2009 New York Wine Experience: The Grand Tastings

The weekend kicks off with an evening of hundreds of outstanding wines
Oct 23, 2009

"Is it hot in here?" That question was a common refrain during the first hour of Thursday night's Grand Tasting, the opening event of the 2009 New York Wine Experience. It was a bit warm in the fifth-floor ballroom of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. "Who cares? It means there are lots of people in here, and they all love wine," said Alessandro Cellai, winemaker for Castellare di Castellina, in Italy's Chianti Classico.

The air conditioner was working overtime and the room quickly cooled down, but the buzz did not. After more than a year of recession and economic anxiety, there was a palpable feeling that the worst is behind us. Either people had recently found good news on their 401k statements, or they just didn't care when there were more than 250 of the greatest estates in the world pouring beautiful wines. It's hard to be depressed when someone thrusts a glass of Mouton Rothschild 2005 or Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2007 at you.

The winemakers had bravely left their tanks behind, some with the juice still fermenting, in regions from the Barossa to Bordeaux, Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to Oregon's Willamette Valley, so they could meet devoted consumers. This was Wine Spectator's 29th annual Wine Experience, and the crowd was definitely larger than last year's, held just a few weeks after Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. Winemakers reported that they were pouring a lot more wine and meeting many more interested customers. "It's hard to leave the tanks every year, but where else can you meet such amazing wine lovers?" said Brian Loring, of Loring Wine Company in California. WineSpectator.com harvest guest blogger Gaia Gaja, pouring Barolo with her father Angelo, said, "People from Brazil and Japan now recognize me here, thanks to the blog. It's fantastic."

The magazine's three-day wine extravaganza, held Oct. 22–24 at the New York Marriott Marquis, kicked off on Thursday night with the first of two evening Grand Tastings, spread across two floors of the hotel. Eager guests, many of whom had traveled across the country for the full weekend of events, formed lines outside both ballrooms as they waited for doors to open at 6:30 pm.

Some of the wine lovers had been attending for years, making the Wine Experience an annual vacation. “I’ve been coming here for 20 years," said Hank Schuitemaker, owner of Angus Barn, a Grand Award-winning restaurant in Raleigh, N.C. "I wouldn’t miss this for anything in the world.” Others were taking their first plunge into a weekend of wine. "This is our first time," said Philip Jones, in from Wisconsin. "This is truly amazing."

On both floors, guests happily wandered from one great winery to the next, while others could be found carefully scanning their tasting books and maps to plot out which wineries to visit. Winemakers, estate owners and other members of the trade took breaks from their booths to catch up with old friends.

Certain superstar wines attracted heavy crowds, including all five Bordeaux first growths, Napa's Harlan estate and Krug Champagne. But guests also had the chance to discover new gems, like Slovenia's Movia, Washington's Betz Family, Hungary's Diznókö and Spain's Vall Llach, pouring at the event for the first time.

Here are portraits of a few of the notable vintners and owners who were on hand to pour their wines, along with the guests who came to enjoy them.

—Photographs by Kent Hanson and Jenny Acheson

Gaja winery owner Angelo Gaja, center, with daughter Gaia Gaja and Castellare di Castellini owner Paolo Paneri.

Marc Perrin of Château de Beaucastel and Daniel Brunier of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe.

Château Léoville-Barton owner Anthony Barton.

Kosta Browne winemaker Michael Browne and Regina Martinelli of Martinelli winery.

Cliff Lede, owner of Cliff Lede Vineyards.

Guests Mille Sall and Sharon Berardino, from New York.

Bob and Cathy Betz of Betz Family.

From left: Frescobaldi winemaker Lamberto Frescobaldi, owner Marchesi de’Frescobaldi and Genevieve Janssens, director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi Winery.

Chateau Ste.-Michelle winemaker Bob Bertheau.

Guests Maria Heaney and Robert Balseca plot their course on the tasting map.

From left: 20-year attendee Hank Schuitemaker of the Angus Barn restaurant in Raleigh, N.C.; Lenora Evans of Raleigh; and Fred Schrader of Schrader Cellars.

Donald Hess, founder of The Hess Collection Winery.

Kent Rosenblum of Rosenblum Cellars.

Scott Snowden of Snowden Vineyards and Bill Phelps of Joseph Phelps winery.

As the World Turns actor Evan Alex Cole and fellow actor John Levi.

From left: Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates; Hazel Shanken; Piero Antinori, owner of Marchesi Antinori.

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