Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wine Spectator Grand Tour Wrap Up - Highs and Lows

Another Wine Spectator Grand Tour is in the books. Our eighth one - all in wild, wild Las Vegas.  I am already looking forward to going back next year, perhaps with some guests? An event like this is a great way for me to show aspiring winos some new things and maybe expand their horizons a bit. I also like to try any wines that are favorites of our companions, to both try something new and perhaps find my own new favorite.  I have thoroughly enjoyed each of these we have attended, but each year there are good and bad attributes to the whole experience.  So today, I'll run through my list of the good and the bad of the 2014 Grant Tour (well, some other stuff from the weekend too just to be fair!).

Good: Dinner on Thursday night at Heritage Steak in the Mirage Hotel & Casino.

From one of my earlier posts,  you can tell that I like Heritage Steak quite a bit.  So much, we decided to come to Vegas a night earlier than usual to have dinner here. Once again, Kate the wonderful Sommelier for Heritage Steak helped us out by decanting a wine early for us - a 2010 Alpha Omega Proprietary Red. I have this winery on my list to visit our next time in Napa, so wanted a little taste to make sure it was worth visiting. Oh... it is! I went with this Bordeaux blend over their Cabernet in the hopes that the blend would have tamer tannins since they are quite young. I don't know if I was right or not, but this one still had some rockin' tannins, even after being decanted for about 4 hours.  I bet the Cabernet would have been a real Christmas wine (tannin bomb!).  



Our meal was even better than our first - the Pork Belly and Grilled Romaine Salad were both outstanding. I stuck with the bone-in ribeye, but my wife went for the filet mignon.  The filet was a knockout - the char level was excellent. 

Kate our wonderful Sommelier treated us with a couple of special dessert wines that were not on the menu, a Semillon from Australia (on the left), and a Pedro Ximenez Sherry on the right.  Both so different and both outstanding. The Semillon was a surprise, not super sweet, nicely acidic and paired nicely with my carrot cake fritter dessert (another repeat for me). The PX was dessert by itself, raisiny, complex, sweet, but not cloying.  What a great meal!

Good: Brunch on Friday at Hash House a Go-Go.

On our prior trip to Vegas we finally made it to Hash House a Go-Go, after talking about trying it for oh, about two years I think.  The Bloody Mary's and food did not disappoint.  So... yep, we went back on Friday morning. We were early enough (9:30a-ish) so the wait was only 20 minutes. 

With a big day ahead of us, I went for a light snack of the 18 tower of Sage Fried Chicken and Waffles.  I have been underwhelmed by many versions of this dish throughout the land, but this one with super soft, super tasty waffles, and two huge chicken breasts of fried chicken with just a hint of sage (that can quickly overpower a dish - especially chicken.  Next up - a long nap!

Good: Rockin' It at Rock of Ages at the Venetian on Friday Night.
A free Friday night in Vegas... lose lots of money gambling, or see a show? Since they both cost about the same, we decided to see Rock of Ages at the Venetian.  I had heard good things about this show on Broadway, but I really didn't like the movie.  Enticed by the music of my youth, we decided to give it a try, and I am so glad we did. 
"Lighter" and Alcohol Soaked Gummy Bears
This show is funny, awesome music, and they even give you your own LED "lighter" for use during those power ballads.  Plus, they have a bar inside the theater where before the show you can buy things ranging from Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers (pass, thanks) and vodka, peach schnapps and triple sec soaked gummy bears. Those gummy bears were good, DANGEROUSLY good!  I will definitely see this show again in the future (maybe after I see Evil Dead the Musical one more time??)

Bad: My Kentucky Derby Horse is Scratched


The Grand Tour is typically the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby, and on two previous occasions I have bet... and won on the Derby.  My highly scientific process to pick the winners - look for a horses name that is wine or drink related. Years ago... Barbaro sounded like a cross between Barbera and Barolo... and winner!  Last year, I'll Have Another is one of my favorite drinking phrases... and winner! This year, the horse that stood out to me was one call Hopportunity... sounding very beer-like. When we sent to the sports book to lay down my sure-thing wager... D'oh, my horse is scratched!  My other two options with my system was Wildcat Red (although I am a proud Arizona State Sun Devil, so have an aversion to anything Wildcat, even if it isn't from the University of Arizona) and California Chrome. Cali Chrome was not much of a drinking name, but there are one or two good wines made in California.  Ultimately I decided to go with Wildcat Red, and... oh well maybe next year.  What if Hopportunity had run?  We'll never know.

Good: The Grand Tour - The Opportunity to Try New Things.

A great trip to Vegas already, but now it was time for the main event. With my iPhone in hand for live tweets, we started our journey through the world of wine. I always make sure and try some new things at the Grand Tour - it's a great opportunity to branch out.


