Monday, June 29, 2009

Free Wine Tastings

I'll confess: I used to be really daunted by wine. I would venture to say that there are many people who feel the same way. There's a sense that you really have to know wine, and to be able not only to distinguish between grape varieties, but to be familiar with the regions from which wines come. There's also a (false but very real) stereotype that good wines have to be rare and expensive, and that anything inexpensive and readily available must be "bad" wine.

But in 2006, some friends and I were at a conference in San Diego, and we made a side trip to Temecula. There we enjoyed a beautiful day tasting wines at various small wineries. While I knew next to nothing about wine, I knew that I was enjoying myself. I enjoyed it so much that a year later, I took the chance to visit Napa and Sonoma and taste a fine selection of wines. In addition, this past March I visited the Elgion/Sonoita region in Arizona (which produced wines very similar to those I tried in Temecula).

From these various trips, I've come to view wine the same way that I view art: I may not be an expert, but I know what I like and what I don't. "Good" wine (like "good" art) has structure and complexity, subtlety, and something about it that evokes a response. "Bad" wine (like "bad" art) is one-dimensional, forgotten after the first taste, and leaves you cold and bored. In summary, it all comes down to individual preference, and you shouldn't let anyone else tell you which wines to like and which to snub.

If there's one down-side to wine tasting, it's the cost. Tastings can run from $5 to $10 per person depending on the winery you visit - and once you've exhausted the small cadre of vineyards that Vermont has to offer, you're looking at travel time and travel costs as well. Luckily, there's the Burlington Wine Shop on St. Paul street in downtown Burlington (just down from American Flatbread). Not only do they carry a varied selection of wines at a great value, but on select Saturdays throughout the year, they do FREE wine tastings from 1:00 p.m to 7:00 p.m.

Picking different themes for each tasting (it was Italian wines this past Saturday), you can generally try out six different wines, all for that reasonable price of FREE. Of course, you need to be over 21, and you may need to wait a few minutes for the crowd to thin down, but it's worth it; particularly if you aren't planning any trips to Napa or Tuscany anytime soon. In addition, the featured wines are usually on sale as well, so if you find something you like, you'll get a deal on purchasing a bottle.

The Burlington Wine Shop is limited in the number of tastings they can hold, so it doesn't happen every Saturday; but they advertise the event regularly in Seven Days, or you can go to the shop and sign up for the e-mail list to get updates on when tastings are held.

There's also no pre-requisite knowledge about wine required; so you can just go and decide what you like best for yourself.


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