GrapeFest is underway, which means the People's Choice Wine Tasting Classic - billed as the nation's largest consumer judged wine contest - is back. We asked Jeff Siegel, a Dallas wine educator who blogs as The Wine Curmudgeon, to offer first-timers a few tips for making the most of their chance to play wine pro.
There are 32 Texas wineries participating in this year's edition of the Classic, and they're bringing with them 114 different wines. That means even samplers who make liberal use of their spit cups are likely to get a buzz. Siegel suggests moving at a leisurely pace (or as leisurely a pace as the crowd allows).
"Don't be afraid to pass stuff up"
Rare and unusual wines almost always show up at the Classic. So do the wines that every self-respecting Texas grocery store stocks. Rather than taste the same wine "for the 3000th time," Siegel gravitates toward wines he hasn't tried.
"Go out of your comfort zone"
"If you have no idea what a Blanc du Bois is, you might as well try it," says Siegel, who's a proponent of using the Classic to explore unfamiliar wineries and varietals. Since a $20 ticket buys all the wine you can drink, there's no monetary risk associated with accepting a pour of something new and different.
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"Ask anything you want"
Even critics-for-a-day struggle with how to rate the wines they taste. Does it matter if they like a wine? Or should they score it according to objective standards? "When I taste wine, I ask whether the winemaker succeeded in doing what he or she tried to do," Siegel says. Fortunately, the winemakers are manning their own tables at the Classic, so you can ask them to explain their intentions.
It's worth fighting the heat and the crowds to experience Grapefest, Siegel promises. "It's something everyone should see once," he says. "It's one of the most important events on the Texas wine calendar."