Your Guide to the Wine Spectator Grand Tour

Wine Spectator Grand Tour debuts its inaugural Grand Tour wine tasting this May.

Vendor pouring wine out of decanter
Photo courtesy of Wine Spectator Grand Tour.

There are wine tastings and then there are wine spectaculars. As a wine professional, I have sipped through stogie wine trade tastings and splashy wine and food festivals akin to an elevated bacchanalian for the forty-plus set. From the outside, wine tastings can seem like a simulacrum of grand opulence. Attended by the glitterati and wine literati, wine tastings are an incredible opportunity to meet the people behind the world’s greatest wines. Tasting events are a choreographed dance between wine purveyors and the wine curious. With equal parts entertainment and hedonism, wine tastings are rarely primed for serious exploration of the nuances of fine wine, but the Wine Spectator Grand Tour aims high by offering the best wines from across the globe. Wine Spectator’s legendary staff of wine critics and editors tastes, evaluates, and rates thousands of wines each year, curating a list of just 200+ 90 points or higher wines from the world’s most prestigious wine regions to showcase at its annual Grand Tour in New York City. Finally, Wine Spectator is bringing its sensational Grand Tour to Denver. This will be the wine party of the year.

It’s important to have a strategy for events like this. Luckily, Wine Spectator publishes its Grand Tour wine list in advance. I approach wine tastings like the ultimate trip of a lifetime. My journey always starts in Champagne, France. The elegance of a shimmering glass of golden Champagne and its seductive orange blossom and floral aromas, bright fruit and zesty flavors, pronounced meringue and warm brioche notes with hints of roasted hazelnut and marzipan, and delightfully effervescent mousse never fail to delight my palate. Sparkling wines are my ultimate and the pinnacle of bubbly is vintage Champagne.

Gand Tour guests visiting vendor stalls
Photo courtesy of Wine Spectator Grand Tour.

Champagne

My visit to Champagne starts with two dazzling 100% Chardonnay blanc de blancs and waltzes to the singular 100% Pinot Noir rosé. Champagne Valentin Leflaive Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Mesnil 15 50 NV and Charles Heidsieck Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV are the perfect way to prime my palate for an evening of wine exploration. Sips of Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Collection 244 NV, Champagne Lanson Brut Le Vintage 2012, and Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé Champagne Cuvée NV exude perfection. But it is the acclaimed 97-point Rare Champagne Brut 2013, only the 13th vintage in 4 decades to be released, that nearly brings me to my knees. Satisfied, my voyage could be complete with this single destination, but I carry on.

- Advertisement -

Portugal

Europe’s rustic western coast belongs to Portugal and Spain. I lived in Portugal for a year and attempted to unravel its mystique through its wines. Known for its inky and rich fortified wines, the Douro Valley in the north reaches east from Porto, my favorite city.  The Douro is producing ultra-modern table wines like Quinta do Crasto Touriga Franca Douro 2016, Quinta do Vale Meão Douro 2020, Quinta do Vallado Douro Field Blend Reserva 2020, and the 96-point Wine & Soul Douro Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas 2020. Ripe with red berries and black fruit flavors and dusted with vanilla and spice, Portuguese reds tempt my taste buds every time.

Spain

A sip of Spanish sparkler Juvé & Camps Brut Nature Cava Reserva de la Familia Gran Reserva 2018 cleanses my palate before my travels take me to Rioja. Aged to perfection before its release, Rioja’s signature grape, Tempranillo offers black cherry cola, tobacco, leather, and spicy notes with a hint of cocoa and vanilla. Try Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Gaudium Reserva 2018, Marqués de Riscal Rioja Baron de Chirel Reserva 2017, and CVNE Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2016.

Vendor pouring wine
Photo courtesy of Wine Spectator Grand Tour.

Italy

Rome, the Eternal City, is my favorite destination, but on this sojourn, I find respite in Lombardy, home to Franciacorta, Italy’s finest sparkling wine. Ca’ del Bosco Extra Brut Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige 45 Edizione NV, crafted metodo classico exudes delightful notes of lemon curd, ripe peaches, Amaretti cookies, and a lime peel twist.

Italy’s heart is Tuscany and its Sangiovese wines are renowned. With notes of sour Morello cherries, raspberries, Italian herbs, balsamic, sandalwood, espresso, and spice, when it’s done right, Sangiovese is incredible. I am enchanted with Bindi Sergardi and tasting its Chianti Classico Mocenni 89 Gran Selezione 2019 at 95 points is essential. As are iconic wines like Il Borro Toscana 2019 and the elusive 96-point Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello 2020. The legendary Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2004 is a show-stopper at 95 points. I can’t visit Italy without checking out Piedmont, known for its glorious Barolo and Barbaresco, the king and queen of Italian wines, respectively. Crafted from Nebbiolo, these wines need decades to bloom. The iconic lineup is young but the wines will reveal a glimmer of what is yet to come. Start with the queen, Pio Cesare Barbaresco 2019. At 97 points the Vietti Barolo Ravera 2019 is not to be missed.

The Finale

I wind down with a nightcap of fortified wines from the Iberian Peninsula. With notes of marmalade and chestnut honey, the Alvear Pedro Ximénez Montilla-Moriles 3 Miradas Paraje de Riofrío Alto 2016 complements a flight of Portugal’s finest Ports starting with the 97-point Croft Vintage Port 2017 and finishing with Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port 20 Year NV. Notes of caramelized dates, chocolate, black cherries, and walnuts linger as I swing back by Champagne for a final sip of something spectacular to end my first Grand Tour.

Wine being poured
Photo courtesy of Wine Spectator Grand Tour.

How to Taste Like a Pro

Keep in mind that wine tastings are marathons, not sprints. Take your time.

Talk to the winemakers and winery representatives. Listen to their stories while you sip on their wares. What a grand opportunity to dream and travel vicariously through someone else’s passion. As the congregation grows and the bacchanalia builds, slow your roll. Take your time to explore these glorious wines like a wine pro.

Observe the wine cascading into your glass. Ponder its color, hue, and texture. Admire the opacity or the way the light glimmers and glints in your glass. Wonder at the swirl of bubbles racing to burst perfume onto your tongue. Swirl your glass releasing the wine’s fragrance. Linger over the aromas noting the wine’s subtle personality.

Savor a sip, sloshing it in your mouth before gracefully spitting the sample. The only way to make it through such a grand tasting is to spit.