"When you drink wine, you drink history," said Jean-Michel Cazes. "When you pop a cork you are letting the genie out of the bottle and drinking the time, the harvest, all the people who worked on it." Cazes, the semi-retired proprietor of Bordeaux's Château Lynch Bages, was speaking at the New York Wine Experience to a packed ballroom of nearly 1,000 people, detailing the history inside each audience member's glass of Lynch Bages 2000.
The wine was gorgeous, powerful yet elegant. But Cazes told of the secret ingredients—the weather that nurtured the grapes, the endless decisions made in the cellar, even the cooks who kept pickers fueled during harvest.
The men and women who attended the 34th Wine Experience learned over three days that wine is a lot of things. It is history. It is a product of soil and sunshine. It is a bond between people of different countries and cultures.
It's also a lot of fun. When Larry Turley presented his Howell Mountain Zinfandel and cracked jokes about life in the wine business, the crowd enjoyed the wine and roared at the humor. "I really should talk in front of crowds that drink more," Turley quipped. "At home I don't get this kind of reaction."
From Oct. 16 to 18, nearly 5,000 wine lovers from around the United States and multiple nations gathered at the Marriott Marquis in New York's Times Square for two Grand Tastings, 15 seminars and several wine-packed meals. All told, more than 360 wines were poured from more than 24,000 bottles into 71,100 glasses over the three days. What's more, attendees had the chance to shake hands with many of the best in the business and share their love of wine with each other.
"At this event, wine becomes personal. It becomes real," said Joe Fletcher of Wilmington, De., who was attending his 14th Wine Experience with his wife, Bettie. Meeting winemakers and learning about new regions has influenced what the couple buys for their home cellar. "It's always educational, and it's introduced us to a lot of people."
The Fletchers had been sampling some of Piero Antinori's wines in the 6th-floor ballroom of the Marriott Marquis, enjoying the opening night's Grand Tasting. For that evening and the following, winemakers and owners from 267 wineries in 18 countries poured their best.
The crowd was eager to taste, and there were almost too many options. You could start with bubblies from Italy and California along with a blockbuster array of Champagnes. Burgundy was represented but so were Pinot Noirs from California, Oregon and South Africa.
More than two dozen Bordeaux châteaus were pouring, and Napa Valley Cabernet estates were also in full force. While many wineries showcased recent releases, Beringer shared its 1989 Private Reserve Cabernet, and only five feet away Santa Cruz's Ridge was pouring its 1994 Monte Bello. Italian superstars took over multiple rows, while Spain was proudly present, basking in the recognition of having claimed Wine of the Year for the first time, in 2013.Portuguese houses were pouring classic Vintage Ports and outstanding table wines. Australia and South African wineries offered a wide variety of good options. Hungary's Disznókó poured Tokaji, Israel's Clos de Gat offered a Merlot from the Judean Hills and Lebanon's Château Musar served its 2007 red blend from Bekaa Valley. Guests eagerly sampled a Nebbiolo from Mexico and a red blend from Nagano, Japan.
"There was such a rush of people wanting to get in when the doors opened," said David O'Reilly, co-owner and winemaker at Washington state's Owen Roe.
Seminars on Friday and Saturday were similarly packed, with nearly 1,000 people sitting poised in front of rows of glasses. They were treated to some of the best entertainment on Broadway—complex white Burgundies, mineral-driven Syrahs from the Northern Rhône, new discoveries from Chile and Portugal, classic Bordeaux and exquisite Pinot Noir.
Guests enjoyed cava, oloroso Sherry, Argentine Malbec and a 1978 Amarone. They concluded each day with Wine Spectator's Top 10 wines of 2013, presented in a two-part seminar that allowed each vintner to explain the hard work and ideal terroir that allowed them to produce such magnificent wines.
Even at the two lunches, guests had an amazing range of wines to choose from. One day featured 19 Italian wines representing all the members of Grandi Marchi, a group of the country's leading producers, including the likes of Biondi-Santi, Gaja, Pio Cesare and Tenuta San Guido. The next lunch, organized by the Washington Wine Commission, showcased bottlings from 12 of the state's top wineries, such as Abeja, Côte Bonneville, Columbia Crest and Gorman.
Great theater requires great actors too, and the stage was graced by some of wine's superstars. Piero Antinori discussed his 48 years in the wine business as guests tried a vertical tasting of his classic super Tuscans Tignanello and Solaia. Nicolás Catena detailed how he imported California ideas and ambition to his Mendoza region of Argentina.
Former race-car driver Randy Lewis explained how a bad turn in qualifying for the 1991 Indianapolis 500 led to him founding Napa's Lewis Cellars. As his car slammed into the wall of turn two, he thought, "This might be a great time to get into the wine business."
Wine is made for food, and four culinary all-stars showed off their cuisine and tested their wine-pairing skills in what has become an annual showdown. Restaurateur Danny Meyer and chefs Eric Ripert, Emeril Lagasse and José Andrés, ably aided by their teams, cooked delicious dishes for the crowd and then traded verbal jabs over which wines paired best with the food.
This year, the team of sommeliers responsible for tasting every bottle served at the event, ensuring its condition and quality, was honored with embroidered uniform jackets, each one with a star for every year of service. The 30 sommeliers on this year's team accounted for 278 years of Wine Experience participation.
Throughout the event, enjoyment—of wine and companionship—was a constant. At a seminar on the Northern Rhône Valley wines of E. Guigal, senior editor James Molesworth asked Philippe Guigal why his Condrieu La Doriane 2013 was such an effusive, lush white wine. Guigal replied that some winemakers shied away from new oak and ripe grapes with Viognier because it can produce such richness. But, he asked, "Why resist?"
Why indeed? Wine is history, it is innovation, it is passion, and for three straight days, people shared that passion with each other.
The 35th Wine Experience will be held in New York from Oct. 22–24, 2015.