by CHRISTINA KELLY & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & R & lt;/span & ather than a necktie, power tool or iPod for Dad this year, give him the best of Washington wines with a visit to Taste Washington 2007 on Father's Day. For those who want to taste the best wine confections from around the state without leaving Spokane, Taste Washington is the ultimate wine tour, representing wineries from nearly every corner of the state. The event features more than 100 wineries and 30 restaurants, offering current releases and cuisine, and showcasing the best bounty the state has to offer. It's an unparalleled wine tasting experience for beginners and experts alike. Instead of relying on others to provide their "expert" opinion, you become the expert, sampling and taking notes to determine the wines you like best and the ones that make you gag or pucker.
This year, the wineries are not limited to pouring just one wine each -- some will pour three or more wines, hoping to capture your attention to their brand out of a sea of wines. This is especially helpful to emerging wineries who have not presented their wines to such a large crowd, such as Wawawai (wa-WAH-we) Canyon Winery, based in Pullman. Christine Havens and Ben Moffett, co-winemakers, have never been to Taste Washington Spokane during its six years.
"We have a lot of curiosity about the event, and of course we want to get information out about our wines," says Havens, who will pour a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Gew & uuml;rztraminer. "We're looking forward to being there."
If you love seafood, the Fresh Seafood Bar, combined with the Washington White Out Bar, matches the best white wines to enhance oysters, shrimp and fish. How many times has a meal diminished because an over-oaked chardonnay was selected to pair with a more delicate fish? For the price of admission, you can try different pairings and find one or more to your liking.
In conjunction with the event, Carolyn Ross, a professor of sensory analysis at Washington State University, will offer an educational seminar, "Wine Sense Makes Good Sense." She'll show students how wine is created and blended and help identify certain flavor profiles of wine so participants will learn to identify and analyze the individual elements in a wine glass. The class will be held from 3-4:40 pm, just before the tasting event opens. (Cost for the class is $40.)
The Washington Wine Commission says Taste Washington is the largest single-region consumer wine tasting in the United States. While that might be arguable, the fact is many of the best wineries attend, even those who generally sell out their product year after year.
"You can never grow complacent," says Rick Small, winemaker/owner for Woodward Canyon Winery, one of the oldest wineries in Walla Walla.
As Washington continues to improve on its wine offerings, some of the newest wineries are getting it right from the get-go. It used to be you had to wait several vintages for the winemaker to really learn the vineyards and terroir and get the balance needed in the glass. But not today -- you will discover terrific gems right on the verge of national attention. And the early consumer often gets the special treatment when you show your faith right from the beginning. Some of the wineries have mailing lists to those early consumers, and often the wine sells out to its mailing list before the wines are sold to the general public.Spit, Don't SpinThere is an art to attending a function of this size, and the first rule is to not swallow every single wine sample offered. If you swallow, the only thing you'll be able to taste by the fifth winery is whether it's red or white wine. All the wonderful nuances and interesting characteristics of the wine will be lost if you try and consume everyone's wine. Plus, you won't really remember all the wines.
Spitting is the correct method to sample wines without staggering from winery to winery. The WWC encourages the taste-and-spit method with the slogan, "It's Hip to Spit." The idea is to pick the wineries with offerings you want to sample, then spit and take notes. Return to the wineries you want to sample with food later in the evening.
Even with the spitting method, it is still impossible to try every wine at Taste Washington. You can either go to Taste Washington's Website (www.tastewashington.org) and select wineries ahead of time, or determine early at the event which wines look interesting, preferably wines you haven't tried, and make your choices. Don't overlook the new or lesser-known wineries -- they will often have terrific wines that don't get the same attention as the better-known establishments because they don't have large marketing budgets.
As wine becomes less lofty and more of a simple beverage choice with the dinner menu, Taste Washington and other events like it are the perfect opportunity to find out what you like, and what you prefer with food. It's also the ideal event to talk with winemakers, get on winery mailing lists and share opinions with other wine enthusiasts who are looking to learn the mysteries and pleasures of a good glass of wine.
As a bonus, Taste Washington Spokane benefits the WSU Viticulture and Enology Program and the School of Hospitality Business Management Program. (A portion of the proceeds also benefits the Davenport District Arts.) So in addition to becoming your own expert, you'll also help grow future winemakers.