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The Hipster's Guide to the New York Wine Experience

Sure, the first-growths are alluring. But there are hidden treasures, too

Posted: Oct 21, 2015 4:00pm ET

By Ben O'Donnell

Gather round ye unicorn wine chasers, Instagram label braggarts and Cab Franc obsessives.

One could hang out among classified Bordeauxs and vintage Champagnes at this weekend's New York Wine Experience Grand Tastings and suddenly the three hours are up. That would be a shame, since you'd miss some diamonds that are hidden a bit deeper in the rough.

Here's an alternative strategy for getting through two ballrooms filled with 267 wines.

Use the Grand Tastings to seek out singular, unique expressions of what a wine can be from a special place at a certain age. Wines that fill a hole in your wine education you didn't know existed: That's what properly aged Brunello tastes like; that's what terroir means in Washington. Rare wines you may never taste again, because there aren't many bottles around today, if there ever were.

For the aforementioned: Valdicava is pouring its Brunello di Montalcino Madonna del Piano Riserva from a vintage still spoken of in hushed tones of reverence around Tuscany, 1990.

In Washington, Reynvaan's Stonessence In The Rocks Vineyard Syrah 2012 comes from such a distinctive place that editor at large Harvey Steiman once wrote, "These vineyards may be the strongest evidence in favor of true terroir in America."

If you must rush to bubbly first, as many do, don't miss Charles Heidsieck Brut Blanc de Blancs Blanc des Millénaires 1995, the most recent iteration of a wine released in only four vintages in the past 35 years.

Burgundy's Côte d'Or has 1,247 climats, each its own special snowflake. Each of those is a matrix of even tinier crystals, such as the 2.45-acre Clos du Cailleret parcel in Puligny-Montrachet owned by the small Domaine Jean Chartron. Only 187 cases of the 2012 Chardonnay are out there, so best get your pour. Then walk on up to a 5.09-acre patch of Montrachet—owned by the Laguiche family since 1363—that Joseph Drouhin magicked into the Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2012.

Super Tuscans are terribly '90s, so you could be forgiven for thinking of skipping them. That just leaves more 2009 Bibi Graetz Colore—a creative blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes—for me. And maybe a splash of 2002 Masseto as well. How did one of the best Merlot vineyards on the planet fare during a persnickety vintage, 13 years on? Your glass is for finding out. While we're in Italy, what does 30-year-old Recioto della Valpolicella taste like? Bertani is bringing some 1985.

Finally, some California love. If you think the state's Cabernets can't age, Ridge has a 1995 for you. Then there's the 2010 Promontory, Bill Harlan's Manhattan Project wine from a remote new site in the hills behind Oakville. It's been as many years in the making as it will be to get on the mailing list.

So while you can dally among the best of the blue chips, don't sleep on the Pfalz, Valtellina, Cornas, Santa Lucia Highlands, Eoly-Amity Hills, Stellenbosch, Greece, Israel and even Japan. Try finding all that on the Bushwick wine list du jour.

You can follow Ben O'Donnell on Twitter at twitter.com/BenODonn.

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