Food & Culture

Don’t be the Sloppy Wine Fest Amateur, Take These Tips From a Pro

Tips and strategies for sipping your way through the Auction of Washington Wines.

By Chelsea Lin August 15, 2017


This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

A day spent at a wine tasting event is a marathon, not a sprint—words to drink by especially in the case of a weekend-long event, such as the annual Auction of Washington Wines, the state’s top wine-based charity auction, celebrating its 30th anniversary August 17–19 at Woodinville’s Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. Paul Zitarelli, owner of Full Pull Wines, weighs in on how to make sure you’re still standing at the end of the day.

1. Eat Early and Often. Even if the event includes food, stop at Dick’s for a pre-function burger so that first glass won’t go straight to your head. Mixing food with wine will keep your energy up and palate sharp. 

2. Drink More Water than Wine. Alcohol dehydrates, so consider having a glass of water between each visit to a winery table—even if you’re planning to spit. 

3. Don’t Try Everything. Ask the pourers for their favorite two wines; with this strategy, you’ll be able to sample wines from a greater number of wineries.

4. Mix Whites and Reds. Mixing it up will help your palate stay fresh longer. 

5. Take Pithy Notes. Keep your evaluations mostly to thumbs up or thumbs down, and type those notes into your phone since you’ll be carrying it anyway. If you’re the sort to want lengthier tasting notes, do it later, with a full bottle.

We asked organizers of the Auction of Washington Wines what 10 things they’re most looking forward to tasting this weekend and here’s what they said:

Sparkman Cellars’ 2015 Birdie Riesling and 2014 Apparition Roussanne Blend
Wines by Auction of Washington Wines’ 2017 Honorary Vintner Sparkman Cellars are definitely worth a taste at this year’s Winemaker Picnic. Be sure to sip on Birdie, the world champion of the Wine Enthusiast wine scoring Riesling world, a dry, yet fruity, minerally, yet deeply textured and loaded with aromas of apple, peach and Asian pear, honeysuckle and cardamom. You just might experience the flavors of Bosc pear, Fuji apple, Catalonian blood orange, Turkish white nectarine, and Columbia River Valley crushed rocks. It’s even more versatile in food pairing than bacon, which is kind of a big thing. 

Also, be sure to taste Sparkman Cellars’ Roussanne blend, Apparition, with a nose jammed with peachy loveliness, minerals, Asian spices, candle wax and layers of nectarine, honey and marzipan on the palate. It finishes with a rich yet clean creaminess.

Limited Bottling of Avennia’s 2015 Columbia Valley Cabernet Franc
Avennia, a former Seattle magazine red wine of the year award winner, will be pouring its 2015 Cabernet Franc Champoux Vineyard for the barrel auction. The winery has never done a cabernet franc before, so the winning bidders will be first on the list to receive it when it is released in next spring. 

Kevin White Winery’s La Fraternite

La Fraternité pronounces bright red fruit from the moment you pull the cork. This Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah blend is a lively wine with layered aromas and flavors of strawberries, raspberries, kirsch, violets, and spice. On the palate, these flavors wrap around a silky medium body with a smooth, fresh and lingering finish. This wine pairs nicely with roasted chicken, grilled pork, Ahi tuna and salmon dishes. 

Wines from Darby Winery
Established by owner/winemaker Darby English in 2005, Darby Winery is a newcomer to the Winemaker Picnic Barrel Auction this year. Darby Winery focuses on quality, producing around 3,500 cases, so make sure you get your hands on a glass (or bottle) of their wines while you can. 

Blends from Chateau Ste. Michelle
Pours from Washington’s Founding Winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, are not to be missed, especially as the winery celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. One of the blends you can taste at Winemaker Picnic is Chateau Ste. Michelle’s commemorative magnum, their throwback label red blend from this year. Only 50 were made and sell at $350 each, however, a limited quantity will be available during picnic. 

Baked Blueberry Swirl Brie Tart
In this delicious brie bite, Garde Manger chef John Ponticelli swirls fresh Klesick Farms blueberries baked inside a pastry shell. 

Grilled Hangar Steak with a shot of Lemoncello
Chef Jeremy Taisey of Tulalip Bay Restaurant grills his hangar steak with fresh local blueberries and a balsamic maceration, all topped with bone marrow butter and arugula. The savory bite is accompanied by a shot of lemoncello mixed with refreshing homemade lemonade. 

Crispy Buttermilk Battered Chicken on a Brioche Bun
As a play on elevated sports bar fare, chef Brent Clarkson piles fried golden brown buttermilk-battered chicken and serves it on top of a brioche slider bun with mixed greens all topped with a tangy blackberry BBQ sauce. 

Rubel Blueberry Sockeye Salmon Lox
To create this dish, chef David Buchanan of Blackfish Wild Salmon Grill and Bar is using Whitehorse Farms Ruble blueberries & huckleberries paired with orange vinaigrette, berry-blood orange confit, kalamata olive, mint, chervil, and pumpernickel crisp. 

Unicorn French Macaron
At her five dessert stations, Tulalip Resort Casino’s executive pastry chef Nikol Nakamura, you’ll enjoy over-the-top dessert creations, like these unicorn French macarons inspired by the patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Before preparing her menu, Nikol visited the hospital to host a dessert-themed arts and crafts table where she spent a few hours with patients creating desserts from play dough and other crafts. She used her notes and memories from that day to craft sweet treats in honor of those patients.

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