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My Freebie Wine Festival September 19, 2008

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine.

By Alex Sawit

19 September 2008


People love freebies at big events. Long ago, free bread tossed into the stands of the Coliseum was enough to drive the Romans bonkers between games. Today it’s the free T-Shirt that rocks the house along with a host of other popular giveaways you’ll find everywhere from conventions to trade fairs. Be it a commemorative ball pen or another free umbrella to replace the one you lost (again), people just can’t resist the cheap thrill of a free item.

I’m not a fan of freebies if only because I don’t like walking around an event with my hands full. So it was with mixed emotions that I accepted my bag of goodies upon my arrival at Toast 2008: A Toast to Taste, the most anticipated wine event of the year (not to mention the yearly mega-marketing showcase of wine merchant Wine Depot).

I’d never gone to Toast before even though folks have been nagging me to go for years. This time I was prevailed upon to accompany a few Cyrano friends – and it was the Cyrano friend known as “X” who got me to go with her gang by impulsively (I repeat, impulsively) promising me a freebie that she thought I would simply forget about: A free ticket. Much to her surprise, I remembered to take her up on her offer when the day of reckoning arrived.

“I can’t believe I agreed to pay this for you,” a dazed X blurted as she reluctantly paid for me at the ticket counter inside NBC Tent in Bonfacio City. As we passed through the ticket gate on the final day (Saturday, September 6th), I checked the contents of my plastic gift bag, which included lots of brochures and promotional literature. “Welcome to the country’s biggest food and wine festival,” read the greeting in my essential visitor’s booklet, which contained all my food and beverage stubs, without which I wouldn’t have been allowed to eat or drink a thing. Hmm… so where’s the freebie?

Reaching in the bag, I pulled out a miniature wine glass, proudly bearing the Toast 2008 logo on its side. Thinking that this was just another useless souvenir, I was then informed that visitors had to use these “free” glasses if we wanted to drink at the festival. No other glasses would be provided – it was one guest, one glass. I suddenly appreciated the shrewdness of the organizers for giving away this inexpensive garage sale token; I can only imagine the logistical headaches Wine Depot must have suffered in years past when guests would ask for a fresh glass every time they switched to a different wine.

No problem, I thought to myself. With my munchkin stemware in hand, I set off to explore the four corners of Toast in search of meaningful taste experiences.

In addition to the wine exhibitors, various hotels and restaurants were also represented. With no reason to rush, I strolled from one booth to the next, eating and drinking as lazily as I pleased, passing up some things and trying others. I started with slices of bread brushed with olive oil and topped with prosciutto and salami, had some roast leg of lamb for my heavy “main course” and even tried some unfamiliar “Neo-Japanese” sushi as a post meal snack. Hours later, I’d sampled just about everything I was interested in trying.

Here’s what I liked most:

  • Barbecued baby back ribs from New Orleans Restaurant
  • Shrimp cakes with sweet chili sauce from Dusit Thani Hotel
  • Australian blue camembert (I think that’s what it was) and triple-cream brie from the cheese stand
  • Cape Jaffa La Lune Shiraz 2006 (this was the only wine I kept coming back for, its glorious depth and understated intensity giving it a “wow” factor that had me smiling again and again)
  • Trimbach Gewurtztraminer 2006

I had reservations about some things, too. For instance, I noticed only two Champagne exhibitors at the festival and, while I didn’t doubt the quality of their products, the bubbly they were serving just wasn’t my style. Then there were those classy looking Vittoria Coffee kiosks with the sleek espresso machines. I honestly enjoyed the coffee, but the espresso lover in me needs to mention that I got mixed results on the two separate times I ordered the same kind of beverage (the Caffe Latte I got from one kiosk, which was being operated by an expat barista in a business suit, was visually okay but came out burnt and bitter; on the other hand, the sloppy looking Caffe Latte I got earlier at the main kiosk from the Pinay barista tasted a lot nicer).

Nevertheless, by evening’s end I was happy about my first ever visit to Toast. Though I still don’t feel compelled to attend this every year, I enjoyed the enthusiasm and conviviality of the people who helped make this event as interesting as it was. There were winemakers like the esteemed Dr. Trimbach, who dedicatedly stood in their own booths and engaged inquisitive visitors in conversation about wine and life in general. There were the congenial students on “loan” from Enderun Colleges in their business jackets, who did double duty as servers and sales staff for all manner of food and beverage exhibitors and without whose hard work and professionalism this event would have fallen apart. And last but not least, there were all those fellow visitors whom I kept meeting and interacting with, all of whom shared a genuine interest in, if not an outright passion for, this wonderful drink known as wine.

Before we left the event, I made sure to thank X, saying that I really appreciated her keeping her end of the bargain, even though I didn’t really expect her to do so.

“You mean I didn’t have to do it,” she squealed at me innocently, “and you were just waiting to see if I would?”

“No, I meant that I wasn’t sure if you would flake out or not,” I said. “But I was still going insist on you doing it – hey, a deal’s a deal. And thank you. I’m glad that you did.”

Thanks again, X. This freebie of yours was definitely the most meaningful one given out at the wine festival that day.





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