There are many ways to approach the Wine Spectator Grand Tour tasting, which kicked off last night at San Francisco's Marriott Marquis. With some 225 wines being poured, there’s a little of everything, from Amarone to Vintage Port.
The event moves to Las Vegas Saturday night and then on to Chicago. Attendees can meander and see what strikes their fancy, or look for lines like the one that formed for Casanova di Neri last night. I suggest you go into it with a plan.
No one can taste all the wines (although a few will inevitably try). The wines are grouped by grape, so you'll find Pinot Noirs from California, Oregon and Burgundy in one section, and Bordeaux and Napa Cabernet are in close proximity. I like to focus on areas where I’m less familiar with the wines, which means largely skipping California. But I also target grapes and wine styles that I like, as opposed to those I’m less fond of.
I look for new or emerging regions, and last night in San Francisco I revisited the wines of Argentina, having spent three weeks there in 2011. I walked the Syrah/Rhône aisle, where the likes of Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Famille Perrin, O. Fournier, Cheval des Andes, Villa Cobos and Bodega Colomé and Mollydooker were poured in close proximity to one another. I’d recommend tasting all of those wines if you plan on attending.
An aisle over was the Charles Smith King Coal Stoneridge Vineyard Columbia Valley 2009, a strikingly rich and beautifully composed blend of Cabernet (70 percent) and Syrah, two grapes that work quite well together. It was my favorite wine last night by the slightest of margins.
In addition to the aforementioned wineries, I enjoyed quite a few Italian labels last night: Vietti, Aldo Conterno, Pio Cesare and Casanova di Neri.
Two big surprises came in white: from Greece, the Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini 2012 and, from Chile, the Viña Garcés Silva Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley Amayna 2012. Both are worth seeking out.
I always finish off with the sparkling wine aisle, perfect for palate cleansing. Last night, a woman asked me how to prevent one’s teeth from staining, a question I've been asked before at these events. Drinking lots of water helps, but don't brush immediately after a tasting. Best to drink water and chew gum.
And for those who attended the Grand Tour last night, what were your impressions? Which wines would you recommend to attendees in Las Vegas and Chicago?