A Complete Newbie’s Guide to Wine Festivals
Here at Wine&More, we love introducing beginners to the wine world, educating them and sharing our love of fine wine with them. So, when a colleague asked what it was exactly that we did on wine festivals, instead of telling her, we decided to show her and took her to her very first wine festival – The Vinart Grand Tasting in Zagreb. So, here's a story of how she saw and experienced wine festivals, and, boy, was it fun to watch!
It was a warm, sunny March Saturday. The scent of Spring in the air. Everything was completely normal, except for one thing – I was going to a wine festival! Me. A person, who besides knowing a couple of grape varieties and distinguishing wines by their color (red, white, rose and sparkling) knew absolutely nothing about wines or how to behave at a wine festival.
When the Wine&More team told me to come with them to the Vinart Grand Tasting Wine festival, my inner response was: “God, no, I’ll look like a complete idiot!”, but what my mouth ended up saying was: “Sure, sounds like fun!”. My mouth was right, cause if you’re going to a wine festival for the first time in your life, it might as well be a grand one. ;)
For those of you who are not familiar with this festival, the Vinart Grand Tasting Wine Festival is one of the biggest ones in the regions. It is completely dedicated to quality and only the very best wine producers get invited to present their wines.
So, after a bit of research (just so that I don’t do something stupid at the very beginning), I came to Lauba, collected my entrance bracelet and asked the Wine&More crew for some tips and tricks. They advised me to approach a wine producer and ask them for a recommendation and then just repeat this process with every winery whose wines I wish to taste. Sounds simple enough, right? In my humble opinion, there was a lot of people there. However, they told me that was just the beginning and that many more would come later.
Going to these events when you’re a complete newbie can be quite frightening, but, since I wanted to blend in, I decided to apply the famous “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” rule.
I was all set to go on this adventure, I “rented” my wine glass (yes, you “rent” a wine glass at the very beginning and, once you return it, they give you back your money), when the crew said something odd: “Don’t get drunk! Just swirl the wine a bit in your mouth and take a small sip, but the rest you either spill from the glass or spit out.” And they were on their way to meet with business partners and friends. I was left with a “What do you mean by spit/spill the wine?!?” question burning in my mind.
Since I did a bit of research, I gathered there were only two ways of doing this: a) try every wine from every producer, or b) try a couple from a selected handful. I went with option b.
My game plan was approach-ask-get wine-smell-swirl-smell-swirl-drink.
I first approached the Domaine Koquelicot winery and asked what they would suggest as an appetizer. They served me their sparkling wine Luna to, as they said, cleanse the palate (basically to clean and refresh the mouth). I held my glass by the base, smelled the wine and was quite intrigued to actually smell vanilla.
The bubbles tickled my nose, so after the swirl-smell procedure, I took a sip. It was incredible! It had a very fresh taste, wasn’t sour at all, and, instead of leaving me with a feeling of grapes in my mouth, it left me with green apples.
Although I absolutely loved it, I thought to myself: “Keep cool, it is only your first wine here.” Another thought popped into my mind: “There is no way in hell I’m spilling or spitting this, even though it might get me into trouble later.” :D
Since the first wine I tried was a success, I decided to stick with sparkling wines for the time being. The next winery I approached was the Ivančić winery. I heard and read about them a lot. They introduced a cold maceration technology into the production of sparkling wines. For all of you newbies out there like me, cold maceration is the process of putting the grapes in a refrigerated environment for several days before starting fermentation, to encourage color extraction.
I saw that they had four different sparkling wines and had no clue where to start. Krešimir, the owner, saw my confusion and said that he’d show me the trick to fully experiencing sparkling wines and noticing the differences between them.
He said that after you smell and swirl, you should take two brief sips one immediately after the other so that the aroma and texture of the wine fill out your mouth to the fullest. He first served me the Ivančić Griffin Brut. This wine had a very floral, very fruity smell. The color was a yellowy-green. I took two sips and noticed that the wine was very refreshing and very light.
It seemed like a perfect wine to start off any meal because it caused a desire for more.
Even though there was still a lot in my glass, Krešimir told me to spill it. Only then did I notice the small black buckets on each table. People were spilling and spitting wine into them and no one was offended by this. He said that if I look closely, I’d notice that the sommeliers who visit wine festivals never ever drink the wine, but that they only swirl them in their mouth to get the sense on the palate.
He then poured me the Ivančić Griffin Zero – a complete polarity of the Brut wine. This wine had a “heavier” scent. It reminded me of caramel and vanilla. I took the two sips and felt an incredible buttery-like fulness, however, the wine was not heavy at all. It was as refreshing as the previous one, just sweeter. I loved both of them. One as a perfect way to start off a meal, the other as a perfect way to celebrate the end of a day. :)
When I came to the Sladić Marko winery’s stand, the exhibitor, Ivan, asked me only one question: “Do you want to start with the whites or the reds?” Since it was a bit crowded, I understood that he asked me would I like a glass of white or red, so I opted for white. He first served me their Debit, which was quite light and refreshing. I asked him what he would pair the wine with. he laughed and said: “Well, fish of course. We are from Dalmatia after all.” :)
I started laughing at my own stupidity and tried to weasel myself out of it by stating that I’m more of a meat girl, while elegantly pouring what was left in the glass into the bucket. He said that that wasn’t a problem and immediately served me their Maraština.
This wine was also refreshing but it had a sort-of hazelnut feeling to it. I asked him why the wines seemed so light. He replied that in Dalmatia the summers get really hot. They didn’t want to produce wines that would feel heavy, but rather be a perfect companion on those summer days.
