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Corks Pop in Three Cities

Wine Spectator's 2009 Grand Tour draws more than 3,000 wine lovers to Atlantic City, Chicago and Las Vegas

Thomas Matthews
Posted: May 19, 2009

As seven o'clock approached on May 16, hundreds of people gathered in line outside the huge ballroom at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. Inside, Paul Pontallier, technical director and winemaker at Château Margaux in Bordeaux, meticulously double-decanted the last bottles of the 2002 he was about to serve. Then the clock struck, and he was mobbed.

"What should we taste next?" a young man at the table asked Pontallier. "What can top Margaux?"

"Follow your palate," Pontallier replied. "There are many wines here with high prestige and high ratings. But like people, they are all different. You have to find those that speak to you."

There are critics who bemoan the homogenization of the world's wines, but Wine Spectator's 2009 Grand Tour was overwhelming evidence to the contrary. More than 200 producers poured sparkling, white, rosé, red and late-harvest wines from 14 countries in vintages ranging from 2008 to 1996. There were the classics, from Bordeaux first-growths (four, including Margaux) to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons (such as Caymus Special Selection and Phelps Insignia). But there were also rising stars, obscure treasures and great values.

"If you're curious about wines that are ridiculously amazing and often extremely expensive, this tasting can't be beat," said John Nicoletti, who works for Google. "It's a chance to find out what you like, and what is worth paying for."

Nicoletti and Danny Vukosa, both 28, are making their own Pinot Noir and harbor dreams of one day turning pro. They had come from San Francisco with friends Courtney Plean and Susannah Hoppe for their second Grand Tour tasting. "I have a feeling it will be an annual event," added Vukosa.

Many of the attendees were veterans of Wine Spectator tastings, and they had come from far and wide—Rhode Island, Georgia, Texas and Mexico among those I spoke with. And they didn't want to leave, either; when the lights flickered "last call" at 9:45 p.m., a collective groan echoed through the room.

It was the final night of the 2009 Grand Tour, which kicked off at the Borgata Resort in Atlantic City on May 9 and stopped in Chicago on May 13 at the Navy Pier before arriving in Las Vegas. While there was much anxiety about the economy in general, the winemakers were happy with the events' attendance, and the guests were thrilled with the wines.

"Where else are you going to taste these spectacular, world-class wines in one setting?" asked David Kramer of Baltimore, who was attending the Atlantic City stop. "I think it's the premier wine-tasting event."

Guests Tina Cartwright, Nicole Neagle, Daniela Stubbs and Ann Richey.

Jean Delmas of Château Haut-Brion.
Jose Manuel Ortega Gil-Fournier of O. Fournier.

Cliff Lede of Cliff Lede Vineyards.
Adam Lee of Siduri.


Wine Spectator's 2009 Grand Tour drew more than 3,000 wine lovers.

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