Last February a friend of mine flew from Florida to Boston to spend an extended Valentine’s Day weekend with me. From Florida to Boston in February? Yes, she loves me that much. After picking her up at the airport we passed a billboard on the Mass Pike for the 2014 Boston Wine Expo.
My wine-loving friend: “What is this Boston Wine Expo?”
Me: “No idea.”
Her: “I meant, why aren’t we going to the Boston Wine Expo?!!”
Me: Swipe. Click. Bing! “Purchased!”
Fast forward 24 hours and we were taking this mysterious thing called an “Uber” to Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center (for free courtesy of the Boston Wine Expo), not to be confused with the Boston Convention Center which I just learned is nearby but something completely different, to drink as much wine as possible at something called the Grand Tasting. Turns out the Boston Wine Expo is prettay, prettay, prettay huge! This Grand Tasting features over 200 wineries from around the world pouring over 2,000 wines. I had about 1,900 of them. Just kidding. OK, maybe. Actually, I can’t remember. So, yes? Wine. The Boston Wine Expo takes place annually on President’s Day/Valentine’s Day weekend which explains the abundance of tote bag-carrying men at the few beer tables and all the overdressed ladies carrying wilted roses in their handbags and stumbling over their stilettos on the snow-covered sidewalks. Emergency rooms are so romantic. Besides, I like to be already as close to the ground as possible during any sort of drink-a-thon. The Grand Tasting is basically the huge convention floor packed with vendors pouring wine (some more than others, thankyouverymuch) and talking to you about… I want to say grapes? I should really pay more attention. In addition to this, the Expo hosts many other features such as chef demonstrations, private wine tastings of the super expensive stuff, educational seminars (How raising your pinky in the air makes the wine taste better? Acting smug 101? Why spitting is a good thing?), and a few others. Maybe these are your thing, but me? Ain’t nobody got time for that. The Grand Tasting takes places from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM and you know that old saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint”? Yeahhh, this is a sprint. Wear comfortable shoes.
Apparently this is Ming Tsai. (On the right that is. The guy on the left is that guy from Phantom Gourmet – you know, the one serenading you from your TV every hungover Sunday morning with sonnets of brick-oven pizza and “New England’s best lobster rolls”.) I say “apparently” because I don’t know who Ming Tsai is but I’m guessing by the shouts of, “That’s Ming Tsai!” that he is super special. I know now that he actually has a couple of restaurants here in Boston that I’ve never been to. I stuck around long enough to hear him talk about that time he was on the Jimmy Fallon show just shootin’ the shit with my man J-Fall (nobody calls him that) since my interest is cooking doesn’t go beyond adding garlic to my grilled cheese sandwiches.
I’d like to tell you what was different about this year’s Expo from last year’s but honestly, I don’t remember much. I have one photo from last year’s Expo and this is it: A shot of the most glorious thing I found: a block of fresh Grana Padano, in Italy referred to as “the poor man’s Parmesan” but in our house referred to as “Sweet Jesus, gimme!”. If you have never been to Italy and had some of this straight from the market then you don’t know what you’re missing. I’m happy to announce that the Grana Padano was back this year and we succeeded in irritating the sample lady with multiple visits for more cheese! Ain’t no shame in my game. Nothing on earth goes better with wine. Except maybe a nap.
Another similarity between last year and this one was the timely appearance of a blizzard as we left the Expo. We initially had purchased tickets to Sunday’s Grand Tasting but because of the impending storm we were allowed to attend Saturday’s and it’s a good thing we did because Sunday’s Expo was 100% cancelled. One thing I do remember about last year is the booths were more or less arranged by country but I noticed the booths were all sort of intermingled this year. I’m not really sure how they were organized. Maybe by distributor? I don’t really know. One of the areas was called the “Italian Pavilion” but they also served Chilean wines so they need to just stop confusing people. When you’ve had 47 samples of wine already, you really need things to be as simple and as clear as possible.
Case in point: one memory I have of last weekend was staring at a cluster of grapes on one of the vendors’ tables. Like, really staring for a long time trying to decipher whether the grapes were real or not. I asked the man in charge if I could eat one of the grapes and instead of saying “yes” or “no” he said something entirely too long for me to comprehend so I just walked away sans grape. See what I mean? And I know what you’re thinking… “Ashley, you’re a beer drinker! What are you doing at a wine expo?” Well, while I am partial to the brew, I’m also a fan of all events where you pay once and then have the whole place available for unlimited sampling, much like the all-inclusive resort only without the fancy bracelets and butchered Spanish. But have no fear, I did locate and absolutely dominate the few beer vendors at the Expo.
