Wine’s Greatest Stage: The 2023 Grand Tastings

Wine

Imagine you’re invited to a fantastic reunion of family and friends. Now imagine those friends each brought some of their favorite wines, to the tune of more than 260 of the best bottlings in the world. That gives you an idea of what the opening night of the 2023 New York Wine Experience was like, as close to 2,000 attendees packed two floors of the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

The Critics Choice Grand Tasting was the start of three days of wine, food, seminars and fun. It was also a gathering of folks who feel like family.

“It’s great to be back here again,” said California vintner Sir Peter Michael. “It doesn’t feel like a year has passed.”

Old friends and new met at a tasting of more than 260 of the world’s finest wines. (Daphne Youree)

The two nights of Grand Tastings feature wines from around the world, all rated 90 points or higher by Wine Spectator tasters. The wines on offer made it clear that, while economic uncertainty lingers around the globe, wine quality continues to rise. As consumers wandered the rows of wineries offering their top cuvées, winemakers also took the opportunity to check out what their colleagues in other parts of the world are doing.

“We started coming a long, long time ago, at least 30 years,” said Napa Cabernet vintner Naoko Dalla Valle, “and now my daughter [Maya] is a winemaker and is here with me. It’s just a great festivity: You get to see all the amazing producers of the world here. This is the only place where you get that.”

As at any good reunion, there are always those bubbly friends who instantly welcome you and put you at ease. Attendees could sample incredible Champagnes like Bollinger Brut Champagne La Grande Année 2014 (97 points) or Taittinger’s Brut Blanc de Blancs Comte de Champagne 2011 (93). Or they could say ‘ciao’ to a sparkling Italian friend like Ca’ del Bosco’s Dosage Zéro Franciacorta Annamaria Clementi Riserva 2013 (92).

 Charles-Armand de Belenet, general manager of Champagne Bollinger, pouring La Grand Année 2014 for a guest at Wine Spectator's Grand Tasting

“What I really like, at the end of the day, is to start to discover new wines,” Charles-Armand de Belenet, general manager of Champagne Bollinger, said of the Grand Tastings. (Daphne Youree)

And of course, there are the perpetually popular friends—like Penfolds Grange 2018 (98) or Gaja Barolo Sperss 2018 (94). Angelo Gaja held court at his booth as a stream of consumers lined up to take a photo with him.

Once the ice was broken, guests could catch up with old friends like Ridge Monte Bello 2003 or Bodegas Vega Sicilia’s Ribera del Duero Unico 2013 (96). Or they could say hi to someone unexpected, like Gérard Bertrand’s orange wine, Languedoc Villa Soleilla 2021 (92) or Kim and Erica Crawford’s Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough tee 2021 (90), which sees extended skin contact. Maybe they could even meet someone new, such as the Cathiard Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2020 (92), the first vintage of a new California wine from the owners of Bordeaux’s Château Smith Haut Lafitte.

“This is our first year here! We are so happy to be here,” said Argiano winemaker Bernardino Sani, who flew in from Rome to pour the winery’s first single-vineyard Brunello di Montalcino, Vigna del Suolo, from the 2018 vintage (97). “It has taken over 10 years to be able to pull this off, so being here really feels like the arrival of all that effort. It’s everything coming together, it’s a dream come true!”

 Dalla Valle president Naoko Dalla Valle with her daughter, winemaker Maya Dalla Valle, at Wine Spectator's Grand Tasting

Dalla Valle president Naoko Dalla Valle and her daughter, winemaker Maya Dalla Valle, poured Maya’s namesake Napa Cabernet. (Daphne Youree)

“I think this was a really great experience to try different wines, speak to different people, learn the background behind it,” said Anairis Ramos, 23, who came down from Westchester for the event. “We’ve had a great time trying different things.”

“Where else can you go and [in one night] probably taste $50,000 worth of wine?,” said John Conover, partner at Napa wineries Plumpjack, CADE and Odette. “We look forward to this event every year. It brings the wine world together.”

That’s the magic of this reunion. While it serves up the opportunity to try incredible wine treasures, it also offers the chance to meet old friends and make new ones. Wine lovers get to know the people behind some of their favorite bottles. And winemakers get to talk to some of their most devoted customers.

 Bernardino Sani of Argiano winery with his arms raised, holding a bottle Brunello di Montalcino Vigna del Suolo 2018, at Wine Spectator's Grand Tasting.

