Good tastings, bad tastings, worthwhile tastings, overpriced tastings

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In the last two weeks, I have attended at least four wine tastings as well as several other wine and/or food related events.  Over the years, I have probably been to no less than one hundred various wine tasting events and fundraisers that have had open bars.  I have seen good events and bad events, mostly analyzed by the amount and quality of the wines served, the ratio of people attending to the size of the space and the amount of exhibitors and presenters, and the overall price of the tickets.  Some of the best events have cost no more than twenty dollars, and even the best grand events have run no more than one hundred dollars either.  And last night capped off the last of the round of events that I will be attending until next month (the good thing is that next month has at least three events for me to attend, and I will be also hosting a wine event myself).

However, I find it relevant to definitely write about them, and the differences in them all.  The first thing to think about is what you should pay for a wine tasting.  Unless the prices of the wines will are all over $20 a bottle, then the price point of the ticket shouldn’t be over $30. 

The second thing is how many wines are they serving?  I would say that the minimum should be at least six different wines.  The caveat to this is of course is based upon the price of the wines, and how much of a pour you are going to give for each sample.  In most small tastings, you are going to have between 1.5 and 2 ounces for each pour.  That’s not bad if you can try at least six wines, and there is food, and you can easily order more wine on your own.  A 3 ounce pour is generous, and anything over that is truly benevolent. 

The third thing to consider is how many people will be attending.  You’ll find that wine tastings are more intimate and personal when there are less than thirty people attending.  At that point, not only can you interact with other people, but also can talk to the presenters.

Fourth is profitability, or where the money is going.  What many people might not realize is that in most tastings [that are not held at the wine producer’s facilities], the wine is actually donated.  The key is that there is the intersection of raising some money for a good cause, as well as getting people exposed to the wines for future purchases. Often, the money taken in is used to pay for the food for an event, or the advertising, and in some cases, entertainment.  For larger events, sometimes there are donations in capital and in-kind from a variety of sources, such as local banks and businesses.  These usually offset the costs associated with having a better event.  And in some cases, there are events that have been put together for the sake of just having a party (I’ll talk about that later).

Oh, and let me not forget to really address the issue of food.  In many larger events, you have either catered food or different restaurants each with their own table and presenting at small sample of one of their dishes.  This latter arrangement could have both good and bad consequences; some establishments will have something tasty, while others might be filling, and others with skimpy and non-palatable (for everyone) offers. 

Summarily, I think that I’ve covered all of the basic points.  The worst thing that you can do is to give a wine tasting, and have both a limited amount of wines (less than six), a very limited amount of food, no way to purchase more of the same wines [or different ones], and very small pours.  And now, let me just give you a rundown of the events. 

Two Mondays ago, I attended the 2008 Portfolio Tasting of Southern Wine and Spirits.  It’s an annual event that is targeted towards restaurants in the Greater Philadelphia area.  The event is free, but you have to be on the list, and there are at least 100 tables of wines and spirits, with no table having no less than three different products to sample.  You had your choice of glasses to choose from, and there were two side rooms where there was food; good food!  Of course, this was an industry event, and it was definitely at that level.

The next event would be the “Global Food and Wine Event” which was an event featuring the wines of Capital Wine and Spirits and was also sponsored by Philadelphia Magazine.  Now let me say that I have attended some nice wine related events sponsored by Philadelphia Magazine, but after getting some of the inside scoops on them, I tend to leave them alone.  The difference is that I was doing some filming for my own project this time.  This event was also tied into “Wine Week” which they put together with a number of restaurants in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.  The event itself was $65 per person, and it featured some food offerings from the restaurants participating in restaurant week.  Now here is the catch, the restaurants had to provide free entrees, and at one point, some were told that they not only had to pair their food from a certain number of wines, but that they also had to purchase the wines as well.  Mind you that all of the wine producers and/or distributors were actually donating their wines (however, if they were being financially compensated, I would love to find out).

The first thing about this event was that there were only so many wines there, and of that lot, they for the most part stuck to your basic whites, reds and sparkling wines.  There were no dessert wines, no ports and no Madeiras.  This in itself was sad, especially when there are some great examples of these wines in their overall portfolio.

The fact of the matter is that I’ve enjoyed wine tastings that have cost in that price range, but have had a lot more variety in what you could sample, as well as eat.  Aside from the footage that I grabbed, I would say that this event could have been better, but still ranked in at a better than C grade.

Wednesday was the 2nd Annual “taste of Philly” sponsored by the Philadelphia Weekly newspaper.  The first sign that it was more hype than hoopla was the fact that they didn’t have an organized way of getting people in; we must’ve been in line for at least twenty minutes, only to have them start letting people behind us into another entrance, and also just giving us bracelets to get in [without having to confirm and pick up tickets at will call]. 

Upon entering the building, you essentially were stepping into a sea of barely controlled madness; it was evident that this affair was nothing more than an attempt to try and create a massive party, but with various restaurants, breweries and wine merchants showcasing some of their wares.  Actually, I can’t even claim that for most of the dishes that I saw served were not suited to all appetites and the wine that was served was some of the most horrid mass produced offerings that I have ever had (Mouton Cadet).  The best thing offered was actually the beers, of which Victory had both their Golden Monkey and Prima Pils.  After seeing a few people that I knew, and telling a television chef that I liked his show, I exited the building, having been there for no more than thirty minutes.

Thursday had me attending a wine tasting over at La Croix restaurant which is in the Rittenhouse Hotel.  When you think Rittenhouse, you think money, as in both expensive to be, and most people there have it.  While I am not really a fan of many French reds, I went anyway, simply to challenge myself and experience something out of my comfort zone.  While I can say that the place was fabulous where they had it, the let down was with the wines and the food.  On the former, there were only four wines, but what saved it was the prices of those wines; none being less than $50, and I believe one costing over $100.  The second aspect of the wine was that the pours couldn’t have been more than 2 ounces in the most generous glasses.  The food consisted of four little bites of gourmet selections, which in the end, truly enraged an eater like myself as there was only enough for one bite, and there were no alternatives for someone that doesn’t eat certain things.

While the sommelier reminded me of a very snooty maitre’d that you’d expect to find in an exclusive high-end restaurant, the range of people attending was very limited and I felt as if I stepped into some meeting of some old country club.  Now this is not to say that the sommelier was snooty, but he reminded me of the prototypical characters in movies.  Most of the people seemed like folks that were too dusty, if not totally boring, and probably considered opera and classical music performances their only acceptable entertainment. Oh, I forgot ballet.  That is not to say that all of the people were like that, but I did make it a point to take a seat far from the start of the tables. 

I will say, however, that the tasting was very informative, which was the only redeeming factor, because I did not like any of the wines at all.  That is neither an indictment of the sommelier or the choices; I just have a different palate.

Having enjoyed, and sometimes not, a host of wine related events, it will a challenge in how I put some of them together myself.  I’ll be doing it mostly without a lot of marketing, advertising, clout and capital.  In fact, and for the most part, it will not be something to make money personally, but to advance my overall initiative(s) and get other things done in the process.  Depending upon what wine producer I feature at events, there will most likely be only four to six wines, but the price will be acceptable given the amount of the pours, the strength of wines, the food, and the people that guests will get to share and enjoy the experience with and among.

Summarily, I hope that I have given you points to consider when analyzing future wine tastings that you go to, as well as to re-examine that past ones that you have attended.   And let's hope that other people are paying attention and giving you some quality tastings.

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