Peter and I did something very out of character for us this past Saturday. We went out in public in Seattle for an extended period of time! And not just to a coffee shop either! We went to a proper big event called Taste Washington at the CenturyLink Field Event Center.
Taste Washington – not Taste of Washington – is the largest food and wine event in the country. We went to the Grand Tasting which was organized a little bit like a trade show with booths and vendors, although I use the term booth very loosely here. It was more like long church tables stacked together forming sections shaped as squares. At this year’s tasting, there were more than 230 wineries representin’ Washington and over 65 restaurants.
On the surface the $95/ticket (single day) price seemed a bit steep but this is an all-inclusive event where you can drink as much wine (and beer) and eat as much food as you like for three-and-a-half hours; four-and-a-half hours if you purchase the VIP tickets ($165/ticket). In researching this post, I’ve learned that presale tickets were available at a $21 discount in December 2017 and have set a reminder so Peter and I take advantage of this for Taste Washington 2019 because we are for sure going but next time as VIPs.
Doors opened for general admission at 2pm and we arrived at 2:12pm via Lyft. The queue snaked down two city blocks. I started the timer as soon as we reached the end of the queue. It only took us 16 minutes to get in the door.
We were given two stemmed wine glasses and two corks as soon as we entered the event center. My first impression of the event was that it was not as crowded as I thought it was going to be given the length of the queue plus all the VIPs who entered an hour before general admission. So far, so good.
Since we are no longer Taste Washington rookies, I want to share our lessons learned.
Arrive prior to the doors opening to maximize your time at the event. Arriving early will not decrease your overall queue wait time but it will get you a spot in the queue closer to the front of the queue and the closer you are to the front, the faster you will be in the door and can start taking advantage of the all-inclusive wining and dining.
Another upside to being one of the first hundred(?) in the door is that you will get a taster plate. The taster place is a bamboo square plate that has a slot for your wine glass stem in one of the corners of the plate. This design allows you to hold the plate with one hand and use the other hand to eat the food on your plate without having to juggle your wine glass in the same hand that’s holding the plate/bowl of food. In other words, the wine glass “hangs” from your plate and we all like hands-free design. They were out of plates by the time Peter and I walked through the doors which was disappointing but not the end of the world.
The entrance is located at 900 Occidental Ave S, Seattle, WA 98134. The only cars driving on Occidental Ave were cars dropping people off, so I recommend pointing your driver to this address.
What to wear
I must say that anything goes at this event but just because “anything goes” doesn’t mean you should arrive in “anything”. I saw everything from Seahawks jerseys to athleisure wear to high heels and mini skirts and all of these fashion choices were inappropriate for the event but for different reasons.
The most important clothing consideration for this event is comfort. You are going to be standing on concrete floor for hours which is probably more hours than you stand in a week. You are going to get intoxicated and with that comes a loss of balance and other bodily functions so do your body a favor and take the necessary precautions to make it as drunk-safe as possible!
I wore New Balance shoes, jeans and a sweater. I opted for an Osprey daypack in lieu of a handbag because I knew we’d be collecting business cards and swag along the way and wanted somewhere to store it and that somewhere not being a heavy handbag slung on my shoulder. I also knew that two hands was not going to be enough for drinking and eating while standing and a handbag would only make that task harder.
Protip: Do not wear a white sweater. I wore a white sweater knowing it was a risk but the only risk I assessed was me spilling food and/or wine on myself. The real risk is when wine is poured in your glass because there will be microscopic splatter which can easily reach your wrists and your white sweater.
As best as I can recall, I was the only woman at the event with a daypack, so it was not the most fashionable of choices but definitely the smartest.
Peter wore a button down shirt, jeans and black dress shoes. I felt he was dressed perfectly for the event. He spilled all sorts of things on his dress shirt because he’s a toddler when it comes to stuff like this.
Your first stop should be to the coat check which is to the left as you enter the event center. There were a ton of people working the coat check which made it extremely efficient. It took about 30 seconds for us to check our coats and it took the same amount of time get claim our coats afterwards.
Protip: Make sure your corks have not been stuffed in your jacket pockets and tucked away in the coat check because you’ll need those corks sooner or later. Corks are used to vote for your favorite wine or food – just drop it in the jar at the booth of your favorite vendor.
