Forget the tasting notes, the vintages and the Old World vs. New World arguments. At the 29th Hilton Head Island Wine and Food Festival, the most important thing is to simply enjoy the wine.
That's the advice from New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, who will be a special guest at this year's festival.
Monday through March 15, there will be wine dinners, wine knowledge sessions, wine documentaries, and plenty of wine tasting. The festival's signature event is the public tasting March 15, which is lauded as the largest outdoor public wine tasting on the East Coast. It features more than 250 wines, with wine representatives from domestic and international vineyards on hand to share their expertise.
But don’t let the sheer number of wines and wine experts intimidate you. "You don’t need to know hardly anything about wine to enjoy it," Asimov said. "We treat wine as something to be mastered, something rational, something academic, but we completely ignore the emotional component to simply developing a relationship with wine, the way you would with anything else that moves you."
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The Times' chief wino was so interested in the relationship people have with wine that he recently wrote a book, "How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto."
The goal of his book was to tell readers how to develop an ease with wine, rather than how to master it, Asimov said.
"The notion that we can master wine is somewhat ludicrous. Good wine is ambiguous. It’s mysterious. It's not understood even to scientists." Wine has been mysteriously growing in popularity, too.
According to a 2013 Gallup poll, Americans who drink alcohol are about equally likely to say they drink beer or wine most often, continuing the trend of beer's shrinking advantage over wine. The poll also showed that younger adults' preferences have shifted toward both liquor and wine, and that a majority of women say they drink wine most often.
The United States also consumes more wine than any other country. Americans are drinking more wine, more often and at a younger age.
Not to say that 19-year-olds know a chardonnay from a port, but even if they are drinking boxed Franzia, that’s OK, Asimov said. "Nobody has to approach wine as a connoisseur. If you just like a glass of wine at the end of the day because it's pleasant and relaxing, that’s great. If you're curious about it and want to learn more and try different kinds of wine and get to know it, that’s great, too."
The Wine and Food Festival is a good opportunity for wine novices to dive in, said Tami Bream, the chairwoman of the festival board.
"Everybody pouring is very knowledgeable and will take the time to educate people about what they are tasting," she said. "And you don't have the opportunity to taste this many wines anywhere else."
Bream said she expects an attendance of 3,500 to 4,000 people, which would be comparable to last year.
Other highlights of the festival include food vendors who will post lists of what wines will go with their food and several chefs doing cooking demonstrations and wine pairings. Christy Jordan of SouthernPlate.com fame will be in attendance, and will be cooking a recipe from her cookbook and signing copies. There will also be a tent dedicated to sweet tea, should guests tire of sipping wine.
But with moscatos and sparklings and pinots to try, a tea break seems like a tall order. Just remember to stay open-minded and adventurous, Asimov said.
"Wine is fun. It's a wonderful thing, but it's also a grocery that goes on the table like any other form of food. That’s how I think of wine, and I hope that’s what people will take away if they visit the festival."
Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.
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