Jake Austad at Wine Spectator tasting Vintage Cellars' Jake Austad at Wine Spectator Grand Tour

Last Saturday, on a warm Las Vegas evening, representing Vintage Cellars, my wife Lindsay and I were able to attend the Wine Spectator Grand Tour.  Wines were poured from more than 225 producers, representing 15 countries and four states.  If you’re interested in good wine or learning about good wine, this is the place to be.  Though I think it’s impossible to taste 225 different wines in 3 hours, by the end of the night, it looked like some people tried.

As for Lindsay and I, we had a specific tasting plan that started with Champagne/Sparkling wines.  I was pleasantly surprised by the Nicolas Fuillatte Brut Rose.  I wanted to do a true side by side comparison of the Pinot Noir grape.  I selected Louis Latour Chateau Corton Grancey Cote-D’ Or (France), Kosta Brown Russian River Valley (CA) and Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills (OR).  The Latour was a deep ruby color & showed a great expression of red fruits, raspberry & strawberry.  The silky tannins were exactly what I expected from a Burgundy Grand Cru.  The Domaine Droughin was a vivid red with berries fading into a very floral nose.   I picked up cola and licorice on the palate.  And finally the Kosta Brown had a ruby red color with nose and palate moving to from red to black fruits, strawberry to dark cherry.  I loved the long mineral, spicy finish.  I knew from the start I was destined to return to the Latour for another sip before the evening ended.

At this point, I had to change up my palate.   We were pleasantly surprised by the light buffet provided at the event.  From artisan cheeses, a couple of pasta dishes, a carving station and desert plate, it was enough to satisfy our dinner plans.  Just a quick stop before we were back focused on the next stop.

Next was the face off of California Cabernet and Bordeaux.  Though the list was extensive (and we eventually tasted more), I focused on 2 of each to start.  From France,  I selected Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Chateau Lynch-Bages.  From CA, I selected a couple of Napa Cabs, Kathryn Hall and Joseph Phelps.  To be completely honest, the Bordeaux’s were young and they need some time to rest.  Sure it would have been nice if there were a Premier Cru there, but I guess when you sell bottles for over $1000, you don’t pour them in Vegas.  I enjoyed the Joseph Phelps but the 2009 Kathryn Hall Napa Valley Cabernet stole the show.  A deep ruby-red. Ripe aromas of dark fruits, baked berries and a hint of chocolate. Sweet , intense but balanced and ends a hint of oak, coffee and black licorice.  This was powerful wine with plenty of ripeness and depth.  In my opinion, buy now or forever hold your peace.  Put a case in your cellar and enjoy today, opening one every year to follow its development.

From this point on, I was done with the “professional” portion of the evening.  Lindsay had been enjoying all along and it was time for me to drink the wines and not spit.  Together we did a tour through Italy, Spain, Portugal and some new world wines (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa).   I found the Sangiovese grape to be a favorite, especially from Brunello di Montalcino.  Riojo might be my favorite region in Spain, especially the Grand Riserva’s which have a minimum of 5 years of aging.  There is so much more “research” to be done in both of these countries.  I enjoyed the Graham’s 20 year Tawny Port, but then again, who doesn’t like the rich toffee notes a good tawny provides?  As for the new world, I found something I don’t like, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  I couldn’t find any fruit notes over the green pepper and jalapeno nose.  The palate had an intense salsa punch.  I like salsa with chips but not in my Sav Blanc.

Of the 225 producers, we did our best.  I took tasting notes on 37 wines (remember, I had to spit for about half of those).  One last highlight, we did finish with the 2005 Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes.  If you have no experience with Sauternes, I highly recommend you take your nose and palate for a ride.   We are looking forward to the event again in the future.  The Grand Tour was classy, with quality wines, good food and surprisingly not crowded (even though the tickets were sold out).  A fantastic experience, as long as you can control yourself in the casino before the 7PM start time.

Jake is Vintage Cellars' Wine Cellar Specialist.  Each month in Jake's Corner, he shares his wine insights, reviews, and tips with you! Check out Jake's last post here.