We started off the nigh with some whites. First up was a Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia - a 2010 Opaka from Marjan Simcic.  Very old world in style, lots and lots of minerals with fruit taking a backstage. I was hoping for one of the more unusual grape varietals they make, but this was a nice surprise from an area I have never before sampled.  Next up - a quick trip to Greece. I have had a few Greek reds, but other than some $6 semi-sweet stuff we would buy in our youth - never any real Greek whites.  This wine was a 2012 Malagousia from Gerovassiliou.  This grape is very much a Greek varietal - very nicely balanced and lots of lemon on the nose.  We also tried the Greek wine next door from Sigalas - an Assyrtiko.  Another grape I had never tried, but it had an overpowering grapefruit character that was a bit unpleasant. Hey, we don't always like everything new we tried, but we were doing pretty good so far for the night!

Good: Some Great New Finds from New Wineries at the Grand Tour.

We had already exercised our "try new stuff" motto with some interesting Greek and Slovenian wines, and now moving on to the reds with a familiar grape, but an unfamiliar winery.   A 2011 Black Kite Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. 

Dark fruit, chocolate, nice level of acidity, and a nice long finish. My only complaint with this wine as that it was a few degrees to warm.  The weather in Vegas was over 90 degrees that day, so it may me wonder what the other wineries do to keep their wine cool - because most are served at an excellent temperate. Perhaps a rookie mistake as a new participant... so I look forward to trying again next year!

My only regret is that I already belong to several very good wine clubs from great Pinot producers like Kosta Browne, Kanzler, and Sea Smoke. I really want to add this one, maybe a throw down is in order to see if one goes to make way for some Black Kite!

Bad: Not Representing Your Product

The Grand Tour is a big event, and a lot of serious wine people show up. Granted we are consumers and not industry people, but we're the ones that actually buy the produce in the end.  To me, you need to have a good product, but also represent that product well at events such as this one.   At this year's Grand Tour, I found myself noticing more and more how the person pouring and presenting the wine made a big difference. 

My example from this year was when we visited Merus. I had read about this wine and was intrigued, but at about $150 a bottle I needed to be impressed to go from an interested party to a consumer.  After a couple of Pinot Noirs, we stopped at Merus. The girl (drinking age or not I wasn't sure) at the booth seemed like she wanted to be anywhere but here. She poured a glass and robotically told us "this is our 2010."  Really? This is our 2010 what?  I asked what region it was from, and obviously not expecting any questions she said Napa and fumbled for a bottle for the rest of the details.  The sad part of this situation is that this wine was REALLY good.  Dark fruit, chocolate, licorice,  and amazingly drinkable in its youth.  Someone with any enthusiasm presenting the wine would have had me heading to my wine shop the next day (if you can get this stuff at a retail store), but as it is I just say "meh" to Merus.

Good: Representing Your Product Very Well

On the complete other end of the spectrum from our experience at Merus was when we turned the corner a few rows down and saw none other than the rock star of the wine world in my book - Charles Smith.  Although this is a big event, I am surprised to see this guy - with his name on the label, has been here more than once.  Talk about pride in your product and presenting it in the best way - if you want it done right do it yourself!  Being the Charles Smith groupies we are, we even asked for a picture with Wino4Life wife.


Good: A Great Wine and a Possible Wine Vacation for the Future

A wine I have heard of, but did not have on my list to try this year was Col Solare.  But as we walked by the booth, I decided to give Washington State a little love - and I'm glad I did.  Their Bordeaux blend was full of dark fruit, with an excellent... long finish.  I was very glad to see this year that red blends were being shown... I find that blends like this are where winemakers can get more creative and have the flexibility to excel rather than keeping to a pre-determined percent of say Cabernet in order to have Cabernet on the wine label.  I also talked to the guy at the Col Solare booth about tourism in Washington State wine areas like the Columbia Valley. He was very honest in saying there was great wine to try, and the food scene was not there yet but was improving. I appreciated the honesty, and am intrigued to spend a little R&R time in the area some day... and I'll definitely visit this winery!

Good: Tasting a Great Example of a Classic Wine

Tucked back between the big and fruity Australian Shiraz wines and the dessert reds was a wine that was a definite on my list to try.   A classic wine region like Chateauneuf du Pape is a great contrast to the many many new world wines at an event like this... (not that there's anything wrong with that).   It seemed like the very pleasant French guy at the booth appreciated it when I asked him how he liked getting stuck by the big red Australian wines, as he enthusiastically explained the wine, that it was a "Premier Cru", and so not the very best, but still an excellent wine.  He was right - a nice break from the new world fruit bombs, this wine was more about leather, herbs, with a nice dose of plum to go along. 


Bad: Following the Crowd and Standing in a Long Line for a Taste.

Every year there are one or two wines where a crowd lines up for however long it takes to taste the wine. In all our previous visits we have never sacrificed the time to wait in line for just one wine.  This year, I had some tweeting to catch up on, and the line wasn't that long, so we decided to join the line for a sip of Chateau Margaux.  The experience as a little like seeing the Hope Diamond, step up, get your pour and move on as there are a ton of people behind you.  The wine had a great nose, but fairly closed off in taste - way too young to drink.  At probably $500 a bottle or more, I wanted to love it - but I guess I can at least tell my friends I've tried it... so here goes... "Hey, I've tried Chateau Margaux!!!!"  <Insert oohs and aaahs here>.

Good: A Great Time Leads to Anticipation.

Can't wait to do it all again next year!  Maybe I'll see you there in 2015!

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