Taste Washington – fine food and drink unlimited

A Beer-Lovers’ Take on Washington’s Premier Food and Wine Event

For years I have heard stories about Taste Washington, the annual event put on by the Washington State Wine Commission. To be honest, it always sounded too good to be true: all the Washington wine you can drink and all the gourmet food you can eat. This year I finally experienced this amazing celebration of wine and food firsthand.

In short, I was amazed. This is without a doubt one of the best events of its kind I have ever witnessed. If you like wine and you like food, you simply must go to this event. The Taste Washington Grand Tasting took place Sunday, March 27th at the Qwest Field Event Center. Approximately 3,000 people attended.

As a hardened beer geek, my take on the Grand Tasting was perhaps different than many other attendees. I cannot help comparing it to the Washington Brewers Festival—the Washington Beer Commission’s big festival that takes place each June. There are some remarkable similarities and there are some stark differences.


To begin with, the Washington Brewers Festival is all about the beer. Taste Washington is more than an eating and drinking festival. There is a cooking stage where local celebrity chefs conduct demonstrations throughout the event. The event also features a lot of exhibitors, from appliance companies to hotels and resorts. Sunday’s Grand Tasting is preceded by two days of cooking and tasting seminars.

Unlimited Tasting

Your first thought might be that the price is staggering: $75 general admission. That’s only because you have not been. In reality, it is a bargain. Your admission includes unlimited tastings of both wine and food. I’m not sure what the Washington Brewers Festival would look like if they offered unlimited tasting.

You can easily eat and drink $75 worth of world class Washington wine and amazing gourmet cuisine in the first 10 minutes you’re in the building. Think of it as going out for a fine meal—a very, very fine meal served with very good wine—and the price tag seems much more palatable.

In addition to a couple hundred wineries pouring some of the best wine on the planet, the event featured food from some of the area’s best restaurants. For example Canlis, El Gaucho, Elliott’s Oyster House, Ray’s Boathouse, Purple Café, Steelhead Diner, and Urbane to name just a few.

cured by Visconti - meat cones
Meat cones - a selection of cured meats.

Here’s an example to help set the scene. I absolutely adored the lamb sausage served with chickpea salad from Armondo’s. I paired it with the Terra Blanca Onyx, which they happened to be pouring at the same table. Armondo’s is a fixture in downtown Renton that recently shifted gears, bringing in a new chef and completely revamping the menu. They were showing off at Taste Washington. In my opinion, Terra Blanca Onyx is one of the finest things to ever touch human lips. I could have stayed right there all night long, but you must keep moving at this event.

I probably ate $30 worth of oysters between Elliott’s Oyster House and Ray’s Boathouse.

Imagine mountains of cheese from Mt. Townsend Creamery and other fine purveyors of cheesy delights.

Cured by Visconti (from Leavenworth) was serving a sampling of several different meats, cleverly dished out in snowcone cups. I called them meat cones. I’m not sure if they considered it rude, but I went back for seconds. And thirds.

You will not leave hungry. I heard more than one person expressing their inability to eat another bite of anything.


When compared to any beer festival, something that makes this event distinctly different are the little buckets. You will see them near every wine tasting station. Apparently people dump their wine into these buckets. I’m not sure why. Very strange.


Sure, the Washington Brewers Festival features a handful of exhibitors. Usually there’s somebody selling some packaged nuts. At the Grand Tasting, they were selling cars. I thought that the Maserati’s were there strictly for show, but one of the event organizers told me that two years ago somebody actually bought a car right there off of the floor at the festival. They wrote up the $140k deal on the spot. I think it is safe to assume that the Maserati dealer will be back every year.

Maserati Granturismo, one of the cars for sale at the Grand Tasting.

I know that wine-lovers sometimes talk about wine having a leathery smell or flavor, but you could smell the leather coming off of those beautiful cars. The cream-colored Granturismo wanted to go home with me, I could tell. My one car garage always needs to be cleaned, but I could make room for the Grandturismo’s 433 horses.

