I just attended the Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Las Vegas for the first time Saturday. Here is my experience and tips that I hope will come in handy if you decide to attend this event next year.
My number one tip? Get in line early! We got there 45 minutes before opening time and the line was at least 200 people deep. By the time the doors opened, there was a line about 3 times as long behind us, and they were holding even more people outside in the hall because the queue area was so full. Veterans told us that the crowd this year was much less than in previous years. I cannot imagine going to this event if it was even MORE crowded! This thing was jam packed with people!
While you are waiting in line, you will be given a very nice spiral bound tasting book that has a list of every wine being tasted with plenty of room for you to make any notes. Pens were also provided in case you forget to bring your own. Most people in line where quickly studying the map and making notes about where to go first! I felt very ill-prepared but decided to go with the flow. Your tickets are taken in advance, and you are given a stub to exchange for a Riedel tasting glass once you are inside the ballroom. You get a glass and then wander free to sample hundreds of wines!
Once the doors opened, there was a beeline for all of the French bordeaux. Unfortunately, the layout was such that all of the bordeaux and the big reds that you really wanted to drink were all on the same row. This caused severe bottlenecks. The aisles were so full at times that you could not even push your way through all of the people. A lot of the smaller wineries' tables weren't crowded all night. If you don't care about sampling French bordeaux or Insignia, then you will have a much more pleasant tasting experience. The crowds were never unruly, but it was very unpleasant. There was also a lot of "me first" shoving, with rude people who had a false sense of entitlement just pushing right ahead of everyone else who was doing their best to form an organized line. This happened many times during the evening and there is just no excuse for such rudeness!
While you were allowed to revisit any winery and have all of the tastes you wanted, be warned that many of the wineries ran out of wines - Caymus ran out within an hour after opening, and many of the big "name" Bordeaux producers had poured all of their bottles soon after. I think this reflects poorly on the wineries and they really should be better prepared and come with more product. Apparently Caymus was only "armed" with 16 bottles! Ridiculous! Wineries should be required to bring at least 2 cases for an evening with such a high attendance. What a huge disappointment to miss out on some great wines. Unfortunately, the faster you drink the more wine you get to taste. I felt like the more rushed you were, the more rewarded you were with wine. I wanted to savor and sip and really taste the wines, not chug them quickly so I could hurry up and get another taste of something else before it ran out! This is not the best atmosphere for relaxed wine tasting but it sure is fun.
The large ballroom is set up with booths made up of very long tables. Wines seemed to be organized in the order in which you should try them, with whites on the far left of the ballroom and port on the far right, with everything else in between. Wines were arranged by region as well, with the Italian, Spanish, French, etc. in the same general area. At the end of each tasting row were glass washing stations and baskets of water crackers for palate cleansing. Very nice! On either side of the ballroom were bottles of room temperature Fiji water. The best part of this event was the quality of the wines! Just fabulous!
Now for more bad news: the food was an absolute DISGRACE. The light buffet was filled with cheap, awful food. There was a wild green salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing, a decent cheese tray with run-of-the-mill cheeses, a bread basket with stale hotel-quality rolls, an antipasto tray, several cold dips, and a few hot appetizers that weren't very appealing or tasty - cheese pizza roll-ups (the crust was so rock hard that you couldn't bite them with your teeth), miniature chicken pot pies (that were too cold), miniature pork loin "burgers" (again, so hard you couldn't tear through them with your teeth), and a decent assortment of small chocolates. For $200 a ticket, this was a poor excuse for a buffet. I was so disappointed and the food should have been much better. There were two buffet tables set up, but lines were always very long. We waited at least 30 minutes in the buffet line when it first opened. I wasn't expecting a gourmet dinner, but at least some tapas that tasted good should have been served!
