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At the Wine Expo, you need a strategy and a spit bucket

Posted by Ellen Bhang  February 11, 2014 08:58 PM

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If the prospect of thousands of other attendees at the Boston Wine Expo and 1,800 wines to sample sounds daunting, approach the 23rd annual event on Feb. 15-16 as a time to increase your wine knowledge. And have a plan.

Attend one of the seminars, which many people think distinguishes this expo from others. Jim Carmody, vice president and general manager of the Seaport Hotel, and one of the Expo's founders, says "The seminar program is the backbone of the event." There's a charge for the hourlong talks (38 in all, $25 to $50 per person), which run all weekend.

Perhaps if you're new to wine, start with a tutorial by author and wine educator Kevin Zraly, who has been teaching for nearly 40 years. Or attend one by visiting winemakers from France's Southern Rhone (learn about Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the storied red of their region), or listen to experts discuss quaffs from the Golden State. If you want to branch out beyond California, you can learn about high-altitude Chilean wines, value bottles from Spain, or stellar cheese and wine pairings. Seminars offer several tasting-size pours and can be attended without a ticket to the main tasting room. But even with its thousands of visitors, don't dismiss the exhibit hall too quickly. It's navigable and worth your time. Make a strategy.

Grand tastings ($95 for Saturday, $85 for Sunday) feature 200 wineries. You're given a glass at the door and you take it around to exhibitors for samples. Wine producers are typically arranged by country and some people pouring are the winemakers themselves, ready to tell you what you're sipping and talk about the land where there vineyards are located.

Some Expo visitors take a regional approach, heading to the Italy pavilion, for example, if they want to explore Chianti. Others use a style of wine as the organizing principle, making it an afternoon of tasting bubblies from all over the world. Many attendees will be using the Drync app on their smartphones to order wines and have them delivered home, or simply snapping photos of labels to research later.

Spit more than you imbibe. This is standard wine-tasting practice. If you feel self-conscious about communal buckets, spit into a plastic cup (we bring ours from home) and then dump. Drink plenty of water (pitchers are everywhere) and take advantage of chef demos and the couple dozen restaurants offering snacks and small plates. Some folks are there to just get their drink on (inevitable at an event like this) but they are noticeably fewer in number than in years past.

You'll be in energetic company. Carmody says that attendees in the age group of 28 to 42 are the fastest-growing demographic at the Expo, and 60 percent of the crowd will be women, who are also more often purchasing wine for dinners at home.

By the close of the weekend, you'll be smarter about what's in your glass. And if your memory needs a nudge, open your smartphone.

Boston Wine Expo, Feb. 15-16, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, www.wine-expos.com

Photo credit: Scarpetta Photography

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 bytheglass@globe.com.

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