Facing close to 1,000 wine lovers, winemakers, restaurateurs and sommeliers, Christian Moueix decided to make a profession of faith. “Wine is my religion,” said Moueix, who makes wine from some of the best terroirs in Bordeaux and Napa Valley. “Wine brings us together.” He said this as he accepted Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award on the final night of the New York Wine Experience. But he might as well have been declaring an unofficial motto for the whole three-day event.
This was the 30th anniversary of the Wine Experience, Wine Spectator’s now annual gathering of some of the biggest names in wine, famous chefs, sommeliers and thousands of devoted fans. From Oct. 20 to 22, they packed the Marriott Marquis in New York’s Times Square to sample and celebrate the best of what the wine world offers. More than 310 wines were poured from 56,760 bottles into 63,400 wine glasses. “Thirty years,” said publisher Marvin R. Shanken, on Friday morning. “It is great to see so many familiar faces.”
Since the first Wine Experience, in 1981, the event has swelled. “No one else does this,” said Baroness Philippine de Rothschild of Château Mouton-Rothschild. It has also raised $14 million for charity. All of the proceeds go to the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, which supports charity and education programs in the wine and food industries, including the University of California at Davis’ enology program and the Culinary Institute of America. “None of this would have been possible without the generosity of the wineries,” said Shanken.
Things kicked off with a test of stamina. Thursday night saw the first of two Grand Tastings—a chance to sample wines from 262 producers. You could start with Bollinger's Brut Rosé Champagne NV and end with the Royal Tokaji Wine Co.'s Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos Red Label 2007 from Hungary. In between were white Burgundies, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings from New York and Canada, an Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon, Brunellos and Barolos, Napa Cabernets, classified-growth Bordeaux and much more.
Judging by the crowds packing two ballrooms, many people felt up to the challenge this year. “I think Wine Experience attendance should be an economic indicator,” said Michael Twelftree of Australia’s Two Hands.
Despite the busy evening, attendees had to be up early for the start of two days of seminars filled with rare wines. “This has got to be the mother of all Dom Pérignon tastings,” said Richard Geoffroy, chef de cave for Dom Pérignon, as he began the first. “At 9 a.m.—this should set you up for the rest of the day.” And who could argue when he brought four vintages of his bubbly, capped off by the 1975 Oenothèque?
The rest of that day and the next were filled with chances to taste and learn about wines from the people behind them. A common theme was terroir. Four top producers from Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits poured very different 2009 wines made from vineyards located within a short drive of each other. Columnist Matt Kramer used three Pinot Noirs to give a tasting tour of the Sonoma Coast. “This wine has somewhereness to the max,” he said of Peay’s Pomarium 2009. Piero Antinori showed how terroir-sensitive Sangiovese can be with a tasting of four wines from different properties.
There was plenty of star power in the hall too. Saturday morning started with a panel of four sports celebrities turned winemakers—Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Drew Bledsoe and Tom Seaver. None of them saw winemaking as a vanity project. It was a passion. “I am having the time of my life,” said Seaver. They were followed by four very different stars—chefs Charlie Trotter, José Andrés, Emeril Lagasse and Daniel Boulud served four dishes with wine pairings that demonstrated how transcendent wine and food can be when they share top billing. They were followed by a rare sight—representatives of all five Bordeaux first-growths took the stage to talk about their special properties and offer a taste of two different vintages from each estate.
Most of all, the weekend provided an opportunity to meet the people who bring life and soul to wine. In a new addition to the program, five “Wine Stars”—Angelo Gaja, Chuck Wagner, Christian Seely, Moueix and Pablo Álvarez—took the stage over the two days to explain one of their wines. Wagner took the chance to tell his family’s story. Gaja explained how the quality of wine often depends on where you are, what you’re eating and who you are with.
The food, company and wine were all excellent Saturday night at the Grand Award Banquet, the weekend’s closing event. Shanken and executive editor Thomas Matthews presented plaques to the newest Grand Award–winning restaurants, which earned the highest recognition in Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Wine List Awards program. Staff from this year’s winners—Eleven Madison Park and Gilt in New York, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse Dallas, the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, N.J., and Restaurante Rekondo, located in the scenic Spanish coastal town of San Sebastián—told how much the achievement meant to them. Justin Smith of Saxum accepted the 2010 Wine of the Year award, calling it a victory for his emerging California appellation, Paso Robles.
As songwriting legend Neil Sedaka took the stage for a parade of hits, winemakers and consumers swapped stories of a great weekend of tasting. The most common question—which wine was your favorite? There was no doubt that for yet another year, wine had brought people together.