Thursday, April 23, 2015

Wine events teach the wrong things about wine

ZAP. Courtesy Alder Yarrow/Vinography.
When people pay $75 to go to a wine tasting, what do they do?

They taste as many wines as they can, mostly without food. They bounce from this Pinot Noir to that Zinfandel to that Cabernet Sauvignon. They don't have an entire glass, or even half a glass, of anything.

They crowd around the table of the wine with the highest price, fighting to get their glass poured into.

Maybe they learn to describe wines using Ann Noble's aroma wheel. Maybe they learn a producer or two that they like, more because of a personable pourer than the quality of the wine.

We like to think that wine tastings are a great way to teach people about wine. But what messages do they really send?

* You can understand any wine in a sip or two

* Drink 'til you can't take any more, then drink more

* More expensive wine is more desirable

* Wine isn't food. It exists in its own universe.

If wine producers don't like these messages, they need to consider the way their wine is presented at events.

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Aaron said...

That is one of the reasons why I'm going to generally start to avoid any tasting that's more than half a dozen producers or something like that, because you just get an insane crowd of people, often have to fight your way to the table and don't have any real time to talk to the producer (or their rep) in order to understand them or their wine.

That, and even with spitting, by the time you get to all (or nearly all) of the wines, my palette has been pretty shot.

Although this upcoming event that's going to be at Andrew Murray Vineyards is going to be awesome! Some amazing SB smaller producers, a whole afternoon, picnic style, and the winemakers will be there. These are definitely more my style now :)

Larry Brooks said...

I couldn't agree more, Blake. Most wine events feature far too many wines. It's extrememly difficult to taste more than 20-30 wines in a session and have valid impressions of the wine.

Miquel said...

I've been spoiled lately with tastings in France. The entire thing is more civilized. Sure, people are getting sloshed to some degree (although they're also eating), but at the same time, people will back away from the table after a pour and are generally respectful of one another while tasting. These cattle call tastings that you're rightfully calling out have become so endemic in the US and pretty much all of Southern Europe I have to pass on them as it's impossible to get anything out them. That and I know the wineries are being doubly screwed by paying to be at the event and then giving their wine away. As you said, I don't know what they're getting out of this except not being labeled as a "cult" producer who in my book just seem to be those with high prices who rightly avoid these tastings.

Adam Lee said...


Interesting thoughts. Let me ask you a question.

How many media members do you think would show up at a tasting of a dozen below $20 Sonoma wines? I'd say very few.

How many attend Premier Napa Valley -- with 225 expensive, rare wines? A lot.

You say that wine events teach the wrong things about wine. Certainly that may be true. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they reveal the truth about people (or at least the truth about some people).

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

W. Blake Gray said...

Adam: Are the producers there for your hypothetical Sonoma County tasting?

I went to a tasting of West of West wines from the Sonoma Coast last year. They weren't under $20, but they weren't over $100 either. In fact, they were in the Siduri price range (do you make an under $20 wine?). And that was packed with media.

Say what you want about Premiere Napa Valley, and different reporters' motivations for attending -- I go for the news -- it's not a mob scene. One can talk to the actual owners and winemakers with ease.

Jessica Kilcullen said...

Are wine events intended to "teach" or "expose?" If you could create an event what would be your intention and how would you structure it?

Bob Henry said...


Your description -- multiplied by an order of magnitude -- reads like ZAP or Family Winemakers of California consumer tastings.

There is a feeding frenzy by consumers to go to the tables with the highest priced wines, in order to "economically rationalize" their admission ticket expenditure.

Exhibitors at these tastings compound the situation by bringing too little wine, and running out well before the event ends.

(I see this even at wine industry trade tastings -- devoid of consumers. If there is one constituency you want to impress most, its the retail and restaurant trade who give up a half a day at work to sample your wines. It is a cardinal sin to run out of wine before an event ends. That's a self-inflicted PR wound. Advice: Err on the side of generosity, not frugality.)

Organizers of consumer events also exacerbate the situation by having little or no accompanying food. Or running out too soon.

Consumers imbibing on an empty stomach guarantees (in the colorful prose of Hunter S. Thompson) their doing "the big spit."

One egregious example of "too much" is the Wine Spectator Grand Tour [].

A second is the New York Wine Experience "Grand Tasting" [].

A "who's who" of highly touted/rated wineries.

All sampled without context by upwards of 2,000 attendees.


Adam Lee said...


I'd take issue with your comments about the Wine Spectator Grand Tasting. They host a large number of seminars in addition to the larger tasting....These seminars present different vintages of the same wine, or different wines from the same region, usually hosted by winemakers/owners.

While there is a larger tasting, there certainly is a great opportunity for context and education.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Nick Katin said...

I agree there's way too much wine, too much of a battle to get a taste and as one comment says the palette is shot after a few tastes - so what's the point. However having said that,no one holds a gun to your head and says you must taste 40+ plus wines so maybe with some determination and self control you can actually get something memorable out of it.

Bob Henry said...


My comment is directed to the Wine Spectator Grand Tasting main floor event . . . where the public imbibes from the equivalent of a Las Vegas casino-style wine buffet line.

I have no knock against the seminars, which I see as a good thing.


Don Stone said...

Good dialogue and a great topic for discussion. I'll have to agree with Blake's premise that an "orgy" of wines at an event can have negative value. It's a matter of a person's self-control, though. No one's holding a gun to your head as Nick points out and tells you to taste as many wines as humanly possible. I would be one of those who would be like a kid in a candy shop and try too many. So, I stay clear of these events and prefer focused tastings. Living in SW Oklahoma as I do, my opportunity to do this is virtually nil!