Forty years ago, no one would have imagined two ballrooms in Manhattan packed with vintners from 267 wineries, representing the best of 16 nations, pouring some of their top wines for a crowd of 2,400 people. But as Wine Spectator celebrates its 40th anniversary, the wine world in 2016 is more diverse and dynamic than it has ever been, and consumers are more eager to try new wines than ever before.
So it was no surprise when a line started forming for the first of two evening Grand Tastings more than an hour before the doors opened for the official start of the New York Wine Experience. The three-day event, held at the New York Marriott Marquis, includes tasting seminars with leading winemakers, lunches with wine pairings and the black-tie Grand Award Banquet, featuring a performance by Huey Lewis & the News. Now in its 36th year, the Wine Experience has become a must for wine lovers, a chance to taste the benchmark wines of the world and discover new favorites.
"We're here because we love wines, and we keep coming back because it always gets better," said Tim Calhoun, a health-care executive from Pittsburgh, Pa. "We're not in the industry, we just love wine. We took the train in from Pittsburgh just for the night. [Tomorrow it's] back to the real world."
For actor Sam Neill, who also owns New Zealand's Two Paddocks winery, the event was eye-opening. "It's my first Wine Experience," he said. "It's a bit overwhelming, but it's a massive delight to be here."
Neill wasn't the only guest to find so much choice a bit overwhelming. At the start, many guests flocked to sparkling wines such as Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil 2004, Champagne Henriot Brut 2006 or Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne 2006. For comparison, Champagne Louis Roederer's Brut Nature Starck 2006 was joined by its American sibling, Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley L'Ermitage 2007, while another California bubbly leader, Schramsberg Vineyards, served its Reserve North Coast 2007.
White wines showcased the best of Burgundy, northeastern Italy, New Zealand, California and more. From France, M. Chapoutier offered its gorgeous Hermitage White Chante-Alouette 2014, while Olivier Leflaive brought the Meursault Poruzots 2012.
John Kongsgaard, who had flown out from California for the event even though his 2016 crush wasn't quite over, was pouring his luscious Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013. "We still have some wines in fermenting tanks," said Kongsgaard. "But we wouldn't miss this. Everyone comes to this event."
For Pinot Noir fanatics, the offerings ranged from New Zealand to Sonoma to Oregon to Burgundy. Adam Lee of Siduri Wines brought his Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella's Vineyard 2014. Burgundy's Maison Louis Jadot served the Volnay Clos de la Barre 2013.
Bordeaux lovers could compare great vintages, as first-growth châteaus Lafite Rothschild and Haut-Brion served their 2006 grand vins, while Mouton-Rothschild opted for the classic 2010. Nearby, Lilian Barton-Sartorius was pouring her Léoville Barton St.-Julien 2000.
Beyond the benchmarks, wine lovers could discover new producers (24 were pouring at the Grand Tasting for the first time), learn about new regions or delve into the nuances of the old. A row of Barolos showcased both the elegance of Renato Ratti Barolo Conca 2004 and the power of Poderi Aldo Conterno's Granbussia Riserva 2005.
Wine fans who drank affordable Aussie Shiraz a decade ago could learn about Australia's depth, trying Mollydooker Shiraz McLaren Vale Velvet Glove 2014, Hentley Farm Shiraz Barossa Valley The Beast 2012 or First Drop Shiraz Barossa Mother's Milk 2014.
Well-known regions of Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina and South Africa were joined by four Israeli wineries (see our Oct. 15 cover story on Israel), as well as vintners from Canada, Greece, Hungary and Japan. Two wineries from Virginia—Barboursville and RdV Vineyards—brought rich reds to the party, showing the commonwealth's development in recent years.
For the winemakers, the reward was meeting wine lovers and potential future customers. "I love this event," said Valentina Abbona, whose family owns Marchesi di Barolo. "I meet the best people, and some are here year after year."
As the evening grew late, people hurried to try a large array of Ports, late-harvest wines and Sauternes, as well as chat with old and new friends. Too soon, it was time to go home. Thankfully, the New York Wine Experience Grand Tasting opens one more time this year, on Friday night.
—With reporting by Lexi Williams and Samantha Falewée