Anyone experienced a Wine Spectator Grand Tour event?
- Eugene Park Apr 16, 2007 04:42 PM
I just confirmed my attendance at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour event in Las Vegas on May 4th-5th, and was wondering if anyone's been to one of these before. The list of wineries/chateaux is tremendous, and I'm wondering how packed these get and if I need to seriously gameplan to ensure I taste the premium stuff before they run out.
TIA for any insight/perspective.
Some years back, they did two events: California Wine Experience and New York Wine Experience. They alternated year to year. I attended the last CA WE and it was great. Marvin S had a big falling out with the SF Marriott (host location), and the next couple of years, it was always in NYC. Shortly thereafter, they did the "Grand Tour" events. I'm thinking about the upcoming event in LV, but have not made the arrangements yet. If it is a condensed version of the old CA Wine Experience, it should be great. I like that event, as it was over about four days, so there was time to do a lot of tasting and learning.
I went to the one in Las Vegas two years ago and am going this year. It is truly overwhelming. They have all of the producers set up in booths made up of long tables, in a huge ballroom, with the food at the back. All of the attendees queue up at the ballroom doors before the "starting gate" is opened and then kind of storm the place. You definitely should have a game plan as to what you want to taste for no other reason is that everything is so alluring and you will end up tasting at places that may not be high priority for you because a particular producer is "on the way" to another one you are looking for. I didn't see or hear of any producers running out of anything - this is more of an endurance type tasting. It's also not a great environment for quiet contemplation or long discussions with most winemakers; there are just too many people for it to be that kind of event. We did have a good conversation with the people representing an Italian producer from Campania that we love, but that's because tons of people weren't beating down their door. For example, most of the top Bordeaux houses were pouring the 96 vintage and were still overwhelmed. It's still definitely worth going to, however. They have maps available showing where in the huge ballroom the various producers are located, but I don't know how far in advance you can get them. I recall having them far enough in advance that we could plan our route, which I recommend doing if you can. Have fun!
That has been my experience an many tastings. One of the great things about the old "CA Wine Experience," and the alternating year NYC event, was that the Grand Tastings were over 2 nights, and those with full tickets, got to go in 2hrs. ahead of the masses. While there were still a lot of folk, it was far more casual and relaxed. One could do about all that they would want, say whites and sparklers one night, then light-reds, working up to whatever, the next. There was still time to do some tasting, even after the main doors opened, before the crowds staked out their territory.
Now, with the satellite tours and all croweded into ONE tasting for everyone, it sound frenetic. That, plus a schedule conflict, kept me from LV this year. I may try for the NYC grand event in Nov, which probably still has the same schedule as the old bi-annual events. There is so much to be said for being able to taste, ask a few questions, and then move on, without having to fight for a spot at the tables. I have declined many an offer, to events that are too crowded, and especially with people, who just want to drink, and monopolize a certain table, with all of their friends. Not much fun, nor is it informative.
re: Bill Hunt
It certainly isn't the best environment for tasting, but for someone like me who enjoys big reds from all around the globe, this is heaven. I'm already looking forward to attending the 2008 event (esp. if at least one of the 1st Growths is pouring their '05 Bordeaux). I'll also check around to see where else there may be special winemaker dinners occurring in the nights leading up to the event. Those are where the real opportunities to taste happen.
I'm hoping my mini-whale/sucker status with The Venetian will help.
My game plan is to run counter to "tasting wisdom", so I'll try to get the 1st growth Bordeaux completed first, then hit the cabs, pinots & ports. Silly, I know, but I suspect the traffic jams at this event will also be silly.
Or, after tasting 10 Zins in a night! :- }
Per Eugene's plan, I've done the reverse tasting route too, with good and bad results. If one overloads their palates with heavy, tannic Bdx., the light, sublime whites, later, just do not work.
I still go from light whites, to heavy reds, and pay the price. In PHX, there are several such tastings, and the 1er Cru Bdx. are always gone in a hurry. Same for the Silver Oak, etc. Most of the recreational tasters just hit there first, and stay, drinking it all up. OTOH, I'm trying to taste to predicate my purchases for the next year, or two.
One of the aspects that I appreciated about the old WS events, was that the grand tastings were over two evenings, and full-attendance got you in 2 hours early. One can do a lot of tasting and schmoozing in 2 hours. Then at 8:00PM, the main doors were thrown open and the masses entered, drinking every good wine in sight. Kinda' like the locust hitting Pharoh's fields. The folk, who paid the big $s were usually done by then, or going back to a favorite, to talk to the winemaker, just a bit more.
