A Beginner’s Guide to the New York Wine Experience Grand Tasting

My younger
hipster colleagues have delighted readers by highlighting some of their go-to New World and Old World wines to taste at the upcoming New York Wine Experience Grand Tastings in their
recent blogs. And you can’t go wrong with either of their recommendations.

But what
about the newbies in need of a more general guide? An old college friend
emailed me recently asking for advice on how best to do a Grand Tasting, as he
and his wife will be attending for the very first time.

«I have to
admit it is kind of overwhelming,» he writes. «I look at the wineries that will
be there and the quality of them and the quantity …. I just don’t want to get
there and waste an hour trying to figure out what to do.»

With more
than 250 of the world’s best wineries attending the event, spread across two
ballrooms at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, and each pouring a wine rated
90 points or more, there’s a lot to
choose from. A game plan is a very good idea, and there are a lot of different
ways you can do it, but here’s my advice after attending roughly 30 Grand
Tastings over the past 18 years.

As the
magazine’s lead taster on the wines of Champagne, I always recommend that
attendees start with the sparkling wines. This is a serious wine tasting, but
wine is first and foremost about pleasure, so celebrate the evening by starting
the night off with some bubbles. This year the sparklers are located entirely
in the 5th-floor ballroom. With bottlings from Champagne, California and Northern
Italy, you can really appreciate the range of styles available in the
sparkling-wine world.

take a few minutes ahead of the tasting to review the list of wineries and
wines being poured, via the Wine Experience website or by downloading the free Wine Spectator Events app.
Some wineries will jump out to you as «must-try wines.» For many wine
lovers this list will include first-growth Bordeaux, big name Cali Cabs, rare
Burgundies, or classic Italian producers. But everyone has their own particular
area of interest; for me, the 10 producers pouring Barbarescos or Barolos are
musts, as are the six Riojas from Spain.

I recommend
going to taste these «must-try wines» as soon as you finish with the
sparklers—even if it means a little orienting yourself on the map and passing
by other wineries in order to get through your list, and even if you end up
tasting in an atypical order. The map of each ballroom is on the app, there’s a
printout handed to you when you walk in to the tasting, and a large floor plan
is in the front of each ballroom near the main entry. If your list of «must-try wines» is long, you may end up only getting to these wineries, which
means you’ll have to come back next year to try the rest!

Beyond tasting
specific wines, the floor plans are actually designed to help you taste
progressively. My colleague Bruce Sanderson spends several hours before each
event working with our events department to place the wineries in an order that
makes sense and allows attendees to move easily through the room from sparkling, to lighter-bodied whites and reds, to robust reds and dessert wines. So let Bruce
be your guide, and if you have any extra time, just wander and explore. I
guarantee you’ll discover a wine you’ve never tried before, and you’ll probably
be very pleasantly surprised.

Two final
suggestions: Make some sort of note (on the map, in the tasting book you’ve
been given, in the app or on your phone), of which wines you tried. It might be
a score, a one-word descriptor, or simply a plus or minus, but this will help
you to remember which wines you tried and your general opinion at the time. And
finally: Yes, it’s hard to spit out a taste of Château Margaux, and most of us
feel vaguely uncomfortable spitting in public! But by the end of the evening,
the more spitting you’ve done, the more you will appreciate and remember all of
the great wines you’ve tried.

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