If you were a blue-blooded lad fresh out of Oxford in the 18th or 19th century, it was considered the natural finishing step of your Enlightenment education in refinement to go on a Grand Tour around Europe. You had to see the Colosseum and the Roman Forum up close. Take in the Florentine Masters at the Uffizi, the opera in Vienna, the galas in Paris, the wine—all the wine—in Venice. These were the classics.
For a vinous equivalent today, we have the annual Wine Spectator Grand Tour kicking off on Tuesday, April 26, in New York, then heading to Washington, D.C., on April 28 and Las Vegas on April 30. You can surely leave sated and sophisticated if you stick to the classics as well, with so many fine Bordeauxs, Champagnes, Brunellos and Barolos.
But just as the occasional adventuresome young earl might go farther—hopping a boat to Sicily or testing the waters of Greece—you too can steer into less-navigated wine waters, trying under-the-radar producers and singular bottlings.
New Yorkers and Potomac dwellers, show some love to the best of your backyard produce. The Bedell Musée North Fork of Long Island Merlot-based blend, made only in the best vintages of a very vintage-variable region, has become something of a grand vin of New York, the same of which could be said in Virginia of the Barboursville Octagon Bordeaux-style blend. The Long Island garagiste equivalent might be Wölffer Estate winemaker Roman Roth's Grapes of Roth Merlot.
Before we leave Bordeaux varieties from outside Bordeaux, from a slate of notable California Cabernets, stop to salute the Kathryn Kennedy Santa Cruz Mountains 1997, made on the 7-acre vineyard many expected to succumb to Silicon Valley sprawl when Kennedy died in 2009, and another storied vineyard: Diamond Creek's Volcanic Hill, with its 40th anniversary vintage.
While we're digging in small gardens of terroir, here's a chance to root around in special Syrah selections. From Australia, there's Hentley Farm's red-clay Barossa Clos Otto and d'Arenberg's seaward McLaren Vale Little Venice, while California brings out Adobe Road's Syrah from Kemp Vineyard, up in the slopes above Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley. Then try Paul Jaboulet Aîné's Côte-Rôtie from the 3.71-acre Domaine des Pierrelles on the Côte Blonde for a lesson from the old (world) school. While we're on that continent, don't skip the Dominio de Atauta Ribera del Duero Llanos del Almendro 2012, whose 96-point score puts it in the echelon of Spanish royalty.
We should taste some whites! Back in the Rhône, let's go to the Gabriel Meffre Condrieu Laurus 2012, a small-production Viognier from a négociant that has quietly built its Laurus lineup to consistent excellence at prices that undercut Meffre's flashier peers.
Burgundian Chardonnay is beloved and rightfully so, but here's a clos I doubt you know: Roza Hills Vineyard in the village of Zillah-Washington. That's where they grow the Chardonnay in local maverick Charles Smith's Sixto offering, and he's offering a pour of the project's first vintage, 2012.
Another vineyard that may be a first-time stop for you is Betsek. It's a first-growth … in Hungary, and it's where Alana-Tokaj grows Muscat for its rare and unique late-harvest wine.
I like to end my tour where it often began, in Champagne. Try Pommery's Cuvée Louise 2002 for a nicely matured version to toast your vigorous travels.
You can follow Ben O'Donnell on Twitter at twitter.com/BenODonn.