If we go this year, to LV, I'll just map out my spots, and try to hit them. If I miss some, I'll just add them to my travel schedule.
These events often deteriorate into a drinking match, with a few people staking out the front of a particular table and just staying there, drinking until all of their friends can join them, or the wine from that spot is gone, whichever comes first. Good tasting etiquette dictates, that one receive their pour, ask a question, or two, of the rep./winemaker, then move away to sample the wine. Unfortunately, it doesn't often happen that way.
Should I go, I'll do a report of all aspects.
Reviving this thread as I wait at McCarron Airport to board my flight home to the Bay Area. Suffice to say that the event was tremendous fun. I'll post more when I'm home. and will also post about a special winemaker's dinner that took place on Fri night where various vintages of all five 1st growth chateaux were poured (including the 2000 Margaux and the '89 Lafite), finishing with '94 D'Yquem.
Hi all. Finally have some time to relax, after a busy week of post-Vegas decompressing/biz trip to San Diego/going hoarse at the Warriors games this past Friday (yay!) & Sunday (ugh!). It's time to finally provide my long-promised TR of the Wine Spectator event on 5/5/07.
I arrived in the conference center area of The Venetian shortly after 7PM, and was in line with about 100 other folks waiting to get processed (i.e. turn in your ticket, get a badge/lanyard along with a tasting glass, booth map and thick bound handbook for your tasting notes). After a quick glance at the map, my buddy and I immediately headed to the aisle where Ch. Haut-Brion, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux & Mouton-Rothschild were situated. There were already lines 10-15 deep, but they were moving quickly. Interestingly, only H-B was pouring the '04 vintage. L-R & Margaux were pouring the '99, while Latour & M-R were pouring the '01. I thought the Margaux was drinking the best of the bunch, but none were particularly compelling even after repeated tastings, and all are a number of years away from hitting their stride. The '04 H-B is not going to knock anyone's socks off now (much less in the future), but it should represent a reasonable value compared to the '03s and definitely compared to the '05s when they release next year.
After a quick run thru the aisles to see how the wineries were grouped, we stopped for a quick hit of Bollinger champagne (my preferred method to rinse the palate after some strong Bordeaux consumption) and decided to check out what was advertised as a "light" buffet. Of course, The Venetian's definition of light was carved buffalo roast (overdone), ahi tuna loin (nondescript seared on the outside, raw on the inside, prep), ravioli in pesto sauce, assorted cheeses & salumi and numerous other upper-scale buffet table offerings. Luckily, we got in line well before the lines got out of hand, and were able to graze to our stomach's content while watching other folks wait 30 minutes or more to get food.
After we ate, we were more than ready to attack the aisles again. We hit up the CA cabernet/meritage section and were alternately surprised and disappointed with what the various wineries' chose to pour. I was happy to see and taste the following:
'03 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace
'03 Joseph Phelps Insignia (very nice)
'03 Robert Mondavi Reserve
'03 Merryvale Profile
'03 Flora Springs Trilogy
'03 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages
'03 BV Georges de Latour
'04 Chimney Rock Elevage
I was disappointed that the following wineries chose to bring a second or third tier wine to pour:
'03 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Fay
'03 Rubicon Estate Rutherford Cask
'01 Heitz Trailside Vineyard
'02 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz (the Australian section was right next to the CA cab & FR bordeaux, and while the St. Henri was tasty, I was hoping for the Grange to be poured)
And I was really disappointed that the '04 Caymus Special Selection was gone before I had a chance to taste.
At this point, my buddy and I stopped to get our 2nd (or was it 3rd?) wind. It was decision time - do we hit up the rest of the Bordeaux or do we hit up the Italian section. Since I'm more into French than Italian, we hit up the following:
'02 Ch. Cos d'Estournel
'04 Ch. Pontet-Canet
'99 Ch. Gruaud-Larose
'04 Ch. Lynch-Bages
'98 Ch. Palmer
After another break to rest our palates (which were getting rapidly fatigued), we flipped a coin to decide if we'd grab some Pinot Noir before we finished up with the dessert wine section. PN won out, but by this time of the night, many of the better makers were gone (e.g. Williams-Selyem). We ended up only tasting the Domaine Drouhin and the Archery Summit. Sadly, Willakenzie was not represented to compare against their Oregon brethren.
