Poor college students may relate: there’s a really awesome event that you would love to attend but you can’t imagine paying for the admission ticket. Some of you may think, sure, but I bought the ticket anyway. Some may even think, I have never had an event like that. Well, as a foodie, I have plenty of such events frequently. Being in Seattle, there seems to be more than one such event each weekend.This weekend was no exception.

March 25th, Friday, was the Washington Wine Restaurant Awards trade tasting and awards ceremony. Leslie Kelly had generously invited me to join her. Okay, that makes me sound more important than I am. She had extra tickets and had mentioned it on Facebook. I think I was the first to respond.

Anyway, I had the rare privilege of attending an industry-only awards event hosted by the Washington State Wine Commission and sponsored by the Seattle Business Magazine. The event didn’t disappoint, though I hadn’t really had many expectations.

Feeling somewhat like Cinderella at her first ball – sans ballgown and glass slippers…oh and prince to meet – I wandered around balancing my event program listing the wineries and my wine glass, which had an etching of the Washington Athletic Club, where the event was held. Jazzy music was piped in from mystery speakers, and large brightly lit chandaliers dominated the ceilings. Sommeliers and wine experts glided around and gathered near their favorite vendors. Wine vendors and representatives stood at the ready, prepared for sample pouring and fancy conversation. A selection of cheese and fruit, water, and Fonte coffee were available in different areas in the three-room location, inviting guests to fill plates and make an afternoon of the event.

It took me two laps of the conference room before I settled on my first wine. I chose my wine carefully: the vendor standing behind her selection of wines wore a friendly, non-intimidating smile and said hi before I could pretend to look like I knew what I was doing and drift along. The vendor had accompanied her husband, who was a representative for Novelty Hill and Januik Winery. She confided that while I was yet still newer to the wine world, especially from the inside, she wasn’t technically in the wine world, but she had come to the event to help with wine pouring and to see the awards.

I sampled Novelty Hill and Januik Winery’s Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viogniet, and Riesling. You may think, okay, she must not be a wine girl; she stuck with all white wine. You’re right, I don’t tend to pick reds to sip. I like to enjoy a hearty meal with my red rather than sip it while chatting idly with perfect stranger. It was also just after 1pm on  a day where I still had an hour and half before the awards ceremony started. The wine was bright, slightly sweet, and pleasant. The Sauvignon Blanc had a delightful floral smell, but it was rich and creamy. It was really pleasant, but I wasn’t sure if it would be able to hold its own against other mixed foods. I kept thinking that a fruit platter would be tasty with it. The Viognier seemed to be bolder and that it would complement food well. It made me think about packing a basket of cold roasted chicken, crisp crackers, cheese, and fresh fruit and going for a leisurely walk along the waterfront. The Riesling was crisp and dry. Its bright acidity actually surprised me, because I was expecting it to be markedly sweeter and creamier than the other wines, but it wasn’t. It seemed sharp enough to cut through cream-based sauces without being overwhelmed but also without startling your tongue out of its mouthfeel reverie. I would definitely bring that to a dinner party.

After sampling those wines, I felt more comfortable wandering around the room. I chatted and drank it up with Cartel Wines, whose wines are much cheaper. The cheap cost didn’t detract from the taste of the wine, though. The vendor explained that these wines were designed explicitly to complement food. I think lots of wine makers think that. These reds were much more mild than I was expecting. I sipped on the Seeing Red Cabernet Sauvignon, which was aged in new oak. The wine itself was fruity, oaky but not woody, bright, and spicy. I would pair it with something meaty but probably not especially spicy.

I also chatted with the vendors from the Castillo de Feliciana Winery. This Spanish-themed winery opened in 2003, and it is located in Walla Walla. I tasted the Miercoles Red Blend. Its deep red color was enticing, and it smelled like berries and pepper. The texture was almost buttery, and it lingered on your tongue. The tanin structure was pleasant, allowing you to enjoy the flavor and dryness of the wine without feeling thirstier in the process. It might seem like a winter wine, simply because I felt it could bear the strength of a hearty stew, but it didn’t cling to your palate the way some heavier wines do. The description mentioned an herbal quality to the wine, but I seemed to miss it. It would make a great gift for someone who has a developed wine palate and enjoys pairing food and wine.

After sampling the wines, I caught up with Leslie Kelly and her friends, Myra Kohn and Soojin Yum. They had just finished enjoying wines at DeLILLE Cellars, Grand Ciel, and Doyenne. We chatted for a few minutes about the event, and then we went our separate ways. I headed for DeLILLE to see what the fuss was about. Apparently there was quite a bit, because the vendor was very busy. That’s good. I enjoyed the Chaleur Estate Blanc very much. It was smooth, but it almost seemed drowned out by my now exhausted palate. I’ll have to resample their wines on a fresh day.

The award ceremony itself was interesting. Restaurants received accolades for their efforts to include Washington wines on their lists, and several famous restaurants received nods. I was pretty excited to see Cafe Flora, Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar, John Howie Steak, Daniel’s Broiler, and Barking Frog get some love. Reigning supreme was Canlis, which won the grand prize, a blown glass goblet created by James Mongrain, a local artist. The winners definitely all deserved the awards, and it was fun to watch the ceremony.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Taste Washington event was taking place at Qwest Field. For this event, tickets cost $75 for general admission and more for the VIP tickets. Lots of time and energy go into setting up this event, and since I am still a poor college student, I can’t buy a ticket. Fortunately, Taste Washington does accept volunteer work in exchange for a cheaper ticket – $40. So that’s what I did. As it turned out, I still couldn’t attend any of the events, but it looked like it would be very interesting and exciting.

Volunteering wasn’t so bad. We were hanging signs. That sounds really simple, but these signs really liked unhooking from their S-hooks and the process is just always more time consuming than it seems. For those who have worked at Pepperdine’s Special Programs, you know what I am talking about. The work itself isn’t hard; the work itself is just somehow complicated. I admire those who do event coordinating and event doing. I have a dear friend whose job includes these events, and I must say that I have a healthier respect for her work. I think my tips for future events: just throw away the things that are broken rather than tossing them back in the box. That was somewhat the most distracting part of our sign-hanging process.

from http://www.vinography.com/archives/2009/05/the_best_wine_in_washington_st.html 

The entire event center was subdivided into about 16 pods of wineries and restaurants, each offering beverages or food. Manufacturers and other producers were also present, marketing their items and partaking in this massive food event. One of the volunteers had attended in the past, and she said the event is great, but there are so many wineries and things to see and do that you don’t feel like you have enough time to see everything. She had purchased the VIP tickets despite volunteering because she wanted the extra time to get to more stations.  Good advice.

You can enjoy good wine and food without paying thousands of dollars. Instead of lamenting that I can’t attend all of the food and wine events in Seattle, I think I’ll just gather some good friends, a few bottles of good wine, and some fun foods, and we’ll do our own tasting. Who’s with me?