I recently had the opportunity to travel down to NYC for the annual Wine Spectator NY Wine Experience, an event that allows a rare glimpse into the often unobtainable wines from the world’s greatest wine estates. I have always wanted to attend but for one reason or another, never made the trek to this mecca of wine geekdom!
What an event like this truly promises though, is the chance to actually taste and observe what we normally only get to talk about and learn about day in and day out. It also provides rare access to the top wines of the world, often with older vintages being poured at the event, and thus a chance to see how the wines are holding up from both heralded vintages, and those less so. As you can imagine, there were some delightful surprises, and some rather disappointing let downs. But first, a bit of context…
The full Wine Spectator NY Wine Experience is a 3 day affair of educational hosted tastings, events, and a two night “grand tasting” of some of the greatest wines on earth. Having the full weekend pass promises access to absolutely everything including the grand gala to cap off the weekend. What my colleague and I came down for was the second night of the grand tasting, which is spread over 2 floors at the wonderful Marriott Marquis located right in Times Square. We knew going in that time would be condensed, and we would definitely NOT have time to taste through everything so we prepared like any wine geek, I mean, wine professional would prepare. We printed out the list of wines being poured and the map where they were located, and highlighted the absolute MUST TASTE wines. We had two and a half hours to power through, and the reality was that some of these estates were definitely going to pour out of their inventory as it was the last night of the grand tasting!
We arrived at Penn Station approximately 20 minutes late, naturally, and had to maneuver our way through NYC traffic to our hotel where we had a brief meeting scheduled with one of our negociants from Europe. This is the moment I knew I had arrived in the big leagues of wine. Our negociant poured us a rather tasty Sauternes Blanc Sec, a dry white made from grapes typically reserved for the dessert wine. And then came out the CHATEAU LAFITE ROTHSCHILD! As any wine lover knows, there are few, if any, more Lauded wine estates across the globe than Chateau Lafite. The most famous of the First Growth Bordeaux, this was most certainly a bucket list wine for me. Most importantly, it did not disappoint either! Even for a very young Bordeaux, it was so nuanced, perfumed, and perfectly in balance!
Making our way to the Wine Spectator event, we were now primed, ready, and in the zone having just had some Lafite. The only question was, what wine would vie to steal our attention away from it! The very first wine we would get to try was the 2012 Chateau Cheval Blanc. We were going to swing for the fences this evening! This was an interesting wine, as the aromatics were beautiful, and yet the palate was a bit lacking. But onward and upward, next up was the 2005 Chateau Leoville Barton and 2003 Ridge Monte Bello. I loved that these were side by side, as they were both in a great drinking window, mature, and really strutting their stuff. As a Ridge Monte Bello lover, its hard to compete with this wine, as the exotic aromas that waft from the glass of Monte Bello are always just incredible. You can see why this wine was poured at the famous 1976 “Judgement of Paris” tasting. It is very much a Bordeaux inspired wine, which made it all the more enjoyable to compare with the mature Leoville Barton.
As we continued to make our way through the different wineries and wines being poured, we were continuously treated with some iconic wines that delivered as you would expect, including the 2018 Chateau Leoville Poyferre and the Gaja Barolo. We were able to meet the Iconic Angelo Gaja, owner of one of the most notable Barolo/Barbaresco estates in Piedmont, as well as Laura Catena, owner of the incredible Catena Zapata winery in Argentina! It was hard not to feel like we were meeting celebrities at this event! Interestingly, both my colleague Chris and I found the Barolo we tasted from Ceretto to be even more enjoyable than Angelo Gaja.
Moving into some of the elites from Napa Valley, we were treated to the 2013 Ramey Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet being poured by the Ramey’s themselves, which I thought was drinking incredibly well, not a hard edge to be found. We prepared ourselves for the 2016 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet, but it was honestly quite disappointing. I did not get any of the typical Stags Leap district fruit and nuance that you would expect. I tried 2 different bottles and both were the same. There was also a 2009 Mt. Brave Cabernet poured from magnum that was a let down as well. This disappointment soon turned to sheer joy though when we went to try the 2019 OVID Napa Valley. Simply put, it was one of THE BEST wines of the tasting! Nuanced, aromatic, gorgeous fruit and elegant structure. It was the total package.
As we neared the end of the tasting, and as some wineries were running out of wine, we knew we had to be even more selective with which ones we would want to taste, so we made a B line for the Spanish section and tried a couple of the most iconic wines of Spain, Flor de Pingus, from Dominio de Pingus, and Vega Sicilia. Flor de Pingus was honestly disappointing, as it lacked in aromatics and the fruit seemed to be muted. Vega Sicilia, however, had the intensity and polish of a heavyweight boxer who could dance ballet! It was the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. Incredible fruit with velvety tannins and a nose that was beguilingly complex.
We would cap off the evening with a few gorgeous Champagnes that befit a proper ending to an incredible evening. First was the 2011 Taittinger Comte de Champagne. Elegance, refinement, texture and finesse! It was a joy to drink. We moved on to Lanson’s 2012 vintage brut which took us all by surprise at how delicious it was. Laurent Perrier’s brut rose was delicious as always. The capstone to the evening though was the 2014 Bollinger La Grande Annee. It was vibrant, fresh, complex, and quite honestly, ALIVE! Plenty of notes of fresh apple and apple pie left us feeling on top of the world.
All in all, it was a whirlwind of an evening, with incredible highs and disappointing lows. Every wine was a journey though, and the educational value to be had was truly priceless. If you ever get the opportunity, it is most definitely worth the price of admission.