Last week, Gambero Rosso, the Italian wine publication, and authority on fine Italian wine, brought its global “Tre Bicchieri” trade tasting to Fort Mason in San Francisco. Consumers flock to the Tre Bicchieri event, often with one purpose: to taste all the Tre Bicchieri (3-Glass) award-winners. Wines that earn this coveted title become the immediate targets of on- and off-premise account buyers around the world.

But if you’re a student of wine, trade shows like Tre Bicchieri can seem overwhelming. You might also wonder, why bother going? Listen up! Big trade shows provide a treasure trove of tasting opportunities. Here are five tips to turn a massive wine trade show into a tasting and learning bonanza.

    1. Registration Tips. Look for ways to qualify as trade, or press, which gets you a complimentary pass. If you’re a student doing any wine buying for a retailer or restaurant, you definitively quality as a member of the trade. If you also write for any publication or even a professionally-maintained blog (perhaps of a retailer or marketing entity you work for, or even your own personal blog if it’s robust and includes recent and regular posts) you can qualify as media.
    2. Go Early. Typically, trade shows offer up two different tasting sessions: one for the trade and media, and one for consumers. With Tre Bicchieri, members of the trade/media were granted one hour before the doors were thrown open to a flood of consumers. Leverage this hour to really hone in on the special wines in the room. You’ll be handed a booklet when you arrive, which will list out all the producers, and Tre Bicchieri makes this easy and broken up by region and importer. Zero in on the importer you like, perhaps because you consistently enjoy the wines in their portfolio, and look for their 3-glass winners because producers will not bring as much of that wine to pour, and once the consumers get in, good luck.
    3. Be Professional. Spit everything. Once you give in to swallowing, even a few wines, you begin to lose sight of why you are at the tasting. Take Tre Bicchieri for example: How often do you get to have every major Italian producer in one room, showing their 3-glass-award winners? Once a year, that’s how often. And for just about three hours. Consumers who have paid to attend often feel it is their wine-consuming right to load up to the point that they need to be carried out on a stretcher. It’s a shame, really. Sure, enjoy a glass or two, but the idea is also to taste, take note, and then find out how to acquire the wines you loved.  
    4. Choose Wisely, Taste Everything. The best thing you can do is to arrive early, grab the book of producers and wines being featured, and plot out a tasting course of action. This can take 5-10 minutes. If you’re in the Master Sommelier or Master of Wine program and working hard to up your tasting game, or going through WSET, or any other certification course (especially Italian Wine Professional), a trade tasting like Tre Bicchieri is a ticket to a deep dive into a region, a vintage, or a snapshot of a country as a whole. As you approach each table, ask to sample the entire lineup of each producer they are pouring. With Tre Bicchieri, the 3-glass winner is typically quite expensive, but if they are pouring a 2-glass winner (Due Bicchieri), or one glass, or no-glass winner, you may be in for a real surprise. This is a place for great discovery, and those wines that don’t earn Tre Bicchieri might be incredible, and incredibly priced—all those under-$20 gems you’re looking for are in the room. You just need to taste!
    5. Document Digitally. Carry a spit cup (ask for one, so you don’t have to elbow your way to the dump bucket at every table), and practice at tasting quickly and writing notes quickly, even in short-hand. Best of all, consider taking tasting notes on a smartphone. If you’re an iPhone user, and you’ve linked your Notes app with your desktop or laptop, you can even snap photos of the labels and write your note just below the photo, and it will all populate on all your devices. By the end of the tasting, you’ll have the image of the bottles, your tasting note, and a cache of wines to recall, and even seek out if you love any special bottles.