I’ve moved on from the attraction of big wines… AND big wine events.

P.S. I realize for many people in the trade, attending large trade tastings is very important. This is from the perspective of both a consumer (who has attended many large scale fundraiser wine tasting events) and a writer (who covers both trade and consumer events). Thanks, any feedback appreciated in the comments below.

About Thirsty South

Dedicated to all things drinking well in the South.
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3 Responses to Drowning in wine

  1. will lawless says:

    The High tasting was fun when it started. But the crowd has grown beyond being fun. Capping ticket sales and or scaling the event appropriatly could help. My feeling is the High’s focus is on the wine dinners and the auction. I will say the larger trade tastings in late summer and fall are managed well and never seem too crowded.

    • Thanks Will for commenting. The number of people allowed in definitely impacts the experience – I know they capped it this year, the cap might just have been a bit too high.

  2. Thought I’d share a few comments over on Reddit – with some advice on how to approach large tastings: http://www.reddit.com/r/wine/comments/rjxrv/a_bit_of_a_rant_on_going_to_big_tasting_events/

    Also, a friend of mine posted his suggestions as well:
    http://maisonmarcel.blogspot.com/2012/03/wine-at-high-tide.html

Comments welcome, y'all!