When Mark Tarlov introduced one of his Oregon Pinot Noirs, the Chapter 24 Willamette Valley Last Chapter 2015, to the audience at the New York Wine Experience on Saturday, he began with a quote from famed American physicist Richard Feynman: “If we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe.” Feynman’s point was that there is a world of detail in a glass of wine, from the physics of the tears that form when it's swirled to the geology of the rocks its vines grow among. Tarlov used the idea as a launching point to dive into the details of Chapter 24’s vineyards.
Speaking to the same crowd a few hours earlier, pro golfer and vintner Cristie Kerr cited attention to detail as the key to success in both golf and wine. “I’m a details person,” she said. “I’m persnickety.”
The details of wine’s universe are what make it great, and this year’s Wine Experience, the 38th, was all about diving deep into those glorious minutia. More than 5,000 people wanting to make the plunge—including consumers, winemakers, winery owners, wine merchants, chefs and sommeliers—flocked to the New York Marriott Marquis in the heart of Times Square, from Oct. 18 to 20, for two evenings of Grand Tastings, 18 seminars, two multicourse lunches paired with the wines of Italy and Santa Barbara County, and a black-tie Champagne reception and banquet recognizing the world’s greatest restaurant wine programs. More than 362 wines were poured from 27,252 bottles into more than 60,000 glasses.
Part of what makes wine special is its diverse geography, and the Grand Tastings on Thursday and Friday nights were the perfect place to explore the world. Wineries representing more than 15 nations poured 269 wines, all rated 90 points or higher and selected by Wine Spectator’s editors. More than 2,400 attendees packed two ballrooms and had the opportunity to plan their own education, whether it was comparing greats of Spain or Italy, contrasting Bordeaux first-growths and Napa cult Cabernets or just wandering and finding new things, like a Catalan sparkler or a Japanese red blend.
"It's overwhelming, it's exciting. I don't know where to start," said Allison Pitts, 25, a New Yorker attending her first Wine Experience. "I feel like I'm learning a lot. There's different wines from all over the country I never thought I would have the chance of tasting. It's amazing."
For Isabel Ferrando, owner of Château St.-Préfert in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the great names in the room gave her new perspective. "I've been making wine for 15 years, and here I am, in the temple of winemakers."
Friday and Saturday's in-depth daytime seminars offered more detail, including presentations of the Top 10 Wines of 2017, capped by a tasting honoring Wine Spectator's 2017 Wine of the Year, Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard 2014.
No one does detail like Burgundy, and attendees got to drill down into the terroir of one hill in the French wine region, as four of its top houses presented Pinot Noirs from the Corton grand cru. History lovers could learn about one of Italy’s pioneering estates, Biondi-Santi, which showcased four vintages of its Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Greppo Riserva, including the 1983. California devotees were wowed by six bottlings of Schrader Cellars Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet presented by Fred Schrader and winemaker Thomas Brown. Prince Robert de Luxembourg spoke of some of the highlights of the five-century history of Bordeaux’s Château Haut-Brion, while the first-growth’s director, Jean-Philippe Delmas, gave details on specific vintages the audience got to taste, including the 2005, 2000 and 1998.
Wine is more than history and geology, however. It’s people, passion, poetry and even song. For rocker Jon Bon Jovi, wine is a project that lets him work with his son Jesse Bongiovi and his new friend, vintner Gérard Bertrand. The Bon Jovi family presented the fruits of that friendship, Diving into Hampton Water Rosé 2017. And Bon Jovi shared his music with the crowd. “I’m often invited places, and often told that I have to sing for my supper,” he joked. For winemaker Louis Barruol of Château de St.-Cosme, who shared his 2015 Gigondas, wine is a craft and profession, passed down from father to child, as Barruol's father taught him and he is now teaching his children.
Wine can show us a diverse range of perspectives. Laura Catena of Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata, spoke about discussing how to bring the history of Malbec to the world; "I want to tell this story through women's eyes," her sister, Adrianna, had told her. Domaine Huët’s Sarah Hwang presented her Vouvray Demi-Sec Le Mont 2016 and remarked how proud she was to share a stage with fellow female vintners Cleo Pahlmeyer and Aline Baly.
Presenting her 2006 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta explained how her grandfather Mario’s unorthodox decision to plant Cabernet in Bolgheri opened the world's eyes to what was possible in Tuscany. Ti Martin, co-owner of Commander’s Palace and daughter of famed restaurateur Ella Brennan, brought her spirited point of view to the Chefs' Challenge seminar, joining José Andrés, Emeril Lagasse and Mario Carbone to explore the magic of pairing wine with food.
German vintner Nik Weis showed how wine can also inspire generosity. He shared nearly the entire tiny production of his exquisite St.-Urbans-Hof Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Mosel Leiwen Laurentiuslay 2015 with the Wine Experience audience.
The Wine Experience would not be possible without such generosity. All net proceeds 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.
In his lecture remarks on wine, Feynman concluded by saying, “If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts—physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on—remember that nature does not know it. So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let us give one more final pleasure: Drink it and forget it all.”
Three days packed with gorgeous wines and fascinating information are impossible to forget. But it’s true that the final pleasure of wine is to drink it, preferably in the company of 5,000 good friends.
The 2019 Wine Experience will be held in New York City, Oct. 17–19.
—With reporting by Emma Balter and Brianne Garrett