Even those who wouldn't think of missing the Washington Wine Commission's annual Taste Washington event may feel a shiver of trepidation when they see the flyer for this year's event. As in past years, the sixth edition runs three-plus hours of a Sunday evening (five hours if you've got the stamina and 40 extra bucks); but instead of a mere 110 winery booths to visit for a sample, there will be 143, while the number of top-flight restaurants passing out delectable samples has gone up even more, proportionally, to 92 (from 62 a year ago). A dose of B vitamins beforehand and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol for after won't cover the case this time out. Considering the temptation, finding a designated driver for your party isn't to be thought of; a firm contract with a limo service or a friendly taxi driver's the least precaution you should take.
TASTE WASHINGTON Seahawks Stadium Exhibition Center information: 206-667-9463; tickets: Ticketmaster 206-628-0888 or www.washingtonwine.org 5:30-9 p.m. $85; 4-9 p.m. $125
Perhaps conscious of the risk their gonzo-scale event presents to the flower of Northwest culinary society, Taste Washington's organizers have come up with a whole series of new attractions to distract attendees from the relentless urge to eat and drink as much as humanly possible in the limited time at their disposal. There will, for the first time, be entertainment (one couldn't call the tiresome amplified hectoring by so-called "media personalities" that has marred past events "entertainment"); with assistance from Viking, the kitchen-equipment people, Taste Washington will feature its very own knock-off of the Food Network's egregious culinary food-fight, Iron Chef, complete with celebrity-chef competitors, bags of secret ingredientsall Washington-grown, of courseand breathless commentary by Evening Magazine's John Curley. (On second thought, strike the preceding parenthetical remark.)
In agreeable contrast to the Olympian quality of the cuisine and vintages on hand, other entertainment options include time-honored church bazaar favorites like the raffle and the ringtoss, the former featuring large-format premium bottlings as prizes, the latter giving attendees a chance to demonstrate their dexterity in lassoing slim-necked standard bottles ($5 for three tries: All wine is contributed and all proceeds go to FareStart and the state Wine Education Fund, so you may with a clear conscience immediately begin practicing at home on your empties).
For those with no skill at games as well as those in need of educational cover as they court inebriation, the organizers have come up with five specialized tasting bars, each focusing on one of the state's principal wine-grape varieties: cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, riesling, and syrah. Here, with the assistance of colorfully printed "flavor wheels," one may exercise one's palate sussing out the elusive flavors of honeysuckle, petrol, and peach said to be characteristic of Washington riesling, or the blueberry, leather, and tobacco scent of our merlot, getting just as blotto as your more peripatetic fellows at the cost of far less physical exertion.
The exertion is not to be underestimated. Last year, many among the 2,000 attending Taste Washington 2002 found their energy flagging long before quitting time, and only half the Exhibition Center's 160,000-square-foot floor space was in use. Fortunately, all the space will be used, and admission will be limited to 3,000 this year, so the number of elbows you'll ricochet against in your peregrinations won't increase in proportion.
Do I sound a little sour? I admit it, I am a little sour. The annual approach of Taste Washington fills me with as much dread as anticipation. It is our ultimate local indulgence in overconsumption; in comparison, events like summer's black-tie Auction of Washington Wines or the annual May and October PONCHO affairs are as decorous and temperate as a Wesleyan picnic. What an invitation to excess! What an occasion of the sin of gluttony!
But what an opportunity! Where else am I going to get a chance to taste a barrel sample of Christophe Baron's brand-new tempranillo from the En Chamberlin vineyard in Walla Walla as I nibble a freshly shaved curl of homemade Basque-style salt-cured ham carved to order by the expert knife of Harvest Vine tapas magician Josef Jimenez de Jimenez? Score a nugget of el Gaucho's unique 28-day certified Angus prime top sirloin glorified beef while quaffing a 2001 Columbia Valley cabernet from Robert Karl? Sip Kay Simon's lemon-scented 2001 Chinook sauvignon blanc against citrus-seared spot prawns and mussels atop a dab of edamame-dotted Meyer-lemon risotto (a creation of Anthony's at Pier 66's Tony Ring)?
Multiply these enticing combos by 20 or 30 and get some grasp of the sheer logistical challenge facing Taste Washington visitors. Sure, you get a program when you enter the hall; but how much precious time away from brute consumption are you willing to take to plan, to chart an efficient route through this adult Candyland? A supercomputer couldn't deal with all the possible permutations in the time available. Better just to dive right in, like swimmers into surfeit leaping. Sure, you'll regret it in the morning; but not so much as if you'd never leaped at all.