MY FAVORITES OF THE DAY
- Rosa Regale. Rosa Regale. Rosa Regale, you sexy beast. I first discovered this while on a tour of Castello Banfi in Tuscany and purchased a bottle of the bubbly red stuff for when my girlfriends came to visit. We took the spiral staircase up to my rooftop deck, popped that cork, took in the Tuscan view with Rosa in our pajamas and I have never looked back. It’s safe to say I’m utterly infatuated with sweet Rosa and have managed to seduce a few friends as well. I’m not the only one who feels this way as this is a very popular booth every year at the Expo. It doesn’t hurt that they give you dark chocolate to go with it and this year introduced some sort of cocktail made with the Rosa and some chic-a-cherry vodka. I didn’t try it but all the ladies in the joint who’d already lost their husbands to the craft beer and pulled pork were bowing down in its presence.
- All of the Las Perdices reds from Argentina
- The entire Castello Banfi collection. I’ve been a fan since my time in Italy and luckily they are all sold here in America. My favorites are the Brunello di Montalcino (not available at the Expo), the much more affordable Centine (AKA Baby Brunello), and their Moscato, but you really can’t go wrong with any Banfi wine.
- Two words: AFRICAN CREAM. And no, I’m not talking about my OPI nail polish. More on this below…
- La Bionda del Brenta & La Rossa del Brenta (BEER!). My favorite booth of the night was also the one we ended with and I don’t think that’s just a drunk coincidence. And as you might have expected, it’s beer! But what is surprising is it is Italian Beer. Whaaa? I know, Italian beer is pure merda in the beer world but this was fantastic. We were kind of in awe of how great it was actually. Real awe and also the much over-exaggerated wine-induced awe that might have been a wee too loud. We talked to the rep for a while and he expressed his desire to really get this moving here in the States. “I’ll do what I can to spread the word!” I said in my superhero voice.
- Foods! There are enough food vendors here that you won’t go hungry. You’ve got snacks like Pasta Chips and Brownie Brittle (last year we got whole sample bags and this year it was a couple of chips in a tiny cup – THAT I remember!), the Maple Leaf Farms duck that was being served (phenomenal), cheese and prosciutto, olive oil vendors (I prefer to just drink it. Does that make me weird?), and Bertucci’s with their garlic knots that we were taking like shots. There were also many, many others, possibly plastic grapes not included.
TAKE MY ADVICE
- Arrive early. Remember, you only have four hours. This is your assignment. This message will self-destruct. Also, don’t assume you are just going to park your car and walk in. Unless you have VIP tickets (Well look at you!), your entrance is through the main doors, up the escalators on the right, around the building through the flags, inside the doors, around the lobby, down the escalators, beep your ticket, down some stairs, and then it’s on! Until you get to…
- Coat check. The line for coat check around 1:00 is wicked, wicked long. If you’re a crazy person you can leave your coat in the car. But let’s be real, it’s below zero with an impending blizzard, bring your dadgum coat! Yes, the line is long but it moves fast. Plus, there are wine vendors all along the line route so fill up while you wait and nothing is lost. What not to do: Don’t be the asshole who cuts the entire line and sneaks in under the rope at the end. There are pinkies in the air here – this is a fancy event for the love of God!
- Purchase tickets in advance. You can almost always get the tickets at a discounted rate. The Expo offers many promo codes in the weeks leading up to the event. Check their Facebook page or Twitter profile to stay up-to-date.
- (Try to) keep your hands free. My biggest problem is carrying all the shit I need to carry. When you walk in you are given your wine glass, full-sized I might add, a bottle of water, and a book/map. That is too much stuff to carry! It all seems like a great idea at first but that feeling will last five frustrating minutes and will have your husband looking like a pack horse after you unload it all into his back pockets.Then you get the food samples and the brochures and whatever full-sized bottles you buy … all while trying to keep your glass of wine upright. Other than a fanny pack, I don’t really know the best solution for this. I’m still working on it. Maybe I’ll wear a fishing vest next year.. don’t hate!
- Try stuff you normally wouldn’t. One of the best things I sampled was a wine-based African cream liqueur, made from the marula fruit which only grows in Africa. That may not sound all too delicious but it was incredible! I bought an entire bottle and carried it around without a bag – that’s how tasty it was. They have other flavors but why try boring ol’ strawberry when you can drink something only grown in Africa? Pshh duh.
- My last and most important piece of advice: If your friend who LOVES wine is visiting you in Boston’s arctic tundra in the depths of winter from a place where the sun still shines through green palms swaying in salty gulf breezes, don’t think twice, just buy the tickets! Actually, you should have thought about this in advance. Bring her (or him, no judgment) to the Boston Wine Expo and hopefully he/she will forget all about the sacrifices he/she has made this weekend. Some people like flowers for Valentine’s Day, some like chocolates, but the best friends you can have will prefer a day of binge-drinking in a blizzard.
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