We’ve been going to the Taste Washington Grand Tasting Event for six years now and each year we seem to get a little better at our tasting strategy. Believe me when I say there are too many wineries and restaurants to get through in three hours without a serious plan. But it can be done, and we’ll show you how! If you’ve never been to the Taste Washington event and aren’t sure what to expect, read on for a full review and tips on how to make the most of your day. You’re really missing out if you don’t at least try it once. And if you live in or near Seattle and love food and wine, you’re crazy not to go. Seattle has dozens of great food and wine events and this is one of the best!
The event is held at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in SODO (just south of downtown Seattle). The tickets for the grand tasting range from $95 for a one-day general admission ticket and $160 VIP one-day ticket, to a $140 2-day ticket or $205 VIP 2-day ticket. No matter which ticket you choose, it’s a great value for the ability to try over 225 wineries, 70 restaurants and specialty vendors. We’ve never gone both days, nor have we splurged for the VIP tickets that get you an extra hour of tasting and a swag bag, so I can’t comment on the up sell, but we’ve always had a fantastic time with general admission tickets.
This year’s Taste Washington event has expanded to include additional events, like the VIP Red & White Party, The New Vintage and educational seminars. There was also a VISA Signature wine dinner on Thursday night. So, there are plenty of activities to participate in if you’re coming in for the weekend.
Special Features of the Grand Tasting
The Events Center is rather large, and there are 19 tables packed full of vendors, as well as 13 other stations featuring specific food items. It’s wise to know what the highlights are and where to find them, so you don’t miss out on something special. Here are our favorite highlights of the event:
Oyster & Chowder Bar
Fresh Northwest oysters are being shucked on the spot at the Oyster & Chowder bar, put on by Aqua and El Gaucho, two top Seattle restaurants. Bowls of creamy clam chowder are served at the beginning of the line, and you just work your way around the bar, tasting briny and sweet oysters as they’re being shucked. The bar also includes white wines from various wineries, so we think this is a great place to start the day.
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
If you have an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card, you’ll be granted access to the Cardholder’s VIP Lounge where special wines and bites are being served under a gossamer tent. Get there early in the day, because food does run out. We always find some of the top bites of the day in the VIP tent, along with reserve wines we wouldn’t be able to try anywhere else.
I always save the dessert bar for the end, but what a fantastic way to go out! There’s always a cupcake or two, decadent looking chocolate truffles, some ice cream… you name it. Plus there’s a table reserved just for the pouring of dessert wines.
Stella Artois Cafe
About halfway through the event, you can find us standing in line at the Stella Artois Cafe. It’s refreshing to break up the food and wine overload with a cold beer. And the best part is that you get to keep the glass. They often have Stella, Leffe, Hoegaarden, and this year they also had Cidre. They all come in different styles of glasses and you can take home as many as you can drink/carry.
When you need a break from the eating and drinking, there’s a stage set up at the far end of the event center where you can sit and watch top chef’s give cooking demonstrations. The demos go on throughout the event, so there’s always something to watch. I have to confess, I’ve never actually taken the time to sit down, but the area is always packed with people, so there must be something great going on up there.
Tips & Suggestions for a Successful Tasting Event
The Grand Tasting begins at 2pm and goes until 5pm, so you have just three hours (unless you’ve purchased a VIP ticket) to enjoy the offerings. This obviously means you have to be prepared with a game plan. As this was our sixth year attending, we’ve amassed a lot of helpful hints.
- Go on Sunday. We’ve gone only on Saturday for the past five years, under the belief that vendors would run out of wine/food early and that they would have lost their initial enthusiasm by the second day, making it not so great. But we were wrong. In 2014, Saturday was so packed that we vowed never to go again. This year, after we’d had time to talk some sense into ourselves about giving up on it all together, we decided to go on Sunday. There were, in my estimation, hundreds less people. The booths and the aisles were not at all crowded. We could spend time talking to each vendor, learning about the wines and oogling over the food, fumbling with our phones to get pictures of the deliciousness to share with you. On Saturday, we never could have done that. Too many people. So if you really want to enjoy yourself, go on Sunday.
- Get there early. The doors open right at 2pm, but the lines start forming at least 30 minutes before. While the line moves quickly, you’ll want to be one of the first through the door, because every minute is precious and there are no minutes to waste! Be in line by 1:30pm and you’re good to go.
