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18th Annual Monterey Winery Association Tasting: August 7, Monterey, CA

One of my personal goals includes constantly educating my palate. I do this to both learn to be a better taster and to know more about wine, but also because, like every other wine lover, I'm out to find the next greatest wine to drink.

I try to encourage my readers to do the same thing, and the main way I do that is to push them to go to large public tasting events, where they can try dozens and dozens of wines side by side.

For me, there is a sharp dividing line in my past. The time before I went to such tastings, and the time after I went to such tastings. Before attending these big events, my deepest education about a wine variety or region came from visiting somewhere. I'd go on vacation and tour some wineries, or I'd head up to wine country for the day, and I'd probably end up tasting 30 or 40 wines in the course of a few days. Or maybe I'd hold a blind tasting of a particular sort of wine with a tasting group.

Such activities were incredibly valuable in my ongoing development as a wine lover, but they were patchwork, at best. For instance my sense of what Zinfandel tasted like, what made good Zinfandel better than bad, and who the best producers were was the sum total of my experience buying a few bottles, visiting a couple of wineries that made Zins in Sonoma, and a tasting with friends where 8 people each brought a bottle. In short, my belief that I knew what Zinfandel tasted like, and how I felt about the grape was made up of probably 40 different tastes of the stuff.

Compare this scattershot (and utterly typical) experience with going to the ZAP Zinfandel festival for four hours and tasting 90 different Zinfandels from producers you've never tried before. And then doing that every year for a few years.

There's just no way for the average wine lover of modest means and modest drinking tendencies to learn nearly as much about wine on their own as they can at one of these big wine tasting events.

Which brings me to the 18th Annual Monterey Winery Association tasting coming up in a couple of weeks.

Monterey is a very interesting wine region, and one that most people don't know anything about. Some might call it "under-rated," others "up and coming." I'm not sure I know it well enough personally to pass judgement in any authoritative sense. But what I do know is that I have had some really excellent wines from the region, which proved to me that it should be taken seriously, and that I should get to know it better.

Anyone else looking to do the same should consider attending the annual tasting put on by the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association coming up on August 7th. Held in the historic Customs House plaza in downtown Monterey, a stone's throw from the bay, the tasting features somewhere between 40 and 50 different wineries pouring about 200 different wines.

The event includes live music, a silent auction, a coopering demonstration, exhibits and displays, and a raffle. This time of year tends to be gorgeous down in Monterey (provided the fog stays away) and this event could be a great excuse to spend the weekend down there and enjoy the coast.

Monterey County Vintners & Grower Association - 18th Annual Winemakers' Celebration
Saturday August 7, 2010
1:00 PM to 5:00 PM
20 Custom House Plaza
Monterey, CA 93942-1793 (map)

Tickets are $45 per person (or $50 if you want to taste with a Riedel glass you can keep) and can be bought online in advance.

My usual tips for such public tastings: wear darker clothes to avoid stains from spills; get a good night's sleep; come with food in your stomach and drink lots of water; and spit if you want to actually learn something and enjoy yourself.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.