After two days crammed with new friends, new stories and almost 350 wines to taste, what more could a wine lover possibly want? Perhaps an evening to recognize great achievements in the wine world, capped off with a performance by Huey Lewis and the News. The 35th-anniversary New York Wine Experience came to a stirring close on Saturday night with the Grand Award Banquet.
A wine celebration requires bubbly, and guests bedecked in black-tie attire gathered for a Champagne reception, tasting an array of bubblies from Louis Roederer, Salon, Taittinger and more. Wine aficionados and winemakers alike snacked on hors d’oeuvres and traded highlights of the weekend—favorite wines and favorite stories. Inside the ballroom, guests sat down to enjoy dinner, paired with the not-yet-released-to-the-public The Maiden Napa Valley 2012 from one of the evening’s honorees, Bill Harlan.
The Wine Experience’s roots lie partially in a 1981 banquet given to recognize new Grand Award winners—restaurants honored by Wine Spectator for having the world’s greatest wine programs. The Restaurant Awards program has grown and flourished in the years since, and wine plays a larger role in American fine dining today as a result.
As of 2015, there are 81 Grand Award winners, and the eight newest members of the elite group were recognized at the banquet: Aux Beaux Arts in Macao; Bleu Provence in Naples, Fla.; Capo in Santa Monica, Calif.; Marcello’s La Sirena in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Pearl & Ash in New York; the Plumed Horse in Saratoga, Calif.; Print Hall in Perth, Australia; and Spruce in San Francisco.
“If you can imagine what this feels like—81 restaurants have this honor in the world. That’s amazing,” said Patrick Cappiello, wine director and partner at Pearl & Ash. “My goal has only ever been to provide an awesome environment, with wines that are priced well and service that is accurate but with a smile. It’s something that maybe didn’t exist in the wine world for so long, and to have a publication like Wine Spectator that honors that means so much.”
Each year, Wine Spectator’s senior editors select the wines that stood out the most in the past 12 months for the Top 100. The No. 1 wine on the 2014 list, Dow's Vintage Port 2011 (99 points, $82), was the highest-scoring Port from a remarkable vintage and serves as a symbol of the resurgence of Portugal’s Douro Valley, the home of Port and now of complex red table wines. “It stands as a monument to both the quality and the modernization of the Douro,” said Kim Marcus, Wine Spectator managing editor and lead taster for Portuguese wines, as he gave the Wine of the Year award to Dow managing director Rupert Symington and his family.
Napa vintner Bill Harlan made his name in wine by speaking quietly and letting his wines and his actions, such as his longtime support of the charitable Auction Napa Valley, speak for him. Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award was presented to Harlan, recognizing a lifetime of service to wine and wine lovers.
“The other day we talked about the idea of winegrowing as being the art of man and nature,” said Harlan, who also poured at a Friday seminar. “And there’s really no art without an audience. I’d like to thank all of you who are our consumers and our patrons.”
As waiters swung by tables to clear dessert plates, Huey Lewis and the News came on stage to play some classic rock, kicking off an irresistible set with “The Heart of Rock & Roll.”
It was a big finish to a weekend full of comedy, drama and 64,000 wineglasses. Jacques Cariot, wine director and co-owner of Bleu Provence, may have summed up the Wine Experience best when he accepted his Grand Award earlier that evening. “Jean-Louis Chave told me once that a restaurant is a theater of wine,” he said. “And we hope that he and all the other amazing winemakers in this world we have met would be proud of how we have done as directors of this theater.”