Last weekend was the first annual Downtown Aquarium Wine Fest and in great pioneering fashion, I chose to spread my beer soaked wings and ventured out to my first ever wine festival. While Denver Off the Wagon has some great connoisseur, wine writers who could have provided a great recap of the primary, secondary and tertiary flavors each wine at this festival evocated on their advanced palates, I chose to attend the event and provide an account from a beer drinker’s perspective…and hopefully, be a gateway representative for beer drinkers everywhere that wine festivals aren’t actually scary and snooty. Since everyone should learn from their experiences, I’ll spare you the embarrassment and highlight the top things beer drinkers should know about a wine festival that you may not know.
- The glasses are GLASS. Don’t drop it or it will break, you will be stared at (but not mocked loudly by surrounding crowds as at a beer festival), and most importantly, you will no longer have anything to taste wine from, so you will be thirsty and sad.
- If you know NOTHING about wine other than that there are different colors (this was me), start with a white. You can always move on to red, but its advised to first sip some whites given their milder tastes.
- Don’t try to make a comparison to a type of beer you like. For example: “Hey wine pourer lady, I usually drink IPAs, can you pour me your hoppiest wine?” It is OK to say you’re looking for something milder, sweet, etc., or take a recommendation for their favorite wine.
- Bring out your 2nd most spiffy weekend outfit. We’re not talking black tie but it was definitely a step up from ripped jeans and a t-shirt beer festival. Pretzel necklasses were also not present at this event.
- You’re NOT the only one there that doesn’t know anything about wine. People are friendly, people are drinking, and it’s pretty easy to run into many people who are not jamming their noses fully into the glass to evoke the aroma of the wine prior to drinking. (I tried this – it smelled like wine to me. Nothing more.) There are those that are simply there to learn a bit about wine, taste some fantastic wines and have a good time.
For better or worse, there were quite a few differences between wine and beer festivals that are noteworthy to be pointed out.
Some really great things to look forward to at wine festivals:
1) “That drunk group”. People there to get completely drunk and don’t really give a crap about the drinks themselves – doesn’t exist. The crowd was pleasant, still clearly tipsy (who couldn’t be with 12 wineries, breweries and a distillery), but very enjoyable and fun to strike up a conversation with.
2) Classy food. Those are two words you won’t hear in an article about a beer festival. Gourmet cheese, tiny bite-sized hors d’oeuvre, lots of fruit in the shape of flowers and much more.
3) Wine…beer and liquor. To appease the tastes of many of us who were just getting started with wine, they also had three breweries; New Belgium, Lagunitas, and Wirestone Walker, as well as a local Colorado Distillery, Spring 44 who had a fantastic honey vodka.
4) A chocolate fountain. I can’t say for sure if chocolate fountains can be found at all wine festivals, but this was truly an amazing touch of classiness and fun for everyone.
6) Short bathroom lines. This may seem silly but for anyone who has done the happy dance in line for a bathroom at a beer festival knows how miserable it can be. In short, small amounts of wine and more sipping equals less full bladders.
A few negatives about wine festivals:
1) Booth staff. Probably the biggest problem I had there were the wine pourers lack of knowledge/caring and general “they’re paid to smile” attitude. At each booth you will find someone who will typically be wearing a badge identifying him/her as a winery employee and they are much more knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions you have about their wines.
2) Diversity in wines. Almost EVERY booth featured the same line up of Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot and sometimes a Sauvignon Blanc. It was also a little disappointing that there were no local wineries represented, but the theme was Napa vs. Sonoma.
3) Music. Just because we were all drinking wine doesn’t mean we also all wanted to be lulled to sleep and have a group nap on the aquarium lawn.
For all you beer drinkers out there that have longing looked at your wine drinking friends with wine knowledge envy, a wine festival is a great place to start getting your palate wet and have a great time. Given the whole experience I can confidently say that “those” wine people, are not so different from us after all.