Event Report: 2012 Wine Spectator Grand Tour Las Vegas

Monday, May 14, 2012

This is a guest post from my friend Joegish from CellarTracker.

Being an avid reader of the WWP and a fan of Robert on Cellar Tracker, I offered up to write a few notes for him on the recent Cinco de Mayo Wine Spectator Grand Tasting event held in Las Vegas at The Mirage.  My wife and I attended the event with 2 other couples (one from Connecticut and one from California) who are all wine enthusiasts.  We approached this event with 2 objectives:
  1. Taste wines that are not available or that are too expensive for our budget (I am a big fan of the WWP QPR tool)
  2. Taste wines that are either vertical extensions or from a winery whose products we like or may want to purchase.


Because our group decided wine was our focus and food was secondary, we chose not to rely on the food at the tasting.  This decision was also influenced by the unknown of how The Mirage would handle the event, given that this was a new venue.  There were also some comments written on Cellar Tracker that made us wonder how crowded the event would be.

The information provided by Wine Spectator was very limited before the tasting.  The only real information available was a list of participating wineries, with the actual wines being poured not disclosed before the event.  Given that this was the third (and final) Grand Tasting event, some of the wines being poured were disclosed in other blogs, but the information was sketchy at best.  This severely limited our ability to plan specific wines to taste.  Personally, I view this lack of information as the only significant opportunity for improvement for the event.

The Wait and Entry 

We arrived about 35 minutes before the event started and were approximately 400 people behind the front of the line.  Although the ventilation was lacking, we survived the wait and entered the tasting hall with no issues.  The entrance was actually rather speedy, considering the logistics involved.  We were given a pen, a handy notebook with all the wineries and wines being served, and a souvenir Riedel glass upon entrance. 

If you have ever been to a trade show, you know how this event was set up.  Two hundred 8x10 booths set up in 8 aisles.  A very logical organization by region and varietal made it simple to understand and find wines.  Food and tables were at the one end of the enormous hall.  Other than the entrance wait, the only real crowd to be found the rest of the night was for the 1999 Ch. Margaux being poured.  I am sure it is delicious; however, we skipped that line for the entire evening.

We quickly discovered that there was plenty of time to taste whatever wines you wanted, so there was really no need to hurry.  The food was set up as a buffet, and was rather generous with carving stations, pasta stations, etc., set up in a logical perimeter around the tables.  There was no need to eat beforehand and the quality of the food seemed rather excellent.

The Wines

After a quick review of the notebook, we found at least 6 wines for our “must taste” list:

2009 Ch. Pontet-Canet Pauillac  (WS 96 $180)
Very nice young Bordeaux. Lots of complexity and fruit. I would give this a 92 (interesting to me, this is the same as I rated the 2009 Ch. Lillian Ladouys at $24/bottle).

2009 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Select (WS 93 $130)
I was very excited to see this wine as I bought a few bottles of it, but had not tried it.  Wow, what a fruit bomb.  Rather shocking for a Caymus Special Select – I hope the fruit fades and other flavors develop over time.  Hardly even tasted like a cab blend to me.
Editor's Note: This aligns almost exactly with my notes on this vintage from a recent retrospective tasting of Caymus Special Selection.

2008 BV Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Georges Latour Private Reserve (WS 93 $125)
I have tried these in the past and always thought them to be over-oaked.  Same with this vintage. Pass.  Maybe after 10 years in the cellar.....

2008 Merus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008 (WS 93 $135)
I had read good things about Merus and wanted to try their cabernet.  This wine did not disappoint.  Complexity, depth, finish - what a cabernet.  This was the first wine I tasted that I would have rated higher than WS.  My WOTN. A 95 in my book and worth seeking out.

2010 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (Not yet rated)  
This was the only wine I noticed that had not been rated yet by WS.  I'll forgive WS, given that KB produced their WOTY last year.  Nice pinot noir, full bodied and relatively complex.  I would buy some if it were available under $50...but would probably pass on it at a higher price and would definitely not stock up on it.  I'd rate it a 92.

2008 Joseph Phelps Insignia (WS 94 $225)
Way too young to drink yet.  Some complexity and the finish was pleasant, but the fruit was overwhelmed by oak.  Would not drink for at least 8-10 years.

Other Wines that Caught my Eye

2007 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino (WS 94 $110)
I have a bottle of this in my basement.  Now I know why I wrote a 2020 on the bottle tag. Perhaps I should change that to 2030 or save it in my will for one of my children....talk about tannic.  I could not drink it.

As a matter of fact, I tried numerous tannic oak bombs that are just not my style (2009 Ornellaia2005 La Poderina, 2009 Setti Ponti Oreno, et al.  These are just way too young to taste...I really do not understand how people can rate these wines in their youth and I found them generally undrinkable at this point.  Bummer.

Being a pinot noir fan, I think I tried all of the pinots at the tasting.  A couple that stood out for me were:

2010 Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella's Vinyard - in my book as good as the Kosta Browne served in the booth next door.

2008 Domaine Drouhin Laurene - my favorite Oregon wine of the night

2008 Domaine Serene Evanstad Reserve - I have a few bottles of the 07, and the 08 is still a little rough at this point.

2009 Elk Cove Willamette Valley - quite nice, but pretty standard.

2008 King Estate Eola-Amity Hills Roserock Vineyard - I really liked this one, but found it odd that only three hundred  6 packs were produced...why would you feature this at a WS Grand Tasting?  FYI, WS rated this one a 95. 

Other Wines I Thought were Very Good

2008 Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages

2008 DeLille Doyene

2005 Yalumba Shiraz Barossa The Octavius

2009 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Jack's Masterpiece - this was my #2 WOTN.  We learned it actually comes from the Sacrashe Vineyard in Napa Valley.  We have enjoyed many cabernets from that vineyard in the past.

2009 Two Hands Lily's Garden McLaren Vale Shiraz Delicious.  Personally, I would probably still go for the 09 Angel’s Share and Gnarly Dudes from Two Hands.  Those 2 are both delicious and very drinkable right now.

We did not try many white wines (one of our friends did love the 2010 Vina Nora Rias Baixas Nora de Neve), but did manage a few trips over to the Champagne and dessert wines rows and tried a few of these as well.  The favorites of the night were the Schramsberg Reserve North Coast 2004, Luis Roederer Brut Champagne Premier NV, Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne 2004, and the Moet & Chandon Brut Champagne Imperial NV.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Although we tried to pace ourselves, spit when possible, and utilized the full 3 hours, we still only tried about half of the wines we would have liked.  It was a little frustrating to think of the many, many highly rated wines that we just could not taste.  Perhaps next year, our goal will be to try 30 wines we know nothing about...

A lot of the WS staff attended and were fun to talk with.  Tim Fish, Thomas Matthews, and James Laube were all there and chatting it up with attendees.  We met a lot of interesting people and winemakers.

Overall, the opportunity to try many different styles of high scoring wines was pretty amazing.  The venue was very comfortable and I would recommend attending - the $200 was money well spent.

Further Reading: 2011 Wine Spectator Grand Tour Boston Event Report

Editor's Note: My sincere thanks for this guest post! I think a lot of you will agree - it's hard to tell his writing style from mine and this provided excellent insight into an event we all would have enjoyed.

Question of the Day: Did you attend any of the Wine Spectator Grand Tour events this year? They were also held in New York City and Washington DC. If so, what did you think? If not, where do you think Spectator should visit next year?


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