Event Report: 2011 Wine Spectator Grand Tour Boston

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Wine Spectator 2011 Grand Tour made its third and final stop last Thursday at the Marriott Copley Hotel in Boston. The event offered a chance to try more than 200 wines in an expo-style tasting over the course of three hours. Between the high quality of the wines being poured, the chance to interact with winemakers and winery owners, and the lack of long lines, it was the best wine tasting I've ever been to.

Prior to the event I wrote down a cheat sheet of wines I wanted to taste. I didn't think I'd actually get a chance to try all the wines especially after reading Wine Spectator Tim Fish's blog post from the Las Vegas event. At tastings like these lines usually get long and I end up going wherever the crowds aren't. However I was pleasantly surprised the lines for even the marquee wines weren't too long at all. I was able to try everything on my list and then some.

The event provided an excellent opportunity to taste some of the great wines of the world. I bumped into Phil Minervo from Lower Falls Wine Co who coached me to taste through wines in their peer group rather than jumping around.

Bordeaux

What better place to start with a fresh palate than Bordeaux?

With my souvenir Riedel tasting glass in hand I made my first stop at the 2004 Chateau Margaux table (93WS/$220 release price). I thought the wine had incredible texture, was made in a serious style, and had a long finish. Next up: 2004 Cos d'Estournel (94WS/$80). I've always eyed that wine as attainable top-quality Bordeaux. I thought it was very elegant in style:
The winery owner was pouring his 2008 Pontet-Canet (92WS/$105). I thought it was delicious and enjoyable to drink even though it was so young:
The 2005 Mouton-Rothschild (95WS/$680) was powerful but a little too earthy and austere at this point. Maybe even skunky:
From Bordeaux I also tasted 2004 Chateau Palmer (elegantly balanced), 2006 Chateau Haut-Bailley (only 12.5% alcohol!) and 2005 Chateau Lynch Bages (nice fruit - enjoyed it).

Side note: The size of the pours, even for these expensive wines, provided an ample opportunity for assessment. In Massachusetts, a sample of wine poured at a tasting cannot legally exceed 1 ounce and most vendors were pouring right at that mark.

Italy

Next up was Italy to taste some Barolo and Tuscan reds. The 2006 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Rocche dell'Annunziata Torriglione (92WS/$265) was beautiful - and stunningly aromatic:
The 2005 Marchesi di Barolo (91WS/$88) was very well balanced with really nice floral aromas:
The Tuscan line-up was even more amazing - a crash course in the great wines of the region. Some were showing more generously at this point in their development but all were a joy to taste. One of the more friendly offerings was the 2005 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova (92WS/$75). I liked the style, and the 2006 vintage was rated 100 points by James Suckling. I bought some the next day.

The 2007 Modus (96WS/$35) was a wine I was interested in trying. There was a good amount of speculation it would be the 2010 Wine Spectator Wine of the Year (it wound up at number 25). I enjoyed the wine.
I blogged about the 2007 Felsina Fontalloro recently (92WS/$55). It was showing very well alongside very formidable competition. I really like this wine. I asked the gentleman pouring it to compare it to the 2005 and 2006 vintages. He slyly recommended the 2005 for breakfast, the 2007 for lunch and the 2006 for dinner implying the 2006 is bigger than the 2007. Both the 2006 and 2007 are fantastic - I'd highly recommend you track some down:
The 2008 Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno (96WS/$110) was brilliant and approachable. Balanced:
 
In the not so approachable camp: The 2007 Testamatta (95WS/$125, some fruit but still quite tight), and 2008 Ornellaia (NYR, tannic beast).
The 2000 Fontodi Flaccienello (87WS/$69) was one of the few wines at the event not rated 90 points at the time of release. The vendor pouring it said Wine Spectator may have rated it higher as part of a retrospective tasting but I couldn't find a record of that. The wine was showing nicely and it was especially interesting to taste a wine of the caliber with some bottle age (many of the wines were insanely young).
I really appreciated that each table was only pouring a single wine. This focus kept the crowd moving and provided an opportunity to quickly see what a winery is all about. When I've only got 3 hours and more than 200 wines to taste that's what I'm looking for.

Pinot Noir

Even though I was spitting as much as I possibly could, I was parched after tasting so many Bordeaux and Italian wines.

I took a break then made a bee line for the Kosta Browne table where Managing Director of Marketing & Sales Sam Lando was pouring. Perhaps more than any domestic winery I was pleased to see them there. They seem to have little trouble selling through their wines and it was a pleasure to taste the 2009 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (NYR). Beautiful stuff - my wine of the night. At 14.5% alcohol they seem to have found ways to bring the alcohol levels down slightly while maintaining their rich mouth feel and delicious flavor profile.

Nearby, Adam Lee was pouring his 2009 Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir (92WS/$29). I liked this wine quite a bit more than his 2009 Russian River Valley bottling I tried earlier this year and will seek out the SLH for future purchase. It's a winner.
 
Oregon was also well represented. Sokol Blosser was pouring their 2008 Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills (90 WS/$38). I love how distinctly vibrant their wines are across every recent vintage and bottling - fabulous. The 2008 Bergstrom Pinot Noir (93WS/$78) showed how you're rewarded for spending more in Oregon Pinot Noir. 

Napa Cabernet

Looking back I can't believe some of the Napa Cabs I passed up. The 2007 Robert Mondavi Reserve was there and I didn't make it a priority to taste it. What was I thinking? I very much enjoyed the 2008 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon (94WS/$130). It was only outdone by the 2006 Joseph Phelps Insignia (94WS/$200). Love everything about that Insignia with its rich mouth feel and generous fruit-driven flavor profile. For my palate, it's absolutely delicious without going over the top. Cliff Lede was pouring their 2007 Poetry (91WS/$150). Beautiful bottle. Nice wine. 

Wandering Around

The wineries were generous with their selections.  Michael Twelftree from Two Hands was pouring their 2007 "Zippy's Block" Single Vineyard Shiraz (91WS/$110). Catena Zapata brought their 2007 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec (96WS/$120). For wineries like these (which I've heard of tasted their wines before) it was nice to be able to try some of their lower production bottlings.
One of the most delicious wines I tried all night came on a tip from Mike O'Connell Jr from Upper Falls Liquors. The 2008 Betts & Scholl Grenache Barossa Valley - "The O.G." they call it (90WS/$20). Original Grenche? It was luscious and so enjoyable after tasting through dozens of drier wines. I'd really like to track this one down:
Conclusions and Recommendations

What was advertised as a light buffet turned out to be quite substantial. Buffet stations and seating areas outside the ballroom provided a break from the action. Plenty of bottles of Acqua Panna and Pelligrino aided in hydration.

Several people I ran into at the event called it "the best wine tasting I've ever been to." I agree with them. The combination of high quality wines, manageable crowds, and the overall experience made it an event I'd look forward to attending again. It was the kind of thing I'd really enjoy going with some friends, attending the event, going to dinner afterwards, and spending the night at the hotel.

More than anything the tasting provided a way to taste some of the great wines of the world and get a feel for their flavor profiles. I can read tasting notes all day but until I get a chance to experience wines myself it's hard to know what I'll like. Because of this I find tastings like this really valuable. I learn a lot and can focus my wine exploration in new directions.

Disclosure: I attended on a free blogger pass.

Further Reading: A review of the event from The Passionate Foodie

Question of the Day: Have you been to a Wine Spectator tasting in the past? What are some of the best wine tastings you've ever been to? What made them so enjoyable?

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