I’m not sure if someone would step up and buy a $140k sports car at a beer festival, but they might buy a kegerator. At Taste Washington’s Grand Tasting, a host of beautiful Viking appliances were on display. I could not take my eyes off of the stainless steel Viking kegerator. Like the Maserati, it wanted to go home with me.

Ranchers and D-bags

The crowd at the Grand Tasting was both familiar and different. We found the vast majority of people to be very friendly and well behaved. I must admit that the people were generally better dressed: you could also argue that they were better looking. Many of them seemed to be quite sober. It might have something to do with that dumping thing or the vast quantities of food.

Just like a beer festival, the Grand Tasting had its share of ranchers. These people (usually men) think that their conversation with the person pouring the wine is so important that it is worth making everyone else wait in line. At beer festivals, these guys are usually home brewers boring some poor professional brewer with a long story about the wicked Stout they made last winter. I have no idea what the wine ranchers talk about.

Don’t be that guy. If others are waiting, get your drink and move along.

Compared to a beer festival, at the Grand Tasting you’ll find more guys with spray tans, expensive shoes and Bluetooth devices, if you know what I mean. No worries, though. They generally will not interact with you and hardly even notice that you exist.


Charles and Rose Anne Finkel, poured beer until the bell rang.

Pike Brewery and Pub was  serving their delicious crab cakes and pouring beer. In fact, they were pouring a lot of beer. When I first entered the festival, there were no lines. Not for food and not for wine, anyway. The line at Pike’s booth was probably ten or twelve people deep. Pike was the only brewery there.

Perhaps the single most familiar thing about the Grand Tasting was the presence of Charles and Rose Anne Finkel, the owners of Pike Brewery and Pub. They are tireless and amazing. Charles was pouring beers as the man on the microphone counted down and told everyone to stop pouring. People were clamoring for beer up until the last second. It warmed my heart.

After a delicious evening of wonderful wine and decadent food, it was refreshing to sip on a Pike Pale Ale. As great as the Grand Tasting was, I’m still a beer-lover at heart.

Less Downtime

I literally cannot say enough good things about this event. Next year I’ll be better prepared and will bring a slightly modified strategy. There is just so much to eat and drink, it takes a serious plan to fit it all into the three hour event.

One last comparison: at a wine tasting event you spend a lot less time in the restroom.


  1. Great report and fun to get a beer lover’s perspective on Taste. It’d be great if some of the best parts will someday appear at the WA beer fest. More food samples and demonstrations. But you’re right, no one like ranchers.

    PS – I am in the market for a kegerator. Do you have a recommendation?

  2. Love that format. I think its something for the WBC to consider, adding unlimited food and tastings. If they can legally do it – do it.

    Ranchers! Hell hath no fury like the wrath of a drinker scorn. Nothing is worse than waiting in line while beer nerds talk a brewer’s ear off. Come on man, really?

    Nice work, Kendall.

  3. Great to see Kendall and Kim at Taste Washington this year. Last year the Washington Beer Commission had Cask Festival the same weekend as the Washington Wine Commission had Taste Washington. Wine makers are first to tell you it takes a lot of beer to make great wine. It was nice to see more beer lovers at Taste Washington this year

    Dumping and spitting is probably the biggest difference between beer and wine festivals. Wine makes think you are a pro if you spit and Brewers look like they want to cry if you spit their precious brew. I love my beer but my liver and waistline won’t let me drink every last drop.

    Another big difference is the size of pours. Most brewfest pours are a satisfying 4oz and the ABV ranges from 5-10%, at wine tastings the standard pour is 1oz but the alcohol ranges from 12-16% ABV Also there were over 200 wineries pouring 3-4 wines each. Whew!

    I love the wine and food and wish the WBC had more food available especially at the high octane cask fest. Is it April 9th yet?

  4. Bean, it was great to see you at Taste this year. You look great. I have you on one of my clips with Elliotts Oyster House and OS Winery with a big smile on your face. I think it was because I made a great shot of Chef Spalding holding some ceviché. LOL. See you soon.


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