As with much of the business world, the fourth quarter is very important to the wine industry. September launches the end of harvest in most northern hemisphere wine regions and once the wine is safely aging in barrels, many wine companies promote their recently-released wines to distributors, restaurants, retailers and consumers at special tastings. If you can get an invite to any of these, I highly recommend moving your schedule to make it possible. Most of the “trade” tastings take place during work hours, so if you’re not in the wine trade, you’ll have to take time off and have someone in the trade make arrangements for you. These tastings are big, crowded and can be very overwhelming, so go with a plan. I get a tasting book and map out my day. I have tasted wine at these types of events for more than a decade, and my palate can usually handle between forty and sixty wines in one tasting (that’s using a spittoon with every wine). Trade tasting events offer between several hundred up to almost a thousand wines, so strategy and spitting are very important.
Some of the best events I have attended were organized by trade organizations such as the Inter Rhône, Taste Napa Valley, Alto-Adige Tour, Wines of Santa Barbara County, etc. These events often feature seminars along with the tasting and anytime there is an educational wine seminar, I highly recommend attending. Not only is there great information but also some very interesting wines. I was at such a seminar featuring the wine producers of Alto-Adige and had the rare opportunity to taste a vertical of Sauvignon Blancs from Cantina Terlano that included a wine from the 1960s. The oldest Sauvignon Blanc of the tasting was stunning. I would gladly buy a case of Terlano’s Sauvignon Blanc and taste it every year or so while it evolves, a very rare wine and opportunity.
One way to find out about these tastings is through the localwineevents.com website, though it is very unlikely you will find any trade wine events listed there. Finding and getting invited to trade wine events can be a bit tricky. The trade events are not open to the public for several reasons: One reason is the cost of the event; another is legal (alcohol is a controlled substance); the other is the public generally doesn’t understand how to behave at such events.
So if you get the opportunity to attend such an event, have some decorum—unfortunately even people in the trade don’t always know proper tasting behavior. Spitting is proper behavior; not spitting is a recipe for bad behavior! The best tastings have someone from the winery pouring the wine for you (owner, winemaker or employee), so be polite. If the winery representative is talking to someone, be patient. It’s a trade tasting; they might be doing some business. Other rules for attending a tasting: After you get a taste of wine poured for you, move away from the table to take your note and ponder the wine; don’t stand in front of the spittoon; don’t hog the person pouring the wines. If you go to a tasting table with a “rock star” winemaker or owner pouring, don’t show off, listen. If you want to ask a question, do so, but think it through first. Asking a famous winemaker something silly just wastes everyone’s time and you might even hear a couple of snickers behind you.