Hundreds of wine and food fans will descend on South Beach on the weekend of Feb. 26-27 for the Grand Tasting Village, where representatives of wine and spirits producers, chefs and local restaurants present their wares. Here are some tips for surviving the Village and making the most of your $225 ticket.
It's gotta be the shoes
Ok, we know it's all about looking good on South Beach, and the presence of good wine usually escalates the level of style -- but not at the Village. Remember, it's all about comfort, because you'll be on your feet and on the sands of South Beach for a long time. So no heels, ladies. No fancy shoes, guys. Wear your best sneakers, sandals or flip flops, because you want to be holding a plate and a glass, not your uncomfortable shoes.
Early bird gets the grape
The show starts at 11 a.m., but the Tasting Village doesn't open until 1 p.m. Regardless, get there early, take in a cooking show and head toward the entrance of the Village. Better to be there when the gates open than to be in the back of the pack.
Head to the back
Once the Village is open, don't go to the closest tent. Make your way to the far end of the second tent and work your way back toward the main entrance. There will be fewer lines, and you can sample the food, wine and liquor with no hassle. Think of it like a reverse commute, but with drinking allowed.
Food samples are normally set up on the outside tables, since the chefs need access to ingredients, while the wine and spirits are in the middle of the tents. So grab a small plate of goodies then skip across and try a drink to mix with it. If you don't like the way something smells or tastes, don't consume it, just toss it. No need to waste energy (and a good buzz) when there are plenty of other things to try.
Pace to stay in the race
Pace yourself, regardless of how big your eyes get when you see the spread. With celebrity chef presentations nearly every hour, look ahead on the program for whom you might want to see and take a break or two. Hit the detox tent (aka any bottled water stand like Evian, Fiji, etc.) regularly or you might be sorry come 5 p.m.
Snap that label
If you find a wine or spirit that seems to please your palate, make sure to take a picture of the label with your camera phone (or camera if your phone isn't that fancy) for future purchase.
If you're with a group, set a central meeting point, like where the hot gymnast/flutist chick plays (usually at a Champagne display), in case you get separated. Also have your group hit different tables so everyone can report what was good and what wasn't.
Some of the really good food usually runs out later in the day. If there's something you want to try, check your guide, head there and don't delay, because it might not be there later.
No guaranteed grapes
Don't expect all the wine to be exceptional. Some of it is downright awful. A lot of companies are showing off their products -- high and low end -- for clients and families. How can you tell what's not worth tasting? First, there are tumbleweeds surrounding the table - just the vendor and lots and lots of unopened bottles. Second, trust your gut - if it's only available at finer BP, Shell and 7-Eleven shops, you may want to skip it.
Plan a grand gathering of your group one hour before tasting ends to rev the party up. Usually there's a liquor-sponsored lounge area between the two tents with a DJ, perfect for a rendezvous to finish off the day.
Got any Tasting Village tips you want to share? Leave a comment below and let us know.
It gets pretty crowded in the Grand Tasting Village.