Another big criticism is the lack of seating. There were some tables set up, but they were packed full, leaving most of the guests no choice but to hover around the room trying to balance plates of food and glasses of wine. Some folks even resorted to sitting on the floor! Ugh! There was plenty of room for additional seating, and this should have been added. If more seating was added, I think this would have helped with the extreme bottlenecks that formed down the tasting aisles. At certain times there were so many people packed in the tasting rows that I literally could not raise my arm to lift a glass to my lips. NO JOKE. If you are very sensitive to crowds, this is NOT the event for you. Trust me!
The good news is that the crowds began to thin out towards the end of the event, so you had more time and room to walk around and talk to the winemakers and winery representatives. After the event officially closed, you were allowed to stay for a bit and enjoy your last morsel of wine. Also after official closing time, many of the wineries just left their open bottles at their booths and you could go around and personally pour as much as you wanted in your glass! As you can imagine, by the end of the night, nearly everyone left in the ballroom was near falling down drunk. They were very polite drunks, however! Ha ha.
My final tip is to get a hotel room. You will not want to be driving anywhere after you leave this event. It is a bit overwhelming and is like being a kid in a candy store with a free pass to eat all the candy you can. It is easy for me to say that I should have tried to pace myself better, but it is just so exciting that you can't help it. The wines are all so fantastic and there are wines I'd read about and had never tried. It is easy to go crazy at this event, so try to drink lots of water and graze on crackers during the evening. I'd also recommend having a meal before you go in since the food was lacking.
The bottom line is this is a great event for oenophiles and is a fantastic way to try new and exciting wines (or to revisit old favorites). I only tasted a few wines that I really didn't like - almost everything was just fabulous. Be warned as well that there is NO WAY you can even begin to sample all of the wines - I probably tried 30 wines and I "paid the price" with a big wine hangover the next day!
I've attended many wine tasting events and festivals, and the Wine Spectator Grand Tour ranked somewhere in the middle - not the best I've been to, but not the worst either. I would probably attend again, but I do think the price is too steep for what you get. The quality of wines was fantastic, but the overwhelming crowds and the awful food really soured the evening.
Wine Spectator Grand Tour 2009 Las Vegas - Review
- Reply by Philip James, May 18, 2009.
Moviegal - this is great, thanks for posting.
You live in/near Las Vegas? I went to the NY Grand Tasting by Wine Spectator in 2007. It was also crowded, my other main recollection was, just like you experienced, many of the high end wines, in my case the champagne, all ran out within 45 minutes...
- Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, May 19, 2009.
That was an absolutely AWESOME review.
I loved the detail and attention you paid to every aspect of the event.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience, I am sure your advise will be helpful to many Snooth members.
- Reply by John Andrews, May 19, 2009.
As with Philip and Greg ... thanks for the great review. I have considered attending this event many times (if I could convince someone to cough up $200 to go with me) but this definitely makes me think twice. While I I'd like to taste a lot of the wines, I'm not a big fan of big crowds at events like this.
Now if I was to get a comp. ticket and attend the industry tasting (usually done before the public tastings) then I'd go for sure!
- Reply by MReff, May 19, 2009.
this does not surprise me and as HondaJohn stated it is worth obtaining the comp ticket. In no way woud I even attempt this event unless I got into the trade event.
- Reply by Eric Guido, May 19, 2009.
Too bad about the food. I haven't even considered attending one of these. Not just the price but also the crowds. I can't stand crowds.
Lucky for me is that I don't care to hit the bordeaux tables and so at each tasting i attend, I find myself chatting up the italian tables for a good half hour before the rest of the crowd makes it's way over.
Thanks for the review, it was very enjoyable.
- Reply by moviegal226, May 20, 2009.
Hey, thanks for reading! I hope my review didn't sound too overly negative - I actually did have a great time. I just thought it was a good idea to point out the worst of the worst aspects of the evening. The wines were FANTASTIC and I would go again next year - but I'd be better prepared! Cheers!
- Reply by oceank8, May 26, 2009.
Thanks for the write up. Every year I try to convince my husband to go, I don't think I'll do that again. I can't stand crowds like that! Sounds like if you do go, it is best not to set your sights on the high end wines!
I have always wondered about these and am glad to have an inside look.