Booth babes. Row upon row of free alcohol to sample, some of it top notch. Hobnobbing with local wine celebs (e.g., Marnie Old).
Man, the lengths I will go to give me readers a decent story!
I was recently (in Q4 2007) asked by a local restaurant / wine bar to help them out an industry tasting event, held in downtown Philadelphia (i.e., sample some wines, help determine what they should be serving up in the near future).
This particular event was hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits of Pennsylvania. SWS is one of the major suppliers of wine brands to the PA Liquor Control Board (the state-run monopoly that controls alcohol sales and distribution within PA). PA is the only state-controlled market in which SWS operates; that’s because when you’re a big supplier, you simply cannot argue with the billions of dollars at stake that are controlled by PA’s potentially unconstitutional monopoly.
So what’s it like to attend one of these events? Read on, dear reader, reader on…
First, these big portfolio tastings typically take place at a swanky location. In this case, it was the Crystal Tea Ballroom (which I’d just visited a few weeks prior for the Gravedigger’s Ball in support of the Laurel Hill Cemetery).
There are, literally, a dozen or more rows of tables, each hosted by a winery, distributor, or importer who have their portfolio available for tasting. Most of these tables are staffed by young salespeople (“booth babes”), and are visited by equally young and beautiful sales reps, occasionally punctuated by a local wine celeb., or a wine geek (such as the Dude here).
There is a lot of sipping. There is a lot of tasting. There is a lot of handshaking. There is a lot of note-taking, smiling, and photo-shooting.
What there is not a lot of, is spitting – despite the proliferation of buckets provided specifically for that purpose. And that means there is a lot of drunken buzz happening at the end of the evening. In no way am I picking on SWS here – I’m pretty sure that this scenario would play out at any similar industry event (isn’t that one of the reasons why people want to get into sales in the first place?).
Personally, Dude was doing very well – at first – and enjoying the excellent wines on display (particularly the Quintessa, as well as possibly the greatest array of Champagnes I’ve ever had the pleasure of comparing). Doing well, that is, until late in the event, when one of the booth babes grabbed our group and ushered us through the vodka section – where we capped off a series of rapid-fire tasting with shots of vodka that ran in excess of $200 a bottle.
I’m the 1WineDude, not the ‘ManyVodkasDude’. My party spent the latter part of the evening stumbling around City Hall, looking for bar food to quell our munchies, and trying to remember our names.
If you ever find yourself invited to one of these events, how best to survive the experience?
Get there early. The event will eventually get packed, and it’s probably going to be big. You will want to scope out the areas of most interest to you, and pace yourself based on the amount of time that you have to spend there.
Map out your plan of attack. This is the benefit of an early arrival – you can plan out exactly what booths you want to visit before the crowds arrive, start imbibing, and generally make the scene more confusing for you. I suggest dividing up the booths into categories such as “Must See”, “B Priority”, and “Will Check Out If Time Permits.” That way, you try the things you and/or your employer are most interested in, and save the rest for a more relaxed run-through afterwards.
Don’t Ignore the Little Guys. You will find wine brands that you’d not known about before, and you will like some of them. You should expect a handful of “ah-ha!” moments with some of the lesser-known producers – and they may be exactly what you’re looking for to pair with your restaurant’s newest dish, etc.
Take quick tasting notes, but not too many. You will NOT have time to write lengthy tasting notes. Recording some details is essential, but I’d recommend planning on writing one sentence (or less) on each wine you taste. Stick to the basics and record just enough info. that you will be able to make sense of it the next day.
Remember that Sex Sells. All salespeople and advertisers worth their salt know this. You will be bombarded by beautiful people. Remember, you’re there to taste wine, not award your or your company’s money to the distributor that has the best-looking staff.
Don’t Forget to Spit. Well… duh! I’m not saying don’t enjoy a full glass of a killer cab on display. But I am saying that if you don’t spit, you will get hammered – probably not the best way to make an impression at an industry event.
If possible, carpool. Even when you spit, you absorb some alcohol through the tops and sides of your mouth. Eventually, it’s going to impair your tasting judgment, especially at an event where there is so much tasting to be performed. This is why you should hit your highest priority / must-see booths first, take quick notes, and probably try to carpool (or take public transportation) when your tasting event is over. Safety first, as they say.
