SEATTLE - Chris Haldane liked her complimentary lime green notepad so much, she returned to the Seattle Magazine booth for another. The credit card-sized blank pad, handy for recording "tasting notes" at the April 18 Taste Washington wine and food extravaganza, was outfitted with a sharpened pencil and came connected to a long silver chain.

Even so, Haldane was too busy to accomplish any note-taking, what with countless cabernets, multiple merlots, sundry syrahs and sauvignon blancs and various viogniers to sip, along with innumerable toothsome tidbits to nosh on.

Chefs from Seattle's top restaurants created edible accompaniments to the wines featured at Taste Washington. Submitted photo.Everybody loves a feast. Especially when 90 chefs are doing the cooking, matching their culinary creations with wines from 150 Washington producers. A celebration of the Evergreen State's vines and wines, Taste Washington bills itself as the ultimate wine and food event. After three hours of imbibing, Haldane, her sister Mary Bruder, brother-in-law Thom Bruder and I couldn't argue with that appellation.

Our foursome agreed that the key to maximizing this once-a-year exposure to so much Washington vino was sampling minute amounts of various wines without deadening our taste buds. For us, the time-honored tradition of sipping and spitting was out of the question, even though veterans such as Paul Gregutt, the Seattle Times wine columnist, advised event goers to "Spit, really, No kidding. Spit! (Hint: practice at home with water.)"

We did follow the second of Gregutt's 10 tips on "How To Attack a Wine Tasting," namely, to make a tasting plan instead of haphazardly imbibing our way through the festival. Mary, who manages a State of Washington liquor store and purchases wines from all over, already had her floor guide in hand as we entered Seahawks Stadium and Exhibition Center (across the street from Safeco Field, where the Mariners were hosting Texas).

First stop on Mary's slate: the oyster and shellfish bar, conveniently centered amid the hundreds of booths offering unlimited tasting (admission to Taste Washington 2004 was $85 per person) of everything from arugula salad to late-harvest riesling.

Momentarily dazzled, I caught my bearings and ambled up to four tables stacked with raw oyster shooters. The bivalves married nicely with my initial two quaffs, a 2002 Puget Sound Madeline Angevine (from Lopez Island Vineyard and Winery) and a same-year Columbia Valley sauvignon blanc (Sunset Road). Likewise for the Washington sushi (Seastar Restaurant) rolled with Dungeness crab, bits of apple and smoked salmon.

More a Washington happening than a Seattle event, Taste hosted perhaps 3,000 guests; so far as I could discern, all were courteous and well-behaved, milling about and hobnobbing rather than rushing to and fro. Along one wall was an ongoing cooking demonstration; another side of the hall hosted a "flavor wheel" wine-tasting bar, where you could sample, say, 31 different chardonnays, or 41 syrahs. The people-watching was first-rate, too. Chris and Mary were adamant that a 50-something woman strutting about in a black-and-silver sequined mini skirt was far too old for her garb.

"This is nice, isn't it?" asked Thom, not about the woman in the mini but about the event in general, while hoisting a glass of 1999 Yakima Valley syrah (Columbia Winery).

"Yeah, but did you try the one across the way?" replied Mary, misinterpreting his question and motioning toward another booth offering a 2000 Columbia Valley merlot (Chateau Ste. Michelle).

Heck with Mary's itinerary; soon I was in my element. While my three companions sought sangiovese ("sango," Mary termed it), I swallowed a quarter-glass of Columbia Valley brut rose (Mountain Dome Winery), followed immediately by a 2002 Walla Walla Valley Uriah (Spring Valley Vineyard), a muscular red blend that held its own against my filet mignon finger sandwich (Morton's Steakhouse/Seattle).

A couple of hours later, desserts were our undoing, even after Thom, a personal fitness trainer by trade, proclaimed he and Mary would be in Mexico in a week, and he wanted to still look good in a bathing suit on arrival. "I'm not going to blow it on a few chocolates," he said with conviction.

No such concerns constrained the rest of us. And notably, the Taste offered way more than chocolates to choose from, although Chris, Mary and I sampled our share of Meltaway chocolate truffles (Seattle Chocolates), champagne truffles (Choc Elan), cabernet chocolate cherries (Chukar Cherries), even Chocolate Mojito popsicles (727 Pine).

We also completed several circuits of the Dessert Cafe, along the way helping ourselves to lemon cream tartlets (Brasserie Margaux), pistachio Froggy Cream Sandwiches (Barking Frog), almond-cream Challah Diamonds crowned with espresso ice cream (Grand Central Bakery) and equally irresistible Dulce de Leche rice pudding (Tango Tapas Restaurant), the latter paired with "Oro" hazelnut dessert wine (Samson Estates Winery).

Other sips included Three Muses Ruby port (Hinzerling Winery), late-harvest gewurztraminer (Kiona Vineyards and Winery), late-harvest riesling (Hogue Cellars) and huckleberry port (Townshend Cellar), among others.

Soon Thom gathered us all for a trip to the ring toss, a spacious enclosure holding more than 150 bottles of wine. Five bucks bought three rings; if you lassoed a bottle neck, the wine was yours. I won two bottles, proving beyond a doubt (I felt) that I had not consumed too much alcohol.

After eyeing Chris' cute little notepad, I ventured to the nearby Seattle Magazine booth for one of my own. "Now you won't need that big bulky notebook," the woman behind the table announced, noticing the reporter's pad in my hip pocket. Even though many festival-goers had lime green notepads around their necks, it seemed like I was the only one at Taste Washington actually writing anything down on paper.

Contact the Mouth at The Daily Astorian, P.O. box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or phone (503) 325-3211 or e-mail mouth@dailyastorian.com

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