The 2019 Wine Spectator Grand Tour kicked off in Las Vegas on April 27, as more than a thousand enthusiastic wine lovers filled the Grand Ballroom at the Mirage resort.
Many were Grand Tour first-timers. Ron Trevathan came from Houston, Texas, with his wife Susie. "The trip is for our anniversary," he explained, "and this event has been on my bucket list for a while."
Susie had given Ron early VIP entry as a gift, and joined him later in the evening, when I caught up with them at the buffet. "I've enjoyed everything," he said.
There was plenty to enjoy: 244 wineries from 17 countries, each pouring a flagship bottling. All wines were rated "outstanding," or 90 points or higher on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale.
Every attendee's highlights will differ at this event. Going strictly by the numbers, the highest-scoring wine was W.&J. Graham Vintage Port 2016, at 98 points. The oldest vintage table wine was the 2000 from Château Duhart-Milon in Pauillac, part of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild Bordeaux portfolio.
The biggest surprise was at the Penfolds booth. The Australian winery had decided to show their Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Bin 707 2016, which earned a "classic" rating of 95 points. But there were mix-ups, and Penfolds wound up substituting their iconic red, Grange 2014, rated 98 points. Or, as every attendee who stopped by the stand called it, "an upgrade, a jackpot!" No announcement was made, but somehow a long line instantly formed.
Enjoy an evening of exceptional wines from the world’s best wine-growing regions at this year's Wine Spectator Grand Tour.
Some of the vintners were first-time participants, too, including Andrea Wirsching, representing her family's winery, Hans Wirsching from the Franken region of Germany. Not only was it her first Grand Tour, but also her first visit to Las Vegas. And her wine, the Silvaner Qualitatswein Trocken Franken Iphofer Julius-Echter-Berg GG 2015, was the first German Silvaner ever poured at a Grand Tasting.
"I'm astonished," Wirsching said. "I thought not a lot of people would know Silvaner, and that's true. But there are many sommeliers here who appreciate it! And when people try it, they like it. People seem so open to new discoveries."
Jean Engelbrecht, of Rust En Vrede in Stellenbosch, had made the long trip from South Africa to pour his Estate 2015, a distinctive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. "I'm not a big fan of Las Vegas," he admitted. "But I would never miss this event."
Engelbrecht has now opened nine restaurants in South Africa, and observed that it was very different from – and in many ways more difficult than – running a winery. "But the impact they have had on my wine sales, wow!" We agreed that the vitality of restaurant culture was a key engine for wines' success.
Chef José Andrés knows about the synergy between wine and restaurants. His empire ranges from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles, with numerous outlets in Las Vegas. That afternoon, he had cooked a giant paella at his Jaleo restaurant in the Cosmopolitan. (He was also officially presented with the keys to the city.) Andrés stopped by the tasting before catching a flight back east.
"One of my restaurants was the first to pour this wine in the US," Andrés said, as we tasted the crisp, floral Malagousia from Greece's Kitma Gerovassiliou. "I'm personally gravitating more and more to these fresh, minerally, energetic white wines, from Spain's Rias Baixas to German Rieslings to these beauties from Greece."
As we strolled sampling through the event, Andrés was respectfully and constantly approached – by people who had worked in his restaurants, by people who loved his restaurants, and by people paying tribute to his humanitarian work. Andrés is a knowledgeable and curious wine drinker, and was eager to sample new things. Sweet, botrityzed whites from South Africa and Hungary caught his attention.
There were many interesting and instructive juxtapositions in the ballroom. California Pinot Noir producers Siduri and WALT were side by side, both pouring 2016 wines made from the Clos Pepe Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills. I found the Siduri red-fruited and vibrant, the WALT plush, yet focused, with plum and cocoa notes.
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The two winemakers, Adam Lee and Megan Gunderson Paredes, respectively, had collaborated earlier that afternoon on a tasting at the Aria, joined by Lee's wife and fellow vintner Dianna Novy Lee, with Wine Spectator Napa Bureau Chief Kim Marcus as moderator. They presented 10 wines, demonstrating how three California sub-regions each had distinctive styles, and also how consistently each winery maintained its character.
Like many guests at the Grand Tour, Joe Filipiak, a Las Vegas wine lover, professed not to know too much about wine. But many guests, including Joe, had marked up their event maps and were planning their way through the tasting. Filipiak knows the routine because this was his seventh Grand Tour. He had brought his sons, David (who also lives in Las Vegas and was attending his Grand Tour #4), and Michael (recently relocated to Dubai, Grand Tour #6). They were having fun just being together.
"There are so many great wines here," Joe said. "The value is incredible. And on top of all that, we've met so many great people. We'll never miss another one."
This year's Grand Tour makes two more stops, in Chicago on May 2 and Miami on May 10. Tickets and information for these events can be found at GrandTour.WineSpectator.com.
Photos by Focus Event Photography; click any image to enlarge