Our annual Wine Spectator Wine Experience features two nights of walk-around tastings, featuring more than 260 wineries pouring their best stuff. All the wines have been highly rated by myself or my colleagues. The two ballrooms are buzzing and everywhere you turn, there's something you want to try, either a favorite, or one of those dream wines you've only heard about. I like to call it the Louvre of wine.
And what do you do when you get to the Louvre? Do you run to the Mona Lisa, wait on line and then get a few seconds, just to say "I saw it"? Or do you head down one of the less-travelled hallways, only to stumble across a boatload of masterpieces covering every inch of wallspace in gallery after gallery.
Either way you're not going to get to everything. And either way you need to have a game plan. So with that in mind, here are a few suggested methods to navigating the Grand Tastings.
Game Plan No. 1: Marching Orders
Print out a list of the wineries that are pouring. Mark the ones you want to try. If you've already purchased tickets, you've been sent a copy of the floor plan. Plot it out and then stick to the plan.
Game Plan No. 2: The Shopping Market
There's actually a method to the madness. In the ballrooms on both floors of the Marriott Marquis, the wineries are lined up in a sensible drinking order: sparklers, light-bodied to fuller-bodied whites, ditto for the reds before finishing with dessert wines. Cruise the tasting like you would when you hit the shopping market, snaking your way through the aisles and enjoying a little bit of everything.
Game Plan No. 3: Explore the Unknown
There are lots of big names in the room, from first-growth Bordeaux to the greats of Piedmont, Tuscany, Napa, the Rhône and more. But every winery in the room is there for a reason, because we chose them as one of the best in the world. So after you get your sip of Haut-Brion or Kosta Browne, look at the wineries pouring their wares in the booths on either side. If either one is one you've never heard of or never tried before, try it. Chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Game Plan No. 4: Use Insider Info
Don't tell anyone, but I've got a hot tip for you. A few of the wines I'll be making sure to taste are those from the following wineries: Château de St.-Cosme, Domaine St.-Préfert, Château Trotanoy, Vieux Château Certan, Château Léoville Las Cases, Château Figeac, Krug, Noemía de Patagonia, Álvaro Palacios, Ridge and Quinta do Noval … among others.
Whatever game plan you choose, you're bound to have fun and learn a lot too. In addition to drinking all that wine, you'll also be benefitting and helping the future of the wine industry. Don't forget this event is for charity, with proceeds going to the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, which to date has raised over $20 million and granted over 300 scholarships to students to attend the viticulture and enology school at U.C. Davis.
As George Peppard used to say at the end of episodes of The A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together."