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HOW OFTEN do you get into a room with 200 wineries and more than 60 restaurants? Once a year, if you are in Seattle each March.

Taste Washington is an extravaganza, a gigantic party put on by some of the state’s top winemakers and chefs. And it’s not to be missed.

This year, it is March 29-30.

Taste Washington’s somewhat humble beginnings date back to 1998, when it was held at the Paramount Theatre as a one-evening event. In the ensuing years, it has shifted locations and formats and now has settled into a two-day bow to Bacchus at the 200,000-square-foot CenturyLink Event Center on Occidental Avenue South.

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It’s like an open house for the wine industry, a combination of the Yakima Valley’s Spring Barrel Tasting, the Walla Walla Valley’s Leonetti Weekend and Woodinville’s Passport Weekend, all in one room. Where else will you rub shoulders with top winemakers from across the state?

And the food? Magnificent. While efforts are made to pair wine and food, much of that gets a bit lost as we simply enjoy the height of culinary artistry presented to us at every turn.

In the early days, Taste Washington was a dress-up affair, where couples attired in cocktail dresses and ties were the norm and a tux was not unusual. The apparel has relaxed to a more typical Northwest vibe, but you’ll still spot folks dressed to the nines.

And just so you don’t think this is all about eating and drinking, there are many opportunities to learn. Each day leading up to the grand tasting, four seminars will be led by such Washington wine luminaries as David Merfeld (Northstar Winery), Jamie Peha (TableTalk Northwest), Sean Sullivan (Washington Wine Report) and Doug Charles (Compass Wines in Anacortes).

And throughout each day’s big tasting, chefs of regional and national acclaim take to the Chef’s Stage for cooking demonstrations. They’re always interesting, as well as a good opportunity to get off your feet before you dive back into the din.

The change to a two-day tasting began three years ago, and it has been one of the best moves the Washington State Wine Commission has made. With the wide aisles, you’ll never get the sense that you’re sharing the room with 4,000 other wine lovers.

For the past couple of years, Visit Seattle has taken over management of the event in coordination with the wine commission, which has brought an additional level of professionalism to Taste Washington.

Tickets for Taste Washington are $80 for a one-day pass (three hours) or $125 for both days. If you want an extra hour in the room, VIP tickets are $145 for one day and $185 for both. VIP tickets also get you into the Barrel Room lounge and some other goodies.

I can’t think of a better way to kick off spring in the Pacific Northwest.

Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and judge. Learn more about wine at