How to Try 200 Wines in 3 Hours

Tips from the Vegas Grand Tour for making the most of the upcoming Boston tasting
May 18, 2011

When there are 200 wineries pouring their best wines and you have three hours and the clock is ticking, you need a strategy. That was obvious the minute the door opened Saturday night at Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour tasting in Las Vegas.

People actually ran to be among the first to taste certain wines, mostly men because a) that’s the way men are, and b) it’s hard to sprint in heels. The run-like-hell strategy seemed to pay off because the line to taste Château Margaux 2004 soon stretched all the way to the Hoover Dam.

So keep that in mind if you’re attending the May 19 Grand Tour tasting in Boston. (Some tickets are still available online Wednesday and at the door Thursday.) Have a plan; set your priorities. Whether your passion is California, France, Italy or the whole world of vino, there are just too many great wines to taste in a single night.

Even those of us who spit while tasting know our limits. At the Vegas tasting, I just tried to taste the highlights and woefully underachieved. Who wants to hurry when winemakers and vintners are right there pouring wine?

“See that guy over there?” I overheard one thirty-something tell three friends. “That’s Michael Browne. He’s a rock star of wine.” Browne was pouring his Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2009, and I gave him a hard time about what I’d just heard. “Yeah,” Browne replied, “but where are my groupies?”

The crowd gathered as Margo Van Staaveren poured her Chateau St. Jean 2007 Cinq Cepages and lion-maned Charles Smith of K Vintners offered his Royal City Syrah Stoneridge Vineyard 2008. There was also Leonardo Bellaccini of San Felice, Mark Tarlov of Evening Lands and Cliff Lede of Cliff Lede Vineyards.

Since I taste so many California wines on the job I tend to focus on other regions at the Grand Tour. I review California sparkling wine so I always taste the latest Champagnes. Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne Femme 1996 was bold and rich yet light on its feet, while Alfred Gratien Brut Rosé Champagne NV was delicate and pinpoint focused.

Bouchard Père et Fils Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot Domaine 2008 was Burgundy at its most elegant, fragrant with violets and with complex cherry and mineral flavors. While California is making headway with Italian whites, Marco Felluga’s blend Collio Russiz Superiore Col Disore 2007 is uniquely Italian, with a briny dried citrus aroma and crisp grapefruit flavors that finish with a hint of sweetness.

The Vegas crowd reflected the growing diversity of wine. Many were in their twenties and thirties, and their accents ran from the Jersey shore to Asia.

“Oh, this is too good to waste on a mimosa,” 20-something Tara Johnson of Las Vegas said with a knowing laugh to sister Laura Johnson as they tasted a sparkling wine. “We’re just trying to learn more about wine,” Laura said, with Tara adding, “We know we like it.”

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