Think of it as a one-night tour of the wine world, with many of its superstar wines and their makers under one roof.
Think of it as a crash-course refresher on those iconic wines from those celebrated regions from the Old World and a glimpse of what lies ahead from the New World.
It's all on stage at next week's New York Wine Experience, where more than 260 of the world's greatest wines will be on display at the Grand Tastings. For those of us fortunate to be hosts, it's an annual way to rediscover why you've liked so many wines over the years, and perhaps why others had less appeal.
Don't fool yourself. Everyone who drinks wine wants to get the most out of that experience, and at the root of wine appreciation is knowing what you like. Nothing else really matters.
But how you determine your likes and dislikes requires exposure to different wines along with practice, and practicing tasting can be one of life's greatest pleasures. I won't say tasting is always a pleasure, because, in reality, being a good taster, or becoming one, is demanding. Those of us, and I'm including sommeliers, retailers, distributors, chefs—anyone really, who makes a point of becoming a student of wine—must put in the time and learn to concentrate to become a good critic.
Over the years that I've attended our annual shindig in Times Square, I've made a point of pinpointing exactly which kinds or styles of wines that give me the most pleasure. I also spend time revisiting wines that inspire others but not necessarily me. Part of the equation of what you like involves what you don't like. Still, each year I visit the aisles of regions and wine styles, and through that exercise I have a better understanding of my likes and dislikes. Nothing is more important.
There are a couple of ways to approach a lineup the size of the Grand Tasting. The most important is to have a game plan and stay focused. Wines are grouped by varietal, that is, aisles with booths of first-growth Bordeaux will be close to Napa Valley or Mendoza, three popular homes to Cabernet. Rows of Grenache, Syrah and the like are in the same vicinity. Compare the wines of the Rhône Valley with their New World counterparts from Australia or California's Central Coast. Like Pinot Noir? Check out the sections where Burgundy is poured alongside the likes of Pinots from Oregon or California's Russian River Valley.
There was a time when I wanted to taste every wine in the room over the two nights the Grand Tastings take place. That's the way many people feel the first time they attend a tasting on this grand a scale. But eventually you'll break it down and study the wines you like. You'll also be shoulder to shoulder with the kinds of people who share a passion for wine—your kind of folks.
Make sure to spit. Make sure to take some kind of notes. It can be as simple as a plus or minus sign next to the producer's name. Make sure to say hi, too. It's always fun visiting with producers and meeting our readers. See you next week.