Friday, June 3, 2011

Wine Spectator Grand Tour: Treasures of the Vine

Nearly every day you can find a wine tasting somewhere, from small wine stores showcasing a few wines to large trade tastings with hundreds of wines. Plenty of free tastings can be found, while others charge only a nominal fee. You'll also find high-end tastings with a significant entry fee, and such events will cause almost everyone to ponder carefully whether the event is worth the high price. Would you pay $200 to attend a wine tasting?

On May 19, the Wine Spectator Grand Tour was held at the Marriot Copley, after having held sold-out events in Chicago and Las Vegas. As the tickets were $200, I was hesitant of purchasing one, unsure whether I would get my money's worth. In comparison, tickets to the Grand Cru Wine Lounge at the Boston Wine Expo cost $175, and they have less than half the amount of wines as the Grand Tour. I attended a few previous Grand Cru Wine Lounges, and felt that their quality and diversity had diminished over time, so I stopped going to them. Thus, I was reticent about shelling out the cash for the Grand Tour.

When making such a decision, numerous factors come into play, such as the number of wines being tasted, their diversity, quality and rarity. It also matters whether food will be served, the amount of tickets that will be sold, and even the nature of the venue. My dilemma became moot though when a friend provided me a complimentary ticket to the event. And after attending the event, after such an amazing experience, I won't hesitate next year in purchasing a ticket. The event is well worth its $200 price, and it is sure to please any wine lover.

Prior to the event, the Grand Tour website merely listed the participating wineries, which though it was an impressive list, the specific wines that were to be tasted were not listed. You had to do more work, to check out reviews of the prior events held in Chicago and Las Vegas.  The website did mention that you would get to taste over 200 wines, accompanied by a light buffet and also receive a souvenir Riedel glass. So, the event had potential, though their website could have been a bit more forthcoming in specific details of the event.

I arrived at the event a little early, and waited in line for the event to open.  They opened right on time, a positive sign that matters were well organized. Within the large hall, there were over 200 tables, each representing a single winery and each winery could only present a single wine. As we entered the hall and received our wine glass, we also got a spiral bound book listing all of the producers and their wines. Each page listed the producer, their contact information, a label shot, and room for your own tasting notes.

Interestingly, though all of the wines at the event were supposed to possess high point scores from Wine Spectator, the spiral bound book omitted all scores. You could hear about the scores from the producers, but I liked the fact that the book did not contain them. That made the event more about the wines rather than the scores.    

The 200+ wines offered plenty of diversity, including whites, reds, roses, sparkling, fortified and dessert wines. There were wines from 21 different countries and states, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, California, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, New York (Long Island), New Zealand, Oregon, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Virginia, and Washington. You don't often see this much diversity at a single tasting event. All of this variety was great, and really appealed to my adventurous palate. To me, it also seems to indicate that Wine Spectator feels great wine is made all over the world, and not just in the classic winemaking regions.

These were many phenomenal wines, including numerous high-end, expensive and rare wines which are rarely seen at local wine tastings. It was probably one of the top collections of wine I have had the opportunity to taste. I certainly could not have tasted all of them, even if I had spit all the time. Some of the wines were just too sublime to spit, and I had to savor a few sips of such exquisite nectars. These were wines to enjoy, not merely to taste.

First Growth Bordeaux and other top Bordeaux including 2004 Chateau Margaux, 2005 Chateau Mouton Rothschild and 2005 Chateau Lynch-Barges. California Cabernet such as from 2008 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection. Italian Barolo and Amarone,  Australian Shiraz, Argentina Malbec and much, much more.  There were good Champagnes such as Henriot Brut Rose and Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Premier but my favorite was the 1996 Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne Femme, an enticing sparkling wine with lots of character and pleasant flavors of apple and citrus.

Of the white wines, one of my favorites was the 2009 Ken Forrester "The FMC" Chenin Blanc, a top notch South African Chenin with smooth, clean fruit flavors, great acidity, and a long, satisfying finish.  As for dessert wines, the 2000 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos ($75-$90/500ml) from Hungary was outstanding. A single vineyard wine, it had great balance, plenty of acidity offsetting its sweetness, and was a rich, elegant wine. Such a compelling wine, I would have loved to pair this with some foie gras.  Though I tasted a few vintage Ports, my favorite was the NV Ramos Pinto Tawny Port 20 Year Old Quinta do Bom-Retiro ($60-$70). A seductive nose led to an alluring taste, complex and sublime, with a long and lingering finish. Produced from 40 different vintages, including as far back as 1818, this carefully crafted Port doesn't seem like it could have been any better.

I was impressed by the elegance of several Pinot Noirs from California and Oregon.  The 2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley was an ethereal wine, with delicious red fruit flavors and underlying spice notes.  In contrast to each other, the 2008 Ponzi Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Reserve was elegant but more red fruit dominant while the 2008 Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills was also elegant yet more spice driven. All three of these wines, though different in some respects, were excellent representations of Pinot Noir.

Spanish wines thrilled me as usual, including some old favorites like the 2004 Fernando Remirez de Ganuza Rioja Reserva and 2007 Bodegas Alion. As a big fan of the El Nido Clio, a Monastrell based blend, I was excited to try the 2008 El Nido El Nido, a more Cabernet based blend. It was a big wine, very spicy, but the tannins were moderate and it had a strong hedonistic side.  The 2009 Bodegas Avanthia Godello was a killer white wine, which I had tasted recently before this event. My friend Adam, of Wine Zag, had first introduced me to both the Avanthia Godello and their Mencia, both superb wines. I was excited to learn they are available in Massachusetts through Wine Bow.

With all of the available wines, it was good to have a large food buffet to help soak up some of the alcohol, as well as accompany the wine. There were even a fair number of tables and chairs where you could sit and enjoy the food.  This was far more than mere cheese and crackers, adding to the value of the entry ticket.

The event had a very manageable crowd, and you rarely had to wait long at any table. This also provided the opportunity to speak with the wine makers or winery representatives, to hear more about their wine. I had plenty of enjoyable chats and my wanderings down the aisles were casual and unrushed. I bumped into some other bloggers, including Catie, Fiona and Robert. I also saw folks from Lower Falls Wine Company, Skinner AuctioneersThe Urban Grape and several local distributors.

Overall, this was a very well run and compelling wine tasting event, well worth the $200 cost. With a great number and diversity of high quality wines, plenty of delicious food, and a very manageable crowd, this event possessed what you would desire from such a tasting. And when you compare it to the Grand Cru Wine Lounge at the Boston Wine Expo, the Grand Tour is the vastly better of the two. If the Wine Spectator Grand Tour returns to Boston, I strongly recommend that wine lovers try to attend it. You won't be disappointed.

For another view on the Grand Tour, please see fellow wine lover Robert's overview on his blog, The Wellesley Wine Press.


Robert said...

How great was that tasting? I too was comparing the $200 entry fee in my head to other premium tastings in the area and agree this event delivers value. Excellent write-up Richard. Thanks for the shout outs!

Boston Food Diary said...

Perfect review! Your tips that evening were incredibly helpful- I am still dreaming of the port...