"He who doesn't know how to drink, doesn't know how to live," said Angelo Gaja, speaking on the second day of the 33rd Wine Experience to a crowd of 1,000 attendees gathered for the full weekend. “My parents taught me about wine and taught me to have passion.” There was a lot of passion in the room, and indeed, throughout the entire three-day event, as wine lovers from all over gathered to taste some of the world's most incredible wines and share a love for life.
From Oct. 24 to 26, nearly 4,000 wine lovers gathered in New York for two Grand Tastings, 16 seminars and several wine-packed meals. All told, more than 346 wines were poured from 63,300 bottles into 70,750 wineglasses over the three days. What's more, wine lovers from around the United States and multiple nations got to shake hands with many of the best winemakers in the business and share their collective enthusiasm with each other.
“How can you not enjoy this event?” asked attendee Tom Stroup of Great Falls, Va. “You get to taste some of the best wines in the world.” Stroup and his wife, Heather, were attending the Wine Experience for the 18th time; their friends John and Cheryl Butz, also from Virginia, were attending for the 13th time.
The two couples were winding their way through the 6th floor ballroom of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, enjoying the opening night of the Grand Tasting. For that night and the following, winemakers and owners from 264 wineries in 17 countries poured their best.
The biggest challenge was where to start. Those looking for bubbly to begin their celebration could sample Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2004, Krug's Grande Cuvée NV, Salon Le Mesnil 1999 or Roederer Estate L'Ermitage 2003 from Anderson Valley in California. There were Grüner Veltliner from Austria's F.X. Pichler and Rieslings from a diverse array of producers such as Alsace's Trimbach, Germany's Weingut Robert Weil, New York's Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard and Canada's Cave Spring Cellars. Burgundy's Louis Latour poured Corton-Charlemagne while New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay poured its Sauvignon Blanc.
Ever wonder about the difference between Château Haut-Brion and neighboring La Mission Haut-Brion? Prince Robert de Luxembourg, president of the estates, was pouring the 2007 vintage from both; guests could then sample three other first-growths: Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild. Napa Valley Cabernet superstars Harlan Estate, Bond and Staglin were just footsteps away.
Pinot Noir fans could choose from Burgundy’s Domaine Faiveley, Oregon’s Evening Land or California’s Kosta Browne. Italy lovers could taste Bruno Giacosa's Roche Falletto, Gaja's Barbaresco and Fontodi's Flaccianello, not to mention wines from Sardinia, Campania, Trentino, Friuli and Sicily. Argentina, Chile, Australia, South Africa, Portugal and Spain were well-represented, and wines from Israel, Lebanon, Hungary and Japan were on hand.
The end of the evening presented tough choices too. Compare two Tokajis from Hungary or the four Sauternes from Bordeaux? Five Portuguese producers brought their Vintage Ports from the already-acclaimed 2011 vintage.
"This is the greatest wine event in the world. The wineries here, the interest level of the people coming to taste, is all incredible," said Franco Conterno, of Poderi Aldo Conterno, as he poured for attendees. Not wanting the evening to end, attendees and winemakers headed out afterward to enjoy Manhattan's finest restaurants, often mingling with colleagues from other continents they rarely get to see.
Despite the long nights, few wanted to sleep in. Two days of seminars kicked off at 9 a.m. on Friday morning, and anyone needing an eye opener was greeted with a welcome sight—four vintages of Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne. As the packed crowd sipped, Frédéric Rouzaud, president and CEO of the firm, gave an informative explanation of its history and techniques. He was followed by the Rhône's Michel Chapoutier, who brought a white Hermitage, and California's Sir Peter Michael, who explained how an early vintage of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay led him to devote his life to making wine in Sonoma and now Napa.
"This wine comes from 3 acres. This is the largest group that has ever tasted Guimaro Ribeira Sacra Finca Meixemán, and you've sucked it all down." Columnist Matt Kramer was talking about one of the vibrant reds he brought from Spain's Galicia region, but seminar attendees sucked down a lot of fantastic rare wines they would labor to find anywhere else.
Managing editor Kim Marcus led a tasting of four German Riesling rarities—$175,000 worth of ethereal beerenauslesen and trockenbeerenauslesen, made painstakingly in tiny quantities from steep vineyards. Frédéric Drouhin, president of Burgundy's Maison Joseph Drouhin, joined by his sister Veronique, the firm's winemaker, presented a 1990 Pinot Noir from the grand cru Bonnes Mares vineyard. Marc Perrin of Château de Beaucastel presented his family's white and red Châteauneuf-du-Papes, including the rare Hommage à Jacques Perrin, while Paul Draper explained his Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains 2009.
Wine is made for food, and four culinary all-stars showed off their cuisine and tested their wine-pairing skills in what has become an annual showdown. Chefs José Andres, Emeril Lagasse, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and restaurateur Danny Meyer sparred with food and wits as the crowd enjoyed their dishes and suggested wine matches. If all that wasn't enough, attendees got an extended look at Wine Spectator's Top 10 wines of 2012, an incredible sampling from Argentina, Australia, Bordeaux, Napa, Oregon, the Rhône and Tuscany.
"I'm speechless," said Marvin R. Shanken, Wine Spectator's editor and publisher, as he looked out over Saturday night's closing event, the Grand Award Banquet. "I've heard from so many of you about how special this weekend has been." It was a feeling shared by many in the room. Tickets for this Wine Experience sold out months in advance and, impressed by the enthusiasm, Shanken announced that it will remain in New York for at least five years.
The banquet is a last chance to enjoy the weekend's celebration and also an opportunity to recognize greatness. Robert Drouhin, longtime proprietor at Maison Joseph Drouhin and founder of Domaine Drouhin Oregon, received Wine Spectator's Distinguished Service Award. He credited the New World for Burgundy's greatness in the past half-century, stating that innovation and competition in emerging regions spurred Burgundians to aim higher.
Four restaurants joined a select group that hold Wine Spectator's Grand Award, a recognition of the greatest restaurant wine programs in the world—New York's Per Se, California's Village Pub, Italy's La Ciau del Tornavento and Australia's Royal Mail Hotel. And John and Doug Shafer took the stage to accept the award for 2012's Wine of the Year, their Napa Valley Syrah and Petite Sirah blend Relentless. They paid tribute to their longtime winemaker, Elias Fernandez, the inspiration behind the wine.
Just before Grammy-winning R&B singer-songwriter John Legend took the stage, Shanken returned for one more announcement. The Wine Experience is held for the benefit of the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, which over the years has raised more than $15 million for scholarships and gifts to wine and food education efforts—including 582 student scholarships and research grants at the University of California at Davis' school of viticulture and enology. Shanken announced that the Foundation would be giving a $1 million donation to Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, a leading institution for food and beverage education.
Wine is passion, whether that passion comes from the chance to meet a winemaker, to taste a fantastic rarity or to support a new generation of wine professionals. The 34th Wine Experience will be held in New York from Oct. 16–18, 2014.