- Plan to pour out a lot of wine. The winery reps all know that they are vying for your attention with 225 others, so they are not offended when you take a sip and pour the rest out. There are pour buckets at every booth for this reason. If you sip and pour, you’ll be able to make it through way more before palate fatigue and tipsiness set in.
- Look at the program in advance. With enough will power, you’ll be able to get through most, if not all, of the food offerings. You won’t, however, be able to get through even a 1/4 of the wine being poured. So the best thing to do is make a wine plan beforehand. We choose wineries we’ve not yet heard of, varietals we’re most interested in, and then if there’s time, we add in sips from our favorites. There are many ways you can choose to tackle the wine, just make sure you’ve chosen your path in advance.
- Ask about special wines. Wineries notoriously bring special wines with them, usually to pour for their colleagues, but if you ask nicely, they might let you try it as well. Doesn’t hurt to ask!
- Some vendors, like Total Wine, hand out free bags, glasses, magazines, etc. Although you’ll have to carry it around, it’s best to pick up these free gifts at the beginning because they go fast.
- Keep pace. I know it sounds regimental, but if you don’t keep a pretty good pace, you won’t stand a chance to making it all the way around. After each hour, we evaluate our progress and determine if we can slow down or if we need to speed up. Believe me, it’s the only way to get through it all.
- If you don’t want to feel like it’s a speed-eating competition, and you want to spend time talking with the wine makers and chefs, you absolutely must have a game plan. Circle the things you don’t want to miss in your program and only visit those booths. If you have time at the end, you can hit up additional booths. If you really want enough time to experience everything and maybe even catch a chef demonstration, you have to go both days.
- Don’t bring a lot of stuff with you. I don’t even take a jacket or a purse anymore. I take a small shoulder bag where I can stuff handouts and freebies. Everything else is extraneous and will just bog you down.
- They supply you with a plastic tray that has a slot to stow your wine glass. We take ours home with us and use them for other food/wine events we attend throughout the year. People at other events will be very jealous of your handy tray. (Extra hint: at the end of Sunday, they give away whatever trays are left).
Food & Wine Highlights from 2015
Each year seems to have an unintentional food theme. One year, sliders and sandwiches were popular, the next it was tacos. 2015 strangely seemed to lack a theme, and the food seemed disjointed. We found a number of bites that were creative and tasty, but I think it’s always best to temper your expectations when it comes to the food. It’s difficult to make something in large quantities that will serve well. Chips and bread gets soggy, sauces get cold, meats become rubbery. There are some really good food moments, though, and that makes it all worth it.
One of the offerings we found particularly creative this year was from Swiftwater Cellars’ restaurant Hoist House. It was a foie gras, lime and sriracha ice cream with a Cabernet swirl. Sadly, my only picture of it is blurry, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Also served by Hoist House was a crispy lamb bacon served on a chevre waffle with tallow butter and Cabernet syrup. They also served a Dungeness crab salad on an endive leaf. These were three of the best bites of the day.
Another favorite for us was the Heritage pork meatball served in a rich tomato gravy over Sarvvecchio parmesan (parmesan polenta) from RN74, which not surprisingly is also one of our favorite restaurants.
Anthony’s Pier 66 Restaurant had two different dishes – a Hawaiian Ahi nacho on Saturday and a Tropical shrimp nacho on Sunday. We really enjoyed the tropical shrimp nacho.
We are pretty well-versed in Washington State wines, having visited numerous tasting rooms throughout the state, so we were familiar with a good number of the wines. Our perennial favorites are Sparkman Cellars, Amavi, Pepper Bridge, Revelry, Sleight of Hand and Northstar. So this time, we wanted to find new wines we hadn’t heard of. We found some great new favorites, like Hightower, who were pouring two Bordeaux Blends and a very nice Merlot. We also liked J Bell Cellars, Kyra and Soos Creek.
One of my favorite new finds was Vinateria Idilico, who are making Spanish wines like Albarino, Tempranillo and a 100% Graciano. We just went on a wine tasting trip to Rioja, Spain, where were were introduced to these typical Spanish grapes, and the wines from Vinateria Idilico took us right back to that region.
There were countless other wines we tried that were worthy of mention, but after three hours of tasting some have slipped my mind. It’s always wise to take notes, because they don’t sell any wine at the event and it’s impossible to remember then all.
I hope you’re encouraged to give the event a try. We’ll be back next year!