Taste Washington

My husband and I were invited to a Washington Wine Commission media event for Taste Washington. Essentially, this is a pep rally to whip up support for the Taste Washington weekend and Washington wines in general.

The Wine Commission is preaching to the choir. I have delayed vacations, come back early from vacation, and turned down significant invitations to attend Taste Washington. Indeed, we are missing a friend’s 45th birthday party this year.

Taste Washington is one of the larger wine and food tasting events of the year, not only locally, but also nationally. It is a must-do event for anyone who enjoys an afternoon of tasting Washington wines combined with foods offered by many of the highest rated restaurants in the region. The two-day event includes wine seminars on Saturday, April 4, at the Bell Harbor Conference Center, and the huge Grand Tasting held on Sunday, April 5, at the Qwest Field Event Center.

Personal strategy for the Grand Tasting

To make the most of the Grand Tasting, some pre-planning helps because there will be more than 200 wineries offering 800 different wines, with 60 restaurants touting their best offerings. Not even world class foodies at the top of their form can come close to trying even a small sampling from this veritable groaning board banquet.

So, what are the best strategies? After making a list of wineries we don’t want to miss, my husband and I view the tasting as a team event. We find a convenient table, and then both go to different booths to fetch samples of food and wine to share. We also have an extra container so that most wines can be dumped after a taste. Taste, and spit is mandatory if you expect to sample many wines. There are signs that say: “It is Hip to Spit.” Taxis are also readily available. As the event goes on, chat with others to share thoughts about wines and food that seem special.

VIP or general admission ticket?

The Grand Tasting has two types of tickets. The general admission ticket is $85 from 4 to 8 p.m. For those with true grit, the VIP ticket for $125 provides admission from 2 to 8 p.m. A nice benefit of the VIP ticket is that the two hours between 2 and 4 p.m. have restricted admission; lines are shorter, and the chefs and winemakers have more time to chat. Also, the very high-demand wines which may run out toward the end of the evening are in good supply during that period. If you decide on VIP tickets, you should get them as soon as possible because they always sell out early.

If you have a partner who is not as avid about wine as you, there are other activities, not to mention the food. There is a wheel of fortune with restaurant gift certificates, wine logo clothing and other wine-related prizes. KIRO sponsors a ring toss: the ring lands on a bottle, you get to keep the bottle. Celebrity chefs have cooking demonstrations.

Saturday wine seminars

The wine seminars range in price from $40 to $99, and lunch is provided. Each seminar is led by a distinguished panel of winemakers and wine critics.

The $99 seminar is led by winemakers who conduct a comparative tastings of their 1999 vintage cabernet sauvignons to the current vintage. The $60 seminar is in a game show format with nine wine professionals seeing if they can beat the audience when identifying Washington wines apart from those of other regions.

Two other seminars focus on Washington’s more famous vineyards: Klipsun and Champoux. Another seminar addresses the price value of Washington wines. Even our so-called cult wines such as Leonetti cabernet sauvignon are around $100; nothing compared to the Screaming Eagle of California at $250 at first release or a Bordeaux from France at $350. Consumers looking for value wines in the current challenging economy can find delicious, well-made Washington wines for around $10. Even if you splurge, a great Washington wine can still be under $25.

Admittedly, the seminars are not for everyone. People who attend are interested in the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes part of the wine industry or want to improve their ability to critically evaluate wine.

My enthusiasm for Washington wines is so profound that you would think I had done something to make our wines so fantastic, delicious and well-priced. The short history of Washington wines is amazing. Today we have over 600 wineries; just five years ago, we had only 300. In 1981, we had 19. Last year’s harvest was a record-breaking 145,000 tons. The wine industry pays full-time wages to 19,000 Washingtonians. The world-class wines of Washington and their relatively short history should make all Washingtonians proud.

Seminar tickets and detailed Taste Washington information is available at

Tickets for the Grand Tasting are available at Mercer Island’s own Cellar 46 without a processing fee.

Cellar 46 has tastings on Fridays and Saturdays through March to salute Washington wines. All tastings start at 4 p.m.

Spotlight on the Wines of Woodinville: Friday, March 13

Mark Ryan Winery: Saturday, March 14

Spotlight on Wines of Walla Walla: Friday, March 20

VaPiano Winery: Saturday, March 21

Lost River Winery: Friday, March 27

Efeste Winery: Saturday, March 28

Dee Hitch can be reached at

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