First, what I loved about the event was it was done with class. From top to bottom, it was one of the best-run events I have been to. Once you walk in, you get a fancy wrist band (not that typical plastic or paper kind), a nice etched glass, a pen and a book. This wonderful book allowed you to see (and very cleverly, buy) all the wine you were sampling. The book also was a true guide in the sense it had maps and timelines for special events plus ample space for you to make tasting notes (or just simply bubble in 'tried it' and 'liked it' if you were not into notes). There was also plenty of clear signage to let you know where you were and where to go.
The food parings at this event were also one of the highlights. Not that there would have been any doubt that the good folks at SideBerns wouldn't deliver, but I was very impressed.
In addition to all the typical south Tampa glitz and glamour, the event was also well-attended by many of the connected folks in the biz. I had a chance to bump into my favorite sommelier Craig from Wine Exchange, the Mela brothers from Vintage Wine Cellars, the two James' from Taps (and soon to open Raw Sushi), and Michael from Fine Wine & Spirits (with his wonderful friend Kathy Benziger - yes, that Benziger).
What the event had in the way of fine wine and delicious food was unfortunately marred by a couple of things that detracted from an overall good time. First, it was generally a challenge to get to a table and would evoke an errant elbow or two from the cougar to your left. Second, once at the table, speaking anything other than the wine you would like to try would often cause audible groans of disappointment. It seemed that getting your drink on was the priority and not necessarily the education side of things. This is not to say that people did not try to ask questions, most of them did, but it was clearly often a vain attempt to linger longer to grab another gulp. Finally, it really seemed that this bred a certain amount of over-consumption, and by 3 pm there were more and more examples of the amateur club - those swirling wine in their glass that did not stay in their glass.
I guess at $125 a ticket, many folks were looking to get their full value, which would also explain them cherry picking the $100 and up bottles. Seeing this Caligula-like display, I figured "when in Rome" -- and proceeded to quit trying to learn and instead get as much expensive juice in me as possible. Once I adopted the mind set of the masses, I actually did not mind all the shoving and crankiness, but I did end up feeling a little dirty going against my inner wine geek. While I enjoyed the opportunity to try some very expensive wine, the way in which it was consumed did me no good. I would have preferred smaller crowds and less expensive wines (ones I can actually afford) and have an opportunity to learn about them.
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