1WineDude.com quietly turns 1 year old today!
I say quietly, because 1) I prefer intimate birthday parties, and 2) while this blog is technically 1 year old, it’s only really been
‘all-grows-up’ since October 2007, when Dude started “taking this blogging thing a bit more seriously,” as they say. Not sure exactly who ‘they’ are, but I’m pretty sure ‘they’ say that.
To celebrate this mini-momentous occasion, I thought that I’d join the time-honored tradition exercised by so many other blogs, musical acts, and aging TV sitcoms by essentially giving myself the day off, and rehashing previously published content!
Kind of like they did on “The Facts of Life” with “throwback” footage, back when it featured George Clooney (by the way, I used to have hair like that… though I think I’ve destroyed most of the photographic proof in an incinerator somewhere in Northern NJ).
So, for your reading pleasure, I offer you Dude’s Greatest Hits: A Collection of the Most Visited Posts from 1WineDude.com…
- Does this Wine Make Me Look Fat? – Apparently a lot of people (and I mean a lot) want to know the answer to that question!
- Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus – But There’s No Such Thing as Sulfite-Free Wine – Dude always takes pleasure is busting up a wine myth; I’m just glad this one helped provide some clarity around the confusing topic of wine allergies and sulfites.
- How To Become a Wine Geek Part II: Taste – This is the post that, while sort of stating the obvious, provided the groundwork for my first eBook.
- The Top 10 Wine Books You Really Need – I should know, I’ve read almost all of ’em!
- Hey, You Like One of Them Thar Some-Yeahs? – Trying to shed some light on the ultra-confusing world of wine education and certifications.
- Making Sense of Wine 2.0 – YOU have the power – now go on out there and make it happen, people!
- Wine Communism: U.S. State’s Non-Compliance to Wine Shipping Laws – One of a few posts that will probably ensure that I am audited on my PA State income taxes for the next 5 years straight.
- 20 Things I Learned About Life from Drinking Wine – A little glass of Wine Zen.
I need to give a special mention to 2 other posts that, while they may not have gotten a substantial amount of website hits, I had to include for historical purposes:
This post, the Dude is offering his review of Joseph Bastianich’s & David Lynch’s weighty tome on all things Italo-wine-related: Vino Italiano.
My review is part of a larger blog-carnival-type effort with near-simultaneous reviews of the same book happening at other wine blogs, called the Wine Book Club. You can check out some of the haps and conversation at the Shelfari book group. For more on the background of WBC, and a bit about the authors of Vino Italiano, check out my previous post on the subject.
You’d think that a 500+ page book would warrant a lengthy review, but that’s simply not the case here (thankfully!). This is mostly due to the well-considered layout of the book.
Vino Italiano is divided into three sections:
- A primer on Italian wine history & wine laws (essential information if you hope to understand an Italian wine label!)
- A tour of each of Italy’s major wine regions in turn, starting with cultural interactions / story-telling, moving to well-written descriptions of the wine styles of the region, and ending with a recommended regional food & wine pairing
- Reference material, including a glossary of Italian wine terminology, and a wine producer directory.
How To Use This Book
Novices will find the first section particularly useful. When you’re dealing with Italian wine, expect to be confused – there’s simply no easy way to deal with it, so you might as well jump right in; this section will help make that jump as painless as possible.
Wine geeks like the Dude here will find the 3rd section the most interesting, if only for a handy reference to remind us what some of the Italian wine label terms mean, or digging up the detail on what is and isn’t permitted in some of the regional quality classifications, etc.
Most people, however, will find the book’s large midsection the most useful. That’s because the authors of Vino Italiano know what the Italians know: the only way to truly appreciate Italy’s regional wine treasures in full is to experience them as part of a larger picture – that picture including a unique blend of regional culture, history, and (most importantly) food.
The majority of Italian wines are meant to be consumed with their regional gustatory counterparts – the recipe and wine pairings (provided by Lidia Bastanich and household-name Mario Batali) at the end of each chapter are not after-thoughts – they are essential components if you want to “get” Italian wine. Personally, I’ve been hoping to try the Spagheti alla Luganica and Anglianico del Vulture pairing (see pgs. 330-331). If you don’t get hungry at some point when reading Vino Italiano, then you’re missing the point.
