And here are my top tips on how to get the most from a wine show:
1. To build your stamina in the weeks leading up to the show, walk around Price Club during the weekends. Eat lots of the cheese-doodles and toothpick wieners. And be nice to the Demo Lady: she may well be pouring your sample at the show.
2. Eat before you come to the show even though there are often lots of food exhibitors. A full stomach helps your body to absorb wine, slowing its entry into the bloodstream.
3. Drink lots of water before and during the show. Alcohol is dehydrating, as are chatting, laughing and flirting with other attendees. Keeping your body hydrated will also help to avoid having the village drums pounding in your head the next morning.
4. Leave the white Chanel suit in the closet, for an event where you won’t be constantly bumping elbows attached to arms carrying glasses full of wine. (Scotch-guarded, elasticized “buffet pants” are a better bet.)
5. Leave the Chanel perfume at home, too — it competes with the aromas of the wine.
6. For the truly ambitious: study the show guide’s floor map of exhibitors and plan your route according to your goals. For instance, you may want to start sampling white wines, then go back for reds and then sweet and fortified wines.
7. You may also want to compare the same varietal such as cabernet sauvignon or shiraz from different wineries and countries, to learn what a difference soil and climate can make. Check off the booths in your directory as you visit them.
8. Go to the popular tables first: Australia, New Zealand, Italy, France, Canada and the U.S. They get crowded quickly, and often run out of the best wine. Also visit booths with wines that have won awards in the show’s competition.
9. Drink the expensive stuff first. The more we drink, the more numb our sense of smell and taste becomes. The pricey wine usually has the most complex nuances, and you should put your best nose forward for them.
10. Resist the temptation to “sample” your beloved Australian shiraz seventeen times — even though, yes, that might be cheaper than buying the bottle yourself. This is your chance to get out of your vinous rut by trying unusual wines: you’ll have some guidance from the person pouring and you can try a small sample without having to commit to a full bottle — which you can’t do (legally) in a liquor store.
11. Look for newly emerging or re-emerging countries, such as South Africa, Spain and Portugal.
12. Chat up the knowledgeable pourers. Ask them about the wine, its origins, the winemaker; how it differs from other wines, and which dishes would go well with it. Ask them about their own wine picks at the show. There’s often an informal, after-hours treaty of reciprocation among the Pour People: they know what’s hot and treat each other to their best stuff.
13. Don’t monopolize the pourers if other attendees are waiting behind you for their sample. Take your drink, move aside, and wait for a lull.
14. Call it expectorating if that helps to ease the social stigma of the act, but you need to spit. Spitting is acceptable, and expected, at wine shows – that’s why there are spittoon buckets and rinse stations scattered around the floor. Never get between the big guy with bulging cheeks and the spit bucket.
15. There are many free cooking demonstrations throughout the show, with such celebrity chefs and writers. You can find a schedule for these sessions on the show’s web site.
16. Look for the private tasting sessions held off the main show floor and requiring tickets. These are often the most educational and valuable sessions of the event. Plus you get to sit down and rest your feet.
17. Continue your learning after the show: join a wine club, take a course and keep sampling.