Wine shopping can be so intimidating.
All those bottles. All those labels. All those grapes.
Do you take a chance on a wine you’ve never tried and risk hating it? Or do you stick safely to the dozen or so specific ones you’ve already tried?
The 19th annual Midwest Winefest Grand Tasting on Saturday offers assistance to oenophiles grappling with such grape issues. Organizers say the event, which usually draws around 1,500 to the Century II Exhibition Hall, gives wine drinkers the chance to sample from a list of more than 350 wines and decide what they like before spending any money.
“Wine has become so popular that it’s a good place to taste wines that you may have heard about but you don’t know if you really want to go out and spend $15 or $20 on and then maybe have to toss,” said Peggy DiStefano, the Midwest Winefest coordinator.
The following are some tips that will help you enjoy Saturday’s Grand Tasting appropriately.
Taste the trends: This year’s tasting will feature samples from wineries across the world, and all of the wines are available in local liquor stores. Several of the labels are already familiar to Wichita wine drinkers and longtime Winefest attendees: Justin Winery, Delicato Family Vineyards, Frog’s Leap, Skinnygirl, Trinchero Family Estates. The festival also has added a new winery, Victor Vineyards out of Victor, Calif., which will bring its cabernet Sauvignon, zinfandel and Roadside Red Blend. And a couple of wineries who haven’t been at the Winefest for a few years will make a return appearance, including German wine maker Schmitt Sohne Winery.
Attendees will notice a few new trends this year, said Richelle Oades, who helps direct the festival as part of her job with Standard Beverage.
The lineup includes several hues of pink, including pink moscato and pink pinot grigio, Oades said. More wine makers are experimenting with red and white blends that have more of a rose profile.
Bottled sangrias are big this year, too, and the grand tasting will have samples from Yellowtail as well as Eppa Red Sangria and Eppa White Sangria.
“Essentially, rather than having to go through the effort of making your own sangria with fruit and different wines, a couple of different wineries are now bottling sangria ready to drink,” Oades said.
Fill a plate: As always, the Grand Tasting will offer samples of gourmet food from several Wichita restaurants and food vendors. New to the event this year is Deano’s Grill & Tapworks and the new Douglas Avenue Chop Shop. Abuelo’s, Ciao, Il Vicino, Mike’s Wine Dive, Taste & See, P.F. Chang’s, Sweetly Scrumptious, N&J Cafe and Newport Grill are among the other restaurants on the list. (At press time, owners of the recently fire-damaged Sweet Basil were trying to decide whether they could continue their longtime tradition of serving at the event.)
The food samples are included with admission.
Bring on the bubbles: Winefest organizers this year are expanding the “Bubble Room,” an area at the tasting where attendees can sample champagne and other bubbly beverages. The Bubble Room also offers sweet treats and desserts from restaurants and vendors such as Cafe Maurice, Monica’s Bundt Cake and Dean & DeLuca.
Buy a bottle – or a vacation: The Grand Tasting also includes live and silent auction items, including several lots of wine and trips to destinations such as Napa Valley and New York City.
Drink for a cause: Winefest is a fundraiser for the Guadalupe Health Foundation, which supports the Guadalupe Clinic – an organization that provides health services to people who don’t have insurance. During its 19-year run, Winefest has raised more than $3 million for the charity.
Plan ahead for next year: The Winefest is actually a three-day event, which started Thursday with the always-sold-out Old Town Walkabout. The 900 available tickets to the event, which invites participants to stroll between Old Town restaurants sampling wine and food, traditionally sell out within a day. The Winefest also includes Friday night wine dinners at various restaurants around town that cost between $125 and $150 a person, but organizers anticipate that they’ll all be sold out by Friday. Tickets to those events usually go on sale during the last week of March.