Bernardino Sani, winemaker and CEO of Tuscany’s Argiano, brought his 97-point Brunello di Montalcino Vigna del Suolo 2018. (Daphne Youree)

The money raised goes to help others. The Wine Experience would not be possible without the incredible generosity of vintners who donate all the enticing wines of the weekend. All net proceeds from the event go to the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, which has raised more than $35 million for scholarships and grants for the hospitality and wine industries.

Foundation beneficiaries have included students at Napa Valley College, the University of California at Davis School of Viticulture & Enology, The Roots Foundation, Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute, Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Culinary Institute of America, among others.

As the night wound to a close, guests squeezed in a last sip, often a glass of Port. And vintners tried some treats as well. “It’s always a thrill to be able to be here and to show our wines,” said Christian Seely, managing director of estates such as Château Pichon Baron and Quinta do Noval. “It’s also fun for me to sneak off from my stall and taste a few of the other wines.”

—With reporting by Collin Dreizen, Julia Larson and Olivia Nolan

 Sisters Hannah and Emma Salvestrin representing their family's Salvestrin winery at the Wine Spectator Grand Tasting

“This is our first year as sisters representing our family, so that’s super exciting,” said Hannah Salvestrin, left, about pouring the Salvestrin Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Dr. Crane Vineyard 2020 from Napa Valley. “It’s really full circle; I feel like we’ve grown up watching our parents do these events and grow the brand and now we get to do that together.” Added Emma, right, “The Wine Experience is really the heavy hitter [among wine events] so it’s incredibly special to be the presenters here this year for our family winery.” (Daphne Youree)

 Christian Moreau (right) pouring his Chablis Les Clos 2021 for Wine Spectator Grand Tasting guests

Christian Moreau (right) poured his Chablis Les Clos 2021 for guests and peers alike. (Daphne Youree)

 From left: Nadia and Carla Zenato, with Zenato export office manager Chiara Corsini, with their 2016 Amarone Riserva at Wine Spectator's Grand Tasting

Italian vintners Nadia and Carla Zenato, with Zenato export manager Chiara Corsini, championed Amarone with their 2016 riserva. (Daphne Youree)

 Favia co-founder and viticulturist Annie Favia holding a glass of red wine at the Wine Spectator Grand Tasting

Fans of Napa wines were treated to Favia’s Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville 2020, poured by winery co-founder and viticulturist Annie Favia. (Daphne Youree)

 Australian vintner John Duval (left) and his eldest son, Tim, with the John Duval Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa Integro 2017 at Wine Spectator's Grand Tasting.

Australian vintner John Duval (left) and his eldest son, Tim, with the John Duval Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa Integro 2017 (Daphne Youree)

 Three women in their 20s attending the Wine Spectator Grand Tasting together

Friends Anairis Ramos, Ariana Fernandez and Lesly Perla sampled a wide range of wines over the course of Thursday night. (Daphne Youree)

 Hamilton Russell co-owner Olive Hamilton Russell at the Wine Spectator Grand Tasting

One of the many Chardonnay stars at the Grand Tasting was the Hamilton Russell Chardonnay Hemel-en-Aarde Valley 2021 poured by winery co-owner Olive Hamilton Russell. (Daphne Youree)

 Invivo co-founder Tim Lightbourne (left) and global sales director Bernard Budel with bottles of the Invivo Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough X, Sarah Jessica Parker 2022 at Wine Spectator's Grand Tasting

Ahead of Sarah Jessica Parker’s guest appearance at the Saturday tasting seminars, Invivo co-founder Tim Lightbourne (left) and global sales director Bernard Budel poured the Invivo Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough X, Sarah Jessica Parker 2022. (Daphne Youree)

 Castellare di Castellina winemaker Alessandro Cellai with the I Sodi di San Niccolò 2018 at the Wine Spectator Grand Tasting

Castellare di Castellina winemaker Alessandro Cellai poured one of the many super Tuscans at the event. (Daphne Youree)

 Two women and two men, with three in the group wearing wine-themed shirts, attending the Wine Spectator Grand Tasting together

Steve Gomez, Shareen Fanburg, Lorie Hart and Randy Hart attended the Grand Tasting decked out in wine-themed or wine-colored attire. (Daphne Youree)

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