An hour before the doors opened to Wine Spectator's Grand Tour event, the crowd began gathering for Chicago's largest wine tasting. First in line: Denis and Diane Raab of St. Louis, veterans of past Wine Spectator Wine Experiences.
"We're wine warriors," Denis said. "We wouldn't miss this event."
The Raabs were among more than 1,000 wine lovers to attend the Grand Tour, which debuted last Tuesday night in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare. Featuring wines from 200 wineries from around the world, the Grand Tour provides wine-loving consumers with a chance to taste their favorite wines while getting up close and personal with many of the winemakers.
The three-hour walk-around tasting featured many of the world's most notable wineries. They included Bordeaux's first-growth châteaus Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Mouton-Rothschild; California's Beringer, Caymus, Diamond Creek and Opus One; Burgundy's Louis Jadot; the Rhône's E. Guigal; Spain's Alvaro Palacios; Italy's Angelo Gaja, Ornellaia and Sassicaia; and many more.
Wine Spectator subscribers Bill and Andrea Heilman, who were attending their first Wine Spectator tasting event, were impressed. "My expectations were exceeded," Bill noted. "Some of the wine selections here are overwhelming."
Jean-Guillaume Prats, president of Bordeaux second-growth Château Cos-d'Estournel, noted that the crowd was "very knowledgeable. I even see some people here that I saw in Bordeaux three weeks ago for the en primeur tastings."
As the attendees sipped and swirled, the winemakers used the opportunity to show off their wares to the Chicago area market, which had never hosted a wine event of this magnitude. Fritz Hasselbach, co-proprietor and winemaker for Gunderloch in Germany, was happy with the more casual air of the event, as compared to the hustle and bustle of the New York Wine Experience. "New York is very intense. Here we have time to talk to people," he said.
Caymus owner Chuck Wagner, busy pouring his 1999 Special Selection, said many of the attendees offered condolences on the recent death of his father, Charlie. "We have a lot of fans here and they've been coming up all night. They're good, friendly people and they all say the same thing to me: 'You better not screw up.'"
As Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken explained, "The Grand Tour is part of a new program to bring great wines from around the world to Wine Spectator readers and their friends around the country. For 25 years, our readers have been coming to us. Now we are bringing the magazine to them."
The Grand Tour is slated to visit a minimum of three more cities next year, including the magazine's first-ever wine tasting in Los Angeles, on May 16, 2003.