There's a reason a bottle of wine holds more than one glass: Wine is for sharing. When you offer someone a taste, you offer them a glimpse of a vineyard, often in a place they've never been, and an introduction to the people who worked hard to turn the grapes into magic.
Plenty of that magic was being shared last night as Wine Spectator’s 39th annual New York Wine Experience opened its doors at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. The Grand Tasting was the start of three days of sampling rare and aged wines with leading winemakers, lunches showcasing the wines of different regions and the black-tie Grand Award Banquet, celebrating the best restaurant wine programs in the world. Thursday was the first of two evenings where 2,400 wine lovers came together for the chance to try 273 of the world's greatest wines, all rated 90 points or higher by Wine Spectator editors.
Sharing and friendship were in the air from the start, as people lined up for an hour before the doors opened to the sold-out event. Once inside, they could explore two floors of booths where winemakers and winery owners poured some of their best. "My good friend knows that I'm a wine fanatic and brought me to the Wine Experience," said Jim Sansevero, a New York investment manager attending his first. "Coming here is the best, and the wines are absolutely phenomenal."
There are few better ways to kick off a celebration than bubbly. Sparkling fans could opt for Champagnes, including Bollinger Brut Rosé Champagne La Grande Année 2007, Pol Roger Brut Champagne Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2008, Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée 167ème Édition NV or Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne Rare 1998.
Or they could opt for California, sampling the likes of Domaine Carneros Blanc de Blancs Carneros Le Rêve 2011 or Schramsberg's J. Schram Late Disgorged North Coast 2000. "I like, for something like this [event], to bring something a little older to show where sparkling wine can go," explained Schramsberg owner Hugh Davies. "You can't taste it in too many places!" The winery only made 250 cases of the late-disgorged 2000 and wanted to make a point of pouring it here. "This is an exciting tasting because so many of the wines in the world you'd want to try are here. They're not in the retail stores, but they're under this one roof."
On another floor, a rosé showdown was going on, as fans of all things pink could compare Château d'Esclans Côtes de Provence Rosé Garrus 2016, Jolie-Pitt & Perrin Côtes de Provence Rosé Muse de Miraval 2018 and Domaines Ott Bandol Rosé Château Romassan 2017, all being poured from magnums. In the same row, Chardonnay fans could sample from Oregon, California, Burgundy and even Australia, with the Leeuwin Chardonnay Margaret River Art Series 2016.
Next to that was a packed row of Pinot Noirs, contrasting French and U.S. West Coast regions with wines from Domaine Faiveley, Siduri, Evening Land and more. People could also explore New Zealand Pinot, sampling Escarpment's Pinot Noir Martinborough 2016 and Craggy Range's Pinot Noir Martinborough Aroha Te Muna 2015.
Looking for something unfamiliar? How about a Bordeaux-style blend from a totally different terroir? Japan's Château Mercian was pouring its Private Reserve Jyonohira 2013.
And in a row filled with outstanding Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro reds from Spain, there was also a Garnatxa Blanca from Spain's Tarragona region: Edetària Terra Alta White Selecció Vinyes Velles 2016. "We thought we could bring something authentic and special," explained Joan Lliberia, Edetària's owner. "It's completely different."
Andrea Wirsching, owner of Hans Wirsching in Germany, was pouring Silvaner for her first time at the Wine Experience, rather than the more common Riesling. "People are more open to this grape," she said. "The reaction to the wine is 'Wow!' The people who come here are into wine, so they are willing to try this and not afraid to say what they think."
Even while staying within the realm of California producers, guests could step outside their comfort zone, trying one of Dave Phinney's gutsy red blends, the Orin Swift Eight Years in the Desert California 2017.
But there was no shortage of longtime favorites like Napa Cabernet. Fans could try more than a dozen wines, including Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2009, Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Lot No. 1 2015, Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2016 and Pahlmeyer Napa Valley 2016.
For the winemakers, the Wine Experience is a chance to meet new customers and loyal fans. It's also a chance to meet colleagues from around the world and share knowledge. Mike Reynvaan of Washington, pouring his Syrah, had a booth next to Gabriel Meffre of Gigondas. They ended up chatting about how they can tell the difference in elevations in Rhône-style wines in both France and Washington.
Alessandra Casini Bindi Sergardi of Chianti Classico producer Bindi Sergardi, also at her first Wine Experience, was proud to be sharing a row with an incredible slate of fellow Italians, like Fontodi, Castello di Ama and Antinori.
Teresa Forrester, co-owner of South Africa's Ken Forrester wines, was happy to explore new wines. "It's a long way from home! It's amazing the amount of people and the quality of people. And the amount they want to learn is amazing," she said. "We're rubbing noses with the hoity-toity French places. We're surrounded by fame."
Fame like Bordeaux's biggest names: Wine lovers could try an incredible array of 2009s from top châteaus, including Canon, Cheval-Blanc, Clerc Milon, Cos-d'Estournel, Haut-Brion, Palmer, Pichon Lalande and Mouton-Rothschild. Or they could stop by the booth for Margaux and raise a glass of its 2004.
Sharing wines this rare and rich is true kindness, and not just for the people in the room. The Wine Experience happens due to the generosity of the countless vintners who share their wines and time. 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.
Wine lovers looking to share even more have yet another chance as the Grand Tasting returns tonight for its second round.
—With reporting by Ben O'Donnell and Shawn Zylberberg
Grand Tasting Photo Gallery
Photos by Shannon Sturgis