The Wine Experience has been around since 1981, but Saturday's Grand Award banquet popped the final cork on a three-day event that brimmed with new and youthful energy while still honoring the past.
The black-tie evening began with a Champagne reception that included an impressive selection of wines from Krug, Bollinger and others, and then segued into a dinner that honored longtime Maison Joseph Drouhin head Robert Drouhin, who received Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award this year, and was paired with Drouhin wines from Burgundy and Oregon.
The ballroom was filled with a who’s who of the wine world, including Corinne Mentzelopoulos of Château Margaux, Chuck Wagner of Caymus, Philippine de Rothschild of Château Mouton-Rothschild, Tony Terlato of Terlato Wine Group, Italian vintner Piero Antinori, California vintner/director Francis Ford Coppola and many more.
Senior editor Bruce Sanderson, who covers Burgundy for the magazine, introduced Drouhin. At age 80, and with a thick tuft of white hair, the gracious Drouhin told the audience, “I don’t know if I deserve this award.” The applause suggested he was mistaken.
That evening, four restaurants were honored with the Grand Award, Wine Spectator's top honor for wine list excellence; only 72 restaurants worldwide hold that designation today. The new winners included La Ciau del Tornavento in Italy's Piedmont region, the Royal Mail Hotel in Australia, the Village Pub in Woodside, Calif., and Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York. Executive editor Thomas Matthews remarked that the Royal Mail was particularly remarkable for its achievement, considering its remote location in the outback, a 12-hour drive from Sydney.
Senior editor James Laube’s enthusiasm was palpable for Wine Spectator's 2012 Wine of the Year as he introduced it, the Shafer Vineyards Relentless Napa Valley 2008 (96 points, $60). John Shafer, who founded the winery in 1978, said he was “honored and amazed.”
The Syrah-Petite Sirah blend, Shafer told the crowd, is a tribute to longtime winemaker Elias Fernandez, a man known for his relentlessness and one of the first Hispanic graduates of the University of California at Davis viticulture and enology program. “His father picked grapes,” Shafer said. “It’s the story of America.”
The night concluded with an energetic performance by nine-time Grammy winner John Legend, who had the crowd packing the dance floor as he sang R&B hits that include “Save Room” and “All of Me,” as well as a soulful piano solo of Bruce Springsteen’s "Dancing in the Dark."
Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvée NV (93 points, $75)
Charles Heidsieck Brut Champagne Réserve NV (93 points, $65)
Delamotte Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV (90 points, $65)
Moët & Chandon Brut Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon 2004 (95 points, $159)
Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée NV (97 points, $169)
Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Brut Premier NV (91 points, $49)
Perrier-Jouët Brut Champagne Grand Brut NV (91 points, $45)
Taittinger Brut Rosé Champagne Prestige NV (92 points, $65)
Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Sécher 2010 (88 points, $39)
Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny 2008 (88 points, $63)
Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2009 (90 points, $40)