I was surprised to see that there were 4 port producers pouring the 2003 vintage - Cockburn's, Croft, Dow's & Quinta do Noval. My buddy, who's never been exposed to the joys of vintage port, agreed with me that the '03 Dow's was absurdly good compared to the other 3. We also tasted the '03 Ch. Suiduirat.
We had now been in continuous eating and drinking mode for nearly 3 hours, and the lights were being dimmed to signal the end of the event. As we walked out, we noticed people grabbing extra glasses as souvenirs. I decided I might as well get a set to take home. It wasn't until I got back to my room that I realized the glasses were Riedel!!
So was the event worth it?? ABSOLUTELY. Even if I had to pay the $200 advance ticket price ($225 at the door), it's an absolute bargain for anyone that appreciates very good wine. The crowds were evident, but it was nowhere near a madhouse and the lines moved very quickly at the popular producers. As the evening wore on, it became possible to walk up and get an immediate pour at many places. I do regret that it's literally impossible to be able to adequately taste everything. Even with my aversion to white wines, I still didn't have the stomach/liver to try any of the Italian, Spanish, South American & South African offerings, and barely touched the Australian.
My recommendations for anyone who attends is the following:
1) Get there early enough so you can hit the floor as the doors open.
2) Do take the time to review the map and handbook. I realized I dismissed some lower-tier Bordeaux producers on sight and breezed by them without realizing they were pouring their 2000 or 2003 vintage.
3) Hit the buffet line as early as possible, as this became a progressively longer and longer wait as the night wore on.
re: Eugene Park
Thanks for "taking one for the team!" I missed this event, so I appreciate your report of both the evening and the wines. I also liked your recommendations on how best to do a tasting, such as this.
I hope to make the NYC big-event (Chickstein says Oct, but I though Nov. - regardless) and will do a report, if I can put it together.
WINE SPECTATOR GRAND TOUR 2009 LAS VEGAS
I just attended the Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Las Vegas for the first time Saturday. Here is my experience and tips that I hope will come in handy if you decide to attend this event next year.
My number one tip? Get in line early! We got there 45 minutes before opening time and the line was at least 200 people deep. By the time the doors opened, there was a line about 3 times as long behind us, and they were holding even more people outside in the hall because the queue area was so full. Veterans told us that the crowd this year was much less than in previous years. I cannot imagine going to this event if it was even MORE crowded! This thing was jam packed with people!
While you are waiting in line, you will be given a very nice spiral bound tasting book that has a list of every wine being tasted with plenty of room for you to make any notes. Pens were also provided in case you forget to bring your own. Most people in line where quickly studying the map and making notes about where to go first! I felt very ill-prepared but decided to go with the flow. Your tickets are taken in advance, and you are given a stub to exchange for a Riedel tasting glass once you are inside the ballroom. You get a glass and then wander free to sample hundreds of wines!
Once the doors opened, there was a beeline for all of the French bordeaux. Unfortunately, the layout was such that all of the bordeaux and the big reds that you really wanted to drink were all on the same row. This caused severe bottlenecks. The aisles were so full at times that you could not even push your way through all of the people. A lot of the smaller wineries' tables weren't crowded all night. If you don't care about sampling French bordeaux or Insignia, then you will have a much more pleasant tasting experience. The crowds were never unruly, but it was very unpleasant. There was also a lot of "me first" shoving, with rude people who had a false sense of entitlement just pushing right ahead of everyone else who was doing their best to form an organized line. This happened many times during the evening and there is just no excuse for such rudeness!
While you were allowed to revisit any winery and have all of the tastes you wanted, be warned that many of the wineries ran out of wines - Caymus ran out within an hour after opening, and many of the big "name" Bordeaux producers had poured all of their bottles soon after. I think this reflects poorly on the wineries and they really should be better prepared and come with more product. Apparently Caymus was only "armed" with 16 bottles! Ridiculous! Wineries should be required to bring at least 2 cases for an evening with such a high attendance. What a huge disappointment to miss out on some great wines. Unfortunately, the faster you drink the more wine you get to taste. I felt like the more rushed you were, the more rewarded you were with wine. I wanted to savor and sip and really taste the wines, not chug them quickly so I could hurry up and get another taste of something else before it ran out! This is not the best atmosphere for relaxed wine tasting but it sure is fun.
The large ballroom is set up with booths made up of very long tables. Wines seemed to be organized in the order in which you should try them, with whites on the far left of the ballroom and port on the far right, with everything else in between. Wines were arranged by region as well, with the Italian, Spanish, French, etc. in the same general area. At the end of each tasting row were glass washing stations and baskets of water crackers for palate cleansing. Very nice! On either side of the ballroom were bottles of room temperature Fiji water. The best part of this event was the quality of the wines! Just fabulous!
