Before You Enter the Battlefield, You Need A Plan

Whether it’s your life, a business deal, a vacation, or even just figuring out what to do this weekend, you need to have a plan. Clear thinking and a course of action can save you time, frustration, disappointment, and whole lot of questions later on.

Heading into a major wine festival or a grand tasting of wines is no different. Despite what you think your capacity is, you probably can’t do it all. And if you do, there may be many regrets at a future moment, not to mention an upset stomach and headache.

Wine festivals are great places to learn about wine. You have access to a lot of product and you have paid just one price. Much cheaper and better than purchasing a lot of bottles and seeing which ones suit you. But you need a “plan of attack.”

The field of battle is vast, with many pretty colors and fun smells. Without a plan, you are going to be one lost puppy. Let me assure you that if your plan is not well thought-out, or if your eyes are roaming, you probably won’t follow the plan anyway. Yet having a plan makes you look intelligent, organized, and allows you to focus on what you like, or what you want to learn about.

Having a plan is no guarantee of success. It’s just another step to attempt avoiding disaster.

I am not particularly advocating a written plan before you enter a wine festival. Just have an idea in your head where your priorities are and what you hope to accomplish. By the way, a laudable goal is not to attempt to drink every offering in the room. Don’t even think it.

All of this is brought to your attention because this week the 18th edition of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience unfolds. It’s a jumble of events of all types from wine dinners everywhere in town, to upscale tastings, to food events featuring celebrity chefs, to seminars, to strolling tastings, to grand tastings in the Louisiana Superdome.

Many events, many wines, and many opportunities to learn or to reinforce what you already know.  For information, check it all out at

Back to our topic, to navigate this, or any other, wine festival, you need to prepare, and you need a plan. Nothing to stress over. You just need to have some ideas of what you hope to gain in return for your money and your time. 

Before you go, eat. Eat well. I know, they usually serve food at the event. Don’t depend on it being what you need. Eat breakfast, or a sandwich, maybe a burger. Whatever it is, eat. The food will reduce the rate of alcohol consumption by your body. You’ve heard the expression “Lay a good base,” so do it.

During the time you are consuming wine, also consume water. Some experts suggest a 1:1 ratio. Personally, I can’t do that, but you have to stay hydrated and the water will assist.

Okay, so now we’re tasting wines. Lots of them. You do not have to consume all that is poured for you, and you do not have to swallow every sip you take. On every table at a wine event are buckets. You should use them for their intended purpose.

Keep in mind that you will be trying a lot of wine and it will have a cumulative effect. Every sip is not just one sip, it is one that adds up to many.

I know for a fact that as people come in the door of a festival, some will complain that they did not receive a “good pour.” You can bet that these people before very long will be pouring themselves into the back seat of their car, or into a cab.

Go easy. Little sips are good. They tell you all you need to know about a wine. If you really, really like the wine, you can have another. But don’t ask the pourer to fill your glass. Ever. Bad form.

Now, what does your plan tell you to do? If you have received a tasting map of the festival in advance, you should have marked off what wines you definitely want to taste and where they are located.

Stay in type. That means if you want to start with sparkling wines and Champagnes, go around the room and enjoy all that you planned to taste. Same goes if you are a “label drinker” (someone who is influenced by the name of the wine, whether it is particularly good or not), or if you like Pinot Noir or Chardonnay or whatever.

In the beginning, try to stay in the groove of tasting similar wines. They won’t all be located in one place at the festival, so you will be traveling around and skipping many wineries. Don’t worry. You can go back.

One exception: if there are wines at the tasting that cost more than $75, then get to those as early as possible. The wineries don’t release a lot of bottles for tasting purposes at festivals so there won’t be much of them. And if you wait until an hour or so after the tasting has begun, you are likely to be left out of a taste.

I also suggest that if you like Pinot Noir from a particular region, try new wines along the way that are neighbors of the wine you like. In this way, you will find some new treats. Also, don’t be afraid to try something that maybe in the past you weren’t too crazy about. Maybe you had a bad bottle, or it was just a bad day. Try a lot of wines from a lot of different places. This is your chance to be adventurous. Keep your nose in a downturned position. Not up.

When you find something you like, but are afraid you won’t be able to remember it later when it comes time to buy a bottle, there is an easy solution. Either bring a small notepad and a pen to take notes, or award stars. Or mark-up your program. Or use your cell phone to take a picture of the label on the bottle. After tasting hundreds of wines, your memory is not going to be what you hope. I speak from experience here.

Lastly, plan on not driving. Oh sure, you’re fine. But don’t bring your car to a wine tasting. Either ask a friend, a neighbor, or a relative to pick you up, or cab-it home. Stay on the safe side of the law. 

Wine festivals are great fun. The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience is no exception. Bring your joy for life, your love of wine and your happiest face. Be curious. Be a good guest. Get the most out of the time spent with one of nature’s greatest gifts, made more so by talented and dedicated professionals.

And plan. Now, go get’em, Tiger.

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