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Navigating the Boston Wine Expo: Tips for first-timers

Posted by Ellen Bhang  February 8, 2013 12:15 PM

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Get your glasses ready. The juggernaut that is the Boston Wine Expo rolls into town February 16th and 17th, President's Day weekend, for its annual run. Thousands will converge upon the Seaport World Trade Center and Seaport Hotel to swirl and sip more than 1,800 wines poured by 185 exhibitors from all over the globe. Beginners and long-time enthusiasts will also flock to seminars covering everything from wine basics to vertical tastings (successive vintages of the same wine). There will be cooking demos by celebrity chefs, keynote speakers, a new smart phone app to scan and purchase wines, a bloggers' get the idea. It's big.

First-time attendees always ask how to navigate this theme park of wine. It's smart to plan, especially since a two-day grand tasting ticket will set you back $145, seminars extra. Here are three tips for making the most of tastings as a first-timer.

Begin at the beginning, avoid the end. Each day's Grand Tasting opens to the public at 1pm, and we like being there when the doors open. Wine reps will have warmed up by pouring for wine trade professionals; they will be raring to educate about their wines. Arriving at the beginning rather than the end allows us to avoid attendees who who don't moderate their intake. The last half-hour can devolve into a drunky fest. We avoid it like the plague.

Taste by region, grape or cuisine. It's impossible to taste everything, so having a plan is key, say local wine experts featured on the Wine Education Network. One video on the Wine Expo homepage encourages three different approaches: concentrating on one of four wine regions (Mediterranean, the rest of Europe, North America, Southern Hemisphere); tasting by grape varietal; or with a preferred cuisine in mind. Genius! They also encourage drinking lots of water throughout the day.

Spit to your heart's content. Enthusiasts who are just getting started often hesitate to spit wine poured for them. Some feel embarrassed that they can't spit like the pros do -- presumably in a thin, elegant stream. We think it's fine to spit into a paper cup (we bring a stash with us) and then empty into the spit buckets provided. Not only does this avoid awkward moments -- crowds around the bucket; the dreaded "splash-back" -- but we keep our senses sharp to learn and enjoy. And isn't that what it's all about?

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Boston Wine Expo 2013 graphic.jpg

Ellen Bhang

About By the Glass

Ellen Bhang writes about food and wine and reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe. Wine is the focus of her degree in the Gastronomy master's program at Boston University. She can be reached at


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