How to best handle wine fairs

With the fall season upon us, wine fairs kick into gear big time. Producers, wine regions, countries and agents all seem to prefer this season to launch new products and promote existing ones. For the novice or pro, it can be pretty overwhelming because there is so much to choose from.

Truthfully, these large events are not the ideal environment to taste products. With folks constantly bumping into you, extraneous smells of perfume and aftershave, and – if there’s food, which there often is – the smell of cooking, all these factors can get in the way of your wine appreciation.

However, there are some tricks available to you so you can get the most out of wine in these environments. Allow the ‘good doctor’ to enlighten you.

Whether it’s a large tasting, wine fair, or show, the best time to attend it is right when it opens. At this time it’s still not crowded and, as these tend to go on for hours, the exhibitors are fresh and more willing to chat. Later in the event, most exhibitors are tired and less likely to be as approachable.

If it’s a wine fair that’s on for several days, say from Friday to Sunday, the best time to go is on the Friday when it opens, and be out of there by around 5 p.m. Even if you have to take time off work to attend, it will be in your best interest.

If you can’t make it on a Friday, then get to the show at opening time on the weekend, do your thing and vamoose. Later in the evening is when all the less serious wine lovers and party animals, who are more interested in quantity than quality, come out. Dinner time is also a good time to avoid, as these events tend to turn into mobile buffets. Furthermore, when it’s too crowded there is simply too much extraneous stimuli to properly focus on the wines.

Most folks attending these events tend to wander from booth to booth tasting anything or as many products as possible. This is not a good idea and, when all is said and done, they wonder how much they really got out of the show. Before you actually start tasting, sit down with the show guide and plan your attack. Pick a varietal, vintage, wine style, country, region, etc. and concentrate only on the wines that fall into that category.

At the end of the day, you’ll find you got a lot more out of the show and have a real sense of accomplishment.

You most certainly will not have tasted everything, but you’ll end up with a pretty good handle on your chosen subject.

This next trick is of utmost importance and I can’t emphasize it enough: DON’T SWALLOW. After a few sips, the alcohol kicks in and your ability to decipher complexity of wine is shot. Besides, the alcohol will make you tired and less likely to want to proceed. Speaking of not swallowing, there are often far too few “spittoons” available to dispose of your wine, or there are simply too many people around to get at them. What I suggest is “BYOS” (bring your own spittoon). A plastic beer cup, jar wrapped in tin foil or some other container will work. This certainly makes that part of the job a lot easier.

Take lots of breaks as well. Don’t taste any more than four to five wines at a stretch, drink lots of water and nibble food often.

The final trick is optional. Bring your own tasting glass to avoid using the small, industrial versions that are often provided and have the show name plastered on them as a keepsake. These are usually not great for wine.

So there you have it. I guarantee that if you follow some or all of these tricks for attending a wine show or fair, you’ll get much more out of it. Enjoy.


Edward Finstein is a wine writer, award-winning author, TV and radio host, educator and judge   –   –   @DrWineKnow   –   –   Pinot Envy at

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