Plan of attack
I’d read an article just before we left for the tasting which recommended having a game plan because there are a lot of vendors and you want to maximize your time. This caused me to panic and I quickly searched Instagram and found a woman who posted a photo of her itinerary. Several of the wineries on her list we’d either visited before or were interested in visiting so I thought her list was a god send. We intended to follow her itinerary but could not find the first vendor even though she’d included the section number.
Sections were identified clearly with the number and names of vendors but it was impossible to find a specific winery within the section without walking the perimeter of the section and reading the labels of the bottles. This experience could be improved if the wine pourers would wear hats with the winery name on a sign that stuck out of the top of the hat.
It took almost no time to realize that it would be impossible to follow an itinerary at an event of this nature so we decided to PIBE it (play it by ear). PIBEing it takes zero effort because all you have to do is walk up to the table, request your wine, watch the wine pour into your glass, and step back and drink the wine. You repeat this process for the next three-and-a-half hours. Literally could not be any easier.
After two pours of wine we found ourselves at the Visit Walla Walla booth eating mini cupcakes. We don’t need a booth to talk us into visiting Walla Walla because we’ve already got a return trip on the travel calendar this year.
From the cupcakes, we bounced from winery to winery and mixed in some food every-now-and-again. All food was served in slightly-larger-than-sample size portions and the amount of food we ate was definitely enough to not require the amount of pizza we ate after the event.
The corks given upon entry are used to vote for your favorite wine or restaurant and I plopped my cork into the jar for Castle Event Catering. We ate many two-bite tacos at the end of the event and I felt they deserved it because the tacos were cute and delish. Other restaurants we enjoyed were Rider, RN74, The Crab Pot, Assaggio, La Panzanella, Maslow’s, and Grettie’s Goodies.
If there is one thing I have learned from Washington wines is that Rosé wine is not always terrible. Prior to our trip to Walla Walla last year, I’d never tasted Rosé wine because I was under the impression that it was a sweet wine and I am not a sweet wine type of gal but the reality is that there is great variation in Rosé wines and not every bottle is sweet.
I started the event drinking red wine, mostly Syrah because that is what Washington wines are known for. The winners of the day in the red wine category are:
- 2014 Syrah by Robert Ramsay Cellars
- 2015 Upland Syrah by Kerloo Cellars
- 2014 Old Goat by JB Neufeld
- 2015 Red Rhone Blend by Radix Winery
After our first hour at the event, I feared the dreaded “purple lips and mouth” from drinking red wine so I switched to white wine which included many Rosé wines. The winners of the day in the white wine category are:
- 2017 Rose by Revelry Vintners
- 2017 Rose by WIT Cellars
- 2016 Grenache Blanc by II Vintners
- 2016 Pinot Gris by Nine Hats
The most surprising of the three white wine winners was Nine Hats because I’ve tasted their wines before and have never been super excited by them. The Pinot Gris paired nicely with the two-bite tacos. Also, I was moderately intoxicated at that stage.
During the event, I spread my wings a little further and tried a white wine varietal I’d never heard of before called Auxerrois (pronounced “oh-sehr-wah”). Lobo Hills is the only producer of this grape in the state of Washington. Auxerrois is traditionally grown in the esteemed Alsace region in France located on the German border and if you don’t know anything about this region, know that the vines survived WWII. Knowing that this grape’s history hails from Alsace somewhat explains the wine’s German Riesling-esque bite. It was sweet yet sour and perhaps contained a little bit of sparkle.
I did not enjoy the wine and dumped my glass out at a bucket a different booth. The individual dump buckets were dumped into Home Depot buckets rolled around on carts, sort of like garbage service. Home Depots buckets are even more useful than you thought!
Vendors were organized into sections alphabetically but there were prime and not-so-prime locations within each section and there is no doubt that location and size of both were directly related to price. Columbia Winery gets the Best Booth award, however, we did not try their wines. We just stood from afar admiring the booth drinking other wine.
Taste Washington was an impressive event and we cannot wait to return next year and stumble our way through Pioneer Square to the Light Rail station.