You needn’t read the book cover-to-cover – the book is structured so that skipping around to read about a particular region will give you a perfectly good understanding of that region and its wines.
Buy It or Skip It?
Buy it. Vino Italiano is well-written (Dude majored in English Lit. in undergrad, so he does not offer that sort of praise lightly!), and its harmonious blend of regional Italian culture, food, and wine make it a winner. It’s also a book that will provide benefit for a wine lover at nearly every stage of his/her wine knowledge development. This is one of the few instances where a book’s many accolades (on the jacket, and in its on-line user reviews) are well-deserved.
Cheers, and happy reading!
Greetings from PA, where we are digging out after a bout of winter weather; not the worst we’ve seen by a long shot, but the first significant winter storm we’ve seen all season – very, very late for these parts. I’m not going to jump the gun and blame global warming just yet… but… you gotta wonder…
Speaking of Global Warming
Wine Spectator reported this week on “The Gore-ical” giving the wine industry props for its efforts to Go Green, thus helping to preserve the environment and stave off some of our contribution to turning the Earth into a hothouse. I recently gave props to Domaine547 for going green, so we’ve got some good examples where this is impacting the thinking all the way through the wine retail chain. But so far, no one has called me the Dude-ical.
I got my first real in-yo-face close up with global warming in Samburu, Kenya a few years ago. One afternoon while staying at the Elephant Watch Camp, we hiked up the river. Literally, up the river – as in, walking up the middle of the river. This was very easy because there was no water from the higher elevations to actually fill the river bed, because the ‘short rains’ never came. The locals explained to me how this was possibly linked to global warming, and as I watched the animals dig like mad to get themselves a drink, I decided that I wanted to punch anyone that told me that global warming was bullsh*t in the face. Not that Dude is an angry person…
Don’t Get Mad, Get Quoted
While we’re doling out props, let’s give some down-home Dude praise to Tom Wark, who was quoted (yet again!) by Business Wire this week in his fight against the monopolist practices in wine distribution. Anyone who thinks that the wine distributors’ claim that they are maintaining their monopoly to keep alcohol out of the mouths of minors is anything more than a greedy witch hunt needs to check out Tom’s blog.
“The American alcohol distributors’ calls for shutting down all direct to consumer wine shipments is a self-serving ruse demonstrated by the fact that if they really cared about minor access to wine, they would call for the shutting down of the channel of sales through which minors are most likely to obtain alcohol: brick and mortar alcohol sales. Rather, we only hear calls to shut down direct shipment of wine, the channel through which distributors don’t make money.“
(Even More) Power to the People!
Decanter reported that two self-published works picked up U.K. Andre Simon book prizes. That gives some very serious street cred to the self publishing phenomenon (and maybe even to the Wine 2.0 movement). Oh, yeah – the books were also from U.S. authors (whew-hew!).
She’s So… Heeeeeavy….
Speaking of Decanter, and the U.K., the likes of Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke railed out against a trend from luxury winemakers to bottle wines in what they (Jancis & Oz, not the winemakers) claim are needlessly heavy bottles. Score another hit for the movement against climate change, since heavier bottles = more energy to ship + higher shipping costs (passed on to you and me who are buying the stuff).
Speaking of Weights…
Those of us who brave the epicurean world to bring you our take on food & wine will undoubtedly want to check out this article from the Times online, which details how critics, chefs, and others in the food industry fight the after-effects of their foodie passions. Considering that wine doesn’t have fat, but does have calories (mostly from its alcohol content), us wine bloggers & wine drinkers should take note. The good news is, we’re not alone! Now, go get on that treadmill.
Ancient Land, New Wines
The Wall Street Journal posted a fascinating piece this week on the quality revolution underway in Israel’s wine industry. Dude had an opportunity to taste some Israeli wine not too long ago during a visit in London, and he was mighty impressed. Watch this space, we could be seeing some exciting stuff as this very old world land makes some new-world styled wines.
A Moment of Silence
This past week we mourned the loss of Jamie Davis, co-founder of Schramsberg Vineyards. Jamie Davis was a pioneer, a bit like the Robert Mondavi of American sparkling wine.
That’s all for now. Until next week’s edition – cheers!