Tampa Bay's greatest grape enthusiasts — and dedicated SoHo socialites — will congregate this weekend in South Tampa for Bern's Winefest No. 12. • On Sunday, a sold-out crowd of nearly 1,000 will sample more than 200 excellent whites, rosés, reds and more from around the world at The Grand Tasting, plus nibble on a litany of luscious dishes prepared by Bern's chefs. • But there are other events, too, such as the Saturday Soiree and the Bern's Winemaker Dinner on Monday, both of which still had tickets available at press time. SideBern's also holds a Crush Hour tasting every Friday and has a cost-effective One Pot Wonders food and wine event each Wednesday. • To prepare, I sat down with SideBern's general manager Dean Hurst, executive chef Chad Johnson and wine director Kevin Pelley. Here's an etiquette guide so you'll look like a pro.
Wade Tatangelo, Times correspondent
What to wear: "Upscale, casual attire," reads the invite. You want to look good — but stay comfy. Guys, leave the sports jacket at home. The tents are not that air-conditioned. I'll also be opting for dark colors just in case of spillage.
Don't be a wine hog: It's a 1-ounce-per-stop wine tasting — not a Roman bacchanal. It's definitely not cool to ask for a full glass.
White before red is what the sommelier said: "The tannins in the red linger on your palate so it's best to start with white," Pelley explained. The wines and foods at the Grand Tasting are grouped by country/region, so it could be difficult to follow the golden grape rule of consumption.
SPITTING IS BETTER THAN SWALLOWING — NO, REALLY: "It's the norm, nothing gross," Pelley assured. "It makes you look like you know what you're doing." Because after 20-30 sips even the cleverest wine connoisseurs experience "palate fatigue" — the inability to distinguish between a magnificent merlot and MD "Mad Dog" 20/20. Swallowing increases the numbing process. So, spit away — in the proper bucket, of course. "Just don't spit out the food!" adds chef Johnson.
ENGAGE THE WINE POURER: Loving that Left Bank Bordeaux? Tell the person who just poured the wine — most likely a local distributor but might also be the actual winemaker — and ask away about how the beautiful beverage came to fruition.
Try the cheap stuff: "People have this tendency to make a beeline to the most expensive wines," Hurst said. "Target your price range." Incidentally, the priciest wine being poured at the Grand Tasting is a $205 bottle of 2005 Chateau Providence. However, you can also sample a scrumptious Trevor Jones NV Jonesy Port that runs a measly $9.95. "Anybody can sell me a $60 bottle of wine," Hurst said. "Find me a great bottle for under $20 and now I'm impressed."
Rinse that glass: There are water dispensers at every table. Use them. Especially when going from red to white — or face the wrath of a snooty, insulted pourer. "Looks like that'll make for a nice rosé," I was told last year after I forgot to rinse.
Escape your comfort zone — but don't overindulge: This rule applies to both the wine and food. "Just don't attempt to try all the wines and all the food dishes," Hurst said. "Friends tell me they have a 'food hangover' the next day and that it's brutal."
Call a cab: Trust us, all those little sips — even if you're spitting because the alcohol gets absorbed through the mouth — add up. Cabs will be lined up outside SideBern's. Don't see one? Just ask an employee to call one for you.