Among the hundreds of people lined up for opening night at the 2017 Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience, there was a sense of anticipation, of excitement, of thirst. But for many California vintners, the evening also brought the emotional healing of seeing good friends and loving fans.
“I never thought I’d say I wanted to come to New York to breathe clean air, but the air is a lot better here than in Santa Rosa,” said Mike Officer, co-owner of Carlisle Winery & Vineyards, in Sonoma County. The massive wildfires that have burned in Northern California for nearly two weeks, as well as the blazes in Spain and Portugal, were on everyone’s minds, and the attendees wanted to show their support for Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and all the impacted wine regions.
At the first of two Grand Tasting nights, more than 2,400 people came to sample wines from 267 of the world’s finest wineries, a fitting kickoff for the 37th Wine Experience. The three-day event, held at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square, includes tasting seminars with leading winemakers, lunches with wine pairings and the black-tie Grand Award Banquet, celebrating the best restaurant wine programs in the world. The Wine Experience has become a must for wine lovers, a chance to taste the benchmark wines of the world and discover new favorites. And for the people who make the wine, it is a joyous annual reunion.
“It’s the only place in the world where you can taste all wines of the world in two days,” said Tony Bernard, president of l’Academie du Vin, based in Brussels. “I’ve been coming for 17 years. Wine Spectator never disappoints.”
All net proceeds from the Wine Experience go to the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, which has raised more than $20 million for scholarships and grants for the hospitality and wine industries, including Washington State University’s enology and viticulture program, Sonoma State University's Wine Business Institute, the viticulture and enology program at the University of California at Davis, Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and Florida International University's hospitality school. Those donations would not be possible without the continued generosity of the countless vintners who share their wines and time, as well as the Wine Experience attendees.
Guests could start their evening off with sparklers like Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée and Bollinger La Grande Année 2005. Italy’s Ferrari poured Brut Trento Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2004, and Mendocino’s Roederer Estate offered Brut Anderson Valley l’Ermitage 2007. For fans of elegant white wines, S.A. Prüm brought an ethereal Riesling Mosel Wehlener Sonnenuhr Old Vines Dry GG 2010, while across the aisle, St.-Urbans-Hof poured the mineral-packed Riesling Mosel Wiltinger Alte Reben 2015.
For Pinot-philes, Erwan Faiveley of Burgundy poured his Mazis-Chambertin 2014, and just around the corner, Maison Champy offered its Mazis-Chambertin 2011. New World Pinot Noir fans could contrast Craggy Range Pinot Noir Martinborough Te Muna Road Vineyard 2015 from New Zealand and Bergström Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge Le Pré Du Col Vineyard 2015 from Oregon.
“It’s such a phenomenal event—the chance to experience all different wines and varietals,” said Anne Peters of New York, who has attended multiple times. “I just love the environment, the camaraderie, the wines.”
Anyone looking to learn about the benchmarks of Bordeaux could choose Château Mouton-Rothschild 2005 or Haut-Brion 2006; or perhaps sample two St.-Emilion neighbors: Château Cheval-Blanc 2006 and Château Figeac 2010. Italy was represented from the top of the boot to beyond the heel, with Vietti’s Barolo Lazzarito 2010, Volpaia’s super Tuscan Balifico 2012 and Firriato’s Nero d’Avola Sicilia Harmonium 2013. Tucked among the big names were some surprising newcomers and stars from rising regions that most attendees had never had the chance to try, such as Virginia’s RdV Vineyards Lost Mountain 2013, Israel’s Recanati Special Reserve Galilee 2013 and a new project in China from Moët Hennessy, the Ao Yun Shangri-La 2013, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Himalayan foothills.
Peters brought Deborah Spearman, a first-time attendee. “I was hesitant at first, because how much wine can you taste?” said Spearman. “However, everybody is so friendly and so kind. I would definitely come back again—it’s worth every dime.”
For the winemakers, the event is a chance to meet some of the world’s most devoted wine fans and show off their terroirs—as well as to share ideas with their peers.
Christian Sparkman, owner of Washington’s Sparkman Cellars, was pouring at the Wine Experience for the first time, sharing his Rainmaker Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. “It's obviously a wine lover's fantasy,” he said. “The greatest wine I ever had was Mouton-Rothschild 1945, and the second was a Château Lynch Bages 1985. And they're my neighbors!” he said, pointing to their adjoining booths.
As the evening wound down, guests hustled to try just one last taste, perhaps of something sweet, such as Sauternes, late-harvest whites or Ports from an entire row of houses. Kopke, a Douro house that dates back to the 17th century, also was appearing at its first Wine Experience; the winery made a splash with its Port Colheita 1941, the oldest wine poured at this year’s event. Rich and lively, filled with layers of fruit and spice, the decades-old bottling was a reminder that while regions may suffer hardships, war and natural disasters, wine and friendship are strong stuff. They endure.
—With reporting by Samantha Falewée, Ben O’Donnell and Lexi Williams