Now for more bad news: the food was an absolute DISGRACE. The light buffet was filled with cheap, awful food. There was a wild green salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing, a decent cheese tray with run-of-the-mill cheeses, a bread basket with stale hotel-quality rolls, an antipasto tray, several cold dips, and a few hot appetizers that weren't very appealing or tasty - cheese pizza roll-ups (the crust was so rock hard that you couldn't bite them with your teeth), miniature chicken pot pies (that were too cold), miniature pork loin "burgers" (again, so hard you couldn't tear through them with your teeth), and a decent assortment of small chocolates. For $200 a ticket, this was a poor excuse for a buffet. I was so disappointed and the food should have been much better. There were two buffet tables set up, but lines were always very long. We waited at least 30 minutes in the buffet line when it first opened. I wasn't expecting a gourmet dinner, but at least some tapas that tasted good should have been served!
Another big criticism is the lack of seating. There were some tables set up, but they were packed full, leaving most of the guests no choice but to hover around the room trying to balance plates of food and glasses of wine. Some folks even resorted to sitting on the floor! Ugh! There was plenty of room for additional seating, and this should have been added. If more seating was added, I think this would have helped with the extreme bottlenecks that formed down the tasting aisles. At certain times there were so many people packed in the tasting rows that I literally could not raise my arm to lift a glass to my lips. NO JOKE. If you are very sensitive to crowds, this is NOT the event for you. Trust me!
The good news is that the crowds began to thin out towards the end of the event, so you had more time and room to walk around and talk to the winemakers and winery representatives. After the event officially closed, you were allowed to stay for a bit and enjoy your last morsel of wine. Also after official closing time, many of the wineries just left their open bottles at their booths and you could go around and personally pour as much as you wanted in your glass! As you can imagine, by the end of the night, nearly everyone left in the ballroom was near falling down drunk. They were very polite drunks, however! Ha ha.
My final tip is to get a hotel room. You will not want to be driving anywhere after you leave this event. It is a bit overwhelming and is like being a kid in a candy store with a free pass to eat all the candy you can. It is easy for me to say that I should have tried to pace myself better, but it is just so exciting that you can't help it. The wines are all so fantastic and there are wines I'd read about and had never tried. It is easy to go crazy at this event, so try to drink lots of water and graze on crackers during the evening. I'd also recommend having a meal before you go in since the food was lacking.
The bottom line is this is a great event for oenophiles and is a fantastic way to try new and exciting wines (or to revisit old favorites). I only tasted a few wines that I really didn't like - almost everything was just fabulous. Be warned as well that there is NO WAY you can even begin to sample all of the wines - I probably tried 30 wines and I "paid the price" with a big wine hangover the next day! I've attended many wine tasting events and festivals, and the Wine Spectator Grand Tour ranked somewhere in the middle - not the best I've been to, but not the worst either. I would probably attend again, but I do think the price is too steep for what you get. The quality of wines was fantastic, but the overwhelming crowds and the awful food really soured the evening.
Thank you for the informative post. It appears that some things have changed, since there were only two, and they alternated years in NYC and SF.
Other than "trade-only" tastings, the SF events were near my top-of-list.
One thing that I greatly appreciated was they opened the doors ~ 2 hrs. early for those with full event tickets. The "masses" came storming in later, when we were nearly done. This allowed one to taste in rough order of body. When the doors were finally thrown open, everyone rushed for the high-end, bigger wines, which usually poured out in a hurry. [Similar happens at many other events - everyone wants the 1er Cru Bdx, and semi-cult Cabs are gone in a heartbeat. No one ever tastes the SB's and the lighter whites.
Your time and detail are greatly appreciated,
Nice TR, Moviegal226!! I attended this year's event as well, and pretty much agree with your sentiments. Although if you think this event was crowded, you should've seen the 2008 event (which was near critical mass in most every aisle).....=-O
It's obvious that the economy/recession took a big toll on this year's event. Though most of the big names were there, a notable absence was Ch. Latour. Haut Brion poured their 2004 vintage again. Lafite poured their 1999 again. Mouton poured their 2001 again. Only Margaux poured something different than they had in the past (their 2002). Diamond Creek, Chimney Rock, Flora Springs and Merryvale were also absent. My 2008 notebook is at my office and I'm working from home today, so I can't confirm if they were present or not at the 2008 event (though my guess would be yes since times were rosier then).