He also served me their Plavina Rose, which I enjoyed a lot. It had a salmony color and smelled like pomegranate. It was sweet and refreshing, but before making a fast judgment, I decided to find it a challenger. I also must say that I loved the label on the wines. It had a fox and a wolf on it. Ivan joked that it was a representation of the father and son who started the business as for them it symbolized acuteness and resourcefulness.
The next exhibitor I visited was the Ante Sladić winery. Same last name as the previous one, they come from the same place, but they are in reality two completely different families with completely different wines. This exhibitor showed me why you should never, ever drink everything that is poured into your glass.
He didn’t ask for a preference, but rather poured all of his wines one after the other in a perfectly balanced order, and, had I drunk all that was served, I would have probably fallen flat on my a… All jokes aside, the Ante Sladić winery had amazing wine to offer.
From their whites, like their Debit, which was very light and refreshing, to their reds, like Plavina, which was a bit heavy for my taste but still very fruity. There were two or three wines in between, but I lost track due to the quickness of the “courses” and the normality of that situation. A quick side-note is that every table also has water on it. The water serves mainly to clean the glass so that the different wines don’t mix.
The cherry on top should have been their Rose Lasina Opol, but it reminded me a lot of watermelons. Being someone who truly is not a fan of watermelons, I did not like that Rose at all. Other people, on the other hand, quite enjoyed it and even claimed that they would drink it on a daily basis.
I was a bit sad because I really wanted to try a Rose that would completely win my heart. I came to the Saint Hills winery’s stand and before I could say a word, the exhibitor said: “You’ll have our Rose!” I was stun. Was it written somewhere on my face that that’s what I’m looking for?!
I was a bit skeptic and all I could think about was: “Please don’t smell like watermelons, please don’t smell like watermelons.” He poured me their Saints Hills, Heels Rose. I swirled the wine in my glass, came closer with my nose and then I felt Cupid’s arrow.
The scent – fresh strawberries. The taste – heaven. It was sweet, refreshing, absolutely incredible. If I could, I would probably marry that Rose! It didn’t seem real to me. It still doesn’t. However, such a Rose truly exists, and it is the love of my newbie wine life. :)
I really didn’t want to leave their stand, but I was afraid that if I tried anything else, I would jinx it. So, I left. I noticed that by that point I found extraordinary sparklings, amazing whites, incredible roses, but only, for my newbie taste, great reds. I was never a big fan of red wine, but I knew that in this kingdom of wines there had to be at least one red that would win me over.
I stepped up to the Tomić winery’s stand and asked to try some red. They poured me their Plavac. Honestly, at first, I was a bit disappointed. Not because of the wine, because I haven’t tried it yet, but because I had so many different Plavac wines in my life up to that point. If I had to summarize them, it would be: on the nose – wine, on the palate – wine.
I know this sounds harsh, however, that’s how I felt at that moment. I swirled the wine in my glass and was shocked to smell a hint of coffee. In my mind, coffee was what you had after you had too much wine, not during.
I took a sip and loved it. The flavor was incredibly full and aromatic, yet as strong as you would expect black coffee to be. It was unlike any other Plavac wines I had until then, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to try a strong red wine that doesn’t feel heavy.
Happy, I knew that there was only one other red wine I had to try. It was a wine whose name caught my eye as soon as I entered the festival. Its name – Nomad by the Domaine Koquelicot winery.
On my way there, I felt fairly confident regarding wines and remembered that I should cleanse the palate before going there. I saw that there was some sort of fuss at the Barun winery’s stand, so I went over to take a look. All I could hear was: “Pour some of that sparkling to me as well!”
Perfect! I needed sparkling, people were head over heels over that sparkling, so I joined them and asked for a glass. The owner poured me their Barun Muscat sparkling wine. I love Muscat wines in general. They are gentle and sweet and one of my favorites for the holidays.
The scent was peachy and refreshing, and the taste blew me away. It was everything I love about Muscat wines: sweet and refreshing, plus it had bubbles! I love bubbles, and, if I had to choose between reds, whites, sparkling and rose, I’d choose sparkling (with the exception of that divine Saint Hills Rose). :)
I went to the Domaine Koquelicot winery’s stand to poetically make a full circle and end my first wine festival experience where it began. I came up to Jaqueline and Olivier, the owners, and asked if I could try their Nomad.
They were more than happy to pour me a glass. The smell was different from any other red wine I tried at the festival. They explained that it was a delicate blend of Merlot, Teran and Cabernet Sauvignon, which translated to me as a mixture of red, red and another red. I gently nodded as if I completely understood them and smelled the wine again.
It reminded me of a blackcurrant juice I used to drink when I was a kid. I took a sip and was blown away. It was nothing like the juice I had when I was a kid! It was so much better. It had a very fruity, yet spicy taste. It was not heavy but felt full. I loved it and I finished every last bit of it.
As I was leaving, several exhibitors smiled and said: “See you at the next festival!” And then it dawned on me. This festival was so much more than some sort of weird competition and rivalry. It was a gathering of wine producers and business partners, but even more than that, it was a gathering of wine lovers, wine enthusiasts, and friends, and it was an incredible honor to be part of it.
And that’s it. That is the story of my first ever wine festival. Granted, I did not write about all the wineries whose wine I tried, but if I did that, it would have been a much longer story.
Also, remember how at the beginning of this article I said that if you are going to a wine festival for the very first time, it might as well be a grand one? I was right. But it’s not only the wine or experience that will make it grand. More than anything else, it will be the people whose passion, hard labor, love, and understanding of grapes and earth delivered incredible wines for us to enjoy in every moment of life.
Cause when you’re surrounded with such incredible wine, every moment is a moment for celebration!
Written by; Nikolina Wine&More