The buffet was abominable. When the consensus is the best things were the cheese platter and a chicken salad mix on crackers/toasted bread, you know things were bad. It's obvious that the Grand Tour organizers chose the most inexpensive options to serve, especially with the horrific "hot" options. At least invest in the salumi/charcuterie platters, for heavens sake!!!
Some of the few bright notes from my perspective:
1) Rubicon poured their Rubicon instead of the Cask they'd poured in previous years.
2) Turnbull poured their Black Label, which was my first experience with and which I found quite good.
3) Kosta Browne was back again pouring their 2007 Sonoma Coast PN.
4) The decreased crowds meant that more than a few wineries didn't open all they had brought. A number of them chose to just leave unopened bottles in their booths after they cleared out. I noticed several ladies had scored bottles of the '98 Pommery Louise champagne (probably given to them), so I started to hunt around for bottles. I was able to score an '04 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino and an '05 Bodegas Muga Rioja.
An interesting side note was that the embossing on this year's Riedel souvenir glasses washed away pretty easily, while previous years' glasses were etched and still have the logos in all their glory to this day even after repeated uses/washings. Yet again an indication that Wine Spec noted that numbers/revenues would be down this year, and went with a cheaper option.
I'll probably still attend next year's event, but if the economic climate isn't much better by then, I'll be sure to smuggle in my own grub next time. I may also get a crash course in Italian reds, which there were many to choose from yet most attendees didn't frequent.
It's been almost a week since the 2011 Las Vegas event, which my wife and I attended, and I've had enough time to reflect on our experience. We'd missed out on the 2010 event, as I was out of the country at the time.
As usual, the line to get in started fairly early. By the time my wife and I arrived about 15 minutes before the scheduled opening, there were already several hundred people waiting in line. It took 10 minutes after the opening before we finally darkened the doorways, and immediately headed for the First Growth Bordeaux. This year, only Mouton Rothschild and Margaux were in attendance. Any disappointment at not having Haut Brion, Latour and Lafite Rothschild in attendance evaporated when I realized that Mouton was pouring their 2005 vintage!! Bless their French hearts for pouring what is currently a $750+ bottle on the secondary market. Suffice to say, my wife & I savored several pours of this before proceeding elsewhere. It is drinking wonderfully right now, and definitely had the legs and structure to benefit from another 15-20 years of laying down IMO.
What was absurdly amusing to me was that the line for Margaux was easily 4x longer than the line for Mouton, even though the less heralded 2004 vintage was being poured. I went for only one pour, and while waiting in line my wife was able to take both our glasses for another pour of Mouton, return to where I was waiting in the Margaux line, where we enjoyed at our leisure until finally getting to the front of the Margaux line. The '04 Margaux tasted "muddy" by comparison, and we were "one and done".
We detoured to the buffet line, which had better selection and quality than the 2009 event. I used this as an opportunity to hit up a few more Bordeaux:
2004 Ch. Cos d'Estournel
2004 Ch. Palmer
2003 Brane-Cantenac (tastier now than any of the '04s)
We then jumped back into the fray with some more of the MR. I still scratch my head that the lines for MR were never very long, while the Margaux line was always several dozen deep until they ran out. When the MR finally ran out, it was time to mix things up with Cabs, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Meritage:
'07 BV Georges De Latour PR
'07 Beringer PR
'08 Caymus Special Selection
'06 d'Arenberg The Dead Arm
'06 Joseph Phelps Insignia
'09 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley
'09 Mollydooker Velvet Glove
'07 Montes Purple Angel
'06 Penfolds RWT
'07 Turnbull Black Label Cabernet
Overall, another fun event from my perspective. Being able to have repeated tastings of the '05 MR meant I could wait a few years before being tempted to open any of the bottles I have in my cellar. Hopefully next year's event will see more of the First Growth chateaux return, and hopefully they'll have their '05s pouring. I always tell myself that I'll make more of an effort to try the Italian and South American reds, and I always seem to forget when I'm there...... =-)
re: Eugene Park
I was also event in Vegas, my first time. The line for Margaux was ridiculous for the first hour. I was able to get a taste later in the night when there was no line. By the time I got to Rothschild, they were all out of wine and closed up. The Italian, South American, and Spanish reds were probably my favorite (Ornellaia and El Nido).
re: Eugene Park
Sounds like a great event. When we have done it, we have done the entire program, so always got in early, but that did not really help us, that much. Lot of wine, and in too little time. I always felt that it should be spread out over 10 days, and I'd have paid for that!
Glad that you enjoyed.