Wine Spectator’s annual Grand Tour is coming soon, with evening tastings in Las Vegas (June 4), Washington, D.C. (June 10), and Hollywood, Fla. (June 18). To help you decide how to spend your night, we asked our senior editors and tasters to each pick five wines they think you shouldn’t miss. Some of them complained about having to stick to such a low limit; others were so enthusiastic they just blatantly disregarded it. (Who really minds?) Whoever’s advice you follow, you’re sure to drink well!
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Where to begin? That’s the question I ask myself at every Grand Tour tasting. With more than 200 wines from all over the planet, you should have a plan. “Should” is the operative word, since I always have a plan and it always falls apart. Once you start tasting and talking to guests and vintners, you get caught up in the flow of the evening. That said, I’m still going in with a plan this year. Here are some of the wines I’m looking forward to the most.
I begin and finish the tasting with sparkling wine, to keep my palate fresh. This year I’m eyeing Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvée NV (93 points), which typically combines steely acidity with personality and finesse. I don’t get to drink nearly enough good Riesling, so Trimbach Riesling Alsace Cuvée Frédéric Émile 2012 (93) will be a treat. I’ve been following the evolution of the Kistler style, as the in-your-face California ripeness and heavy oak phased into something more elegant, so Kistler Chardonnay Russian River Valley Laguna Ridge Vineyard 2017 (97) is a must.
After reviewing Zena Crown Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Slope 2018 earlier this year and rating it 96 points, I’m intrigued to see how this Oregon bottling is developing. It’s a broad-shouldered style of Pinot that should age beautifully. Finally, there’s Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Gravelly Meadow 2018 (94), from a classic Napa producer that always makes fascinating wines, which often are not easy to find.
Every night should start with Champagne. I’m a fan of Louis Roederer’s newest cuvée, their Brut Champagne Collection 242 NV (92). It’s the perfect way to ease into a night of wine tasting.
I also relish getting a chance to taste wines from regions I don’t cover formally. Spain is among my favorites, and I’ve adored Muga's Prado Enea bottling for a long time. Their 2011 Gran Reserva (94) should be on deck for anyone who enjoys Rioja or a well-aged red.
Since taking over coverage of California Pinot Noir, I’ve been nearly immersed in the wines. Longtime producer Etude has a rock-solid track record, and its Pinot Noir Carneros Grace Benoist Ranch 2019 (91) is a textbook version of its silky, refined house style.
Classic Bordeaux anyone? The Château Pape Clément Pessac-Léognan 2016 (96) is a suave and alluring wine that shows how strong this vintage is. Ramos-Pinto’s 2000 Vintage Port (92) should be an ideal way to cap the evening. Late last year, I reported on a retrospective of 2000 Vintage Ports and Ramos-Pinto’s bottling is in a great spot right now.
It was very difficult choosing only five wines from the regions I cover—Burgundy, Piedmont and Tuscany—due to the high quality of the reds and whites from those areas. There are many exciting choices that you shouldn’t miss.
If you follow my Tuscany articles, you know I am a big fan of Chianti Classico. There are several in our Grand Tour, some of which I gave classic ratings (95 to 100 points). One of my favorites is the Castello di Albola Chianti Classico Santa Caterina Gran Selezione 2015 (95) for its purity and typicity. Purity and elegance are two hallmarks of Sangiovese from the commune of Radda, thanks to the high elevations of its vineyards. The Santa Caterina is 100 percent Sangiovese, showcasing its characteristic berry fruit and floral notes allied to a vibrant profile.
While we’re on the subject of Sangiovese, the Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2012 (98) is stunning, with cherry, strawberry, floral and mineral flavors. It’s one of the wines of the vintage and one of two highest-scoring wines at the Grand Tour. Plus, it’s an opportunity to taste a 10-year-old Brunello.
With nearly a dozen Barolos featured at the Grand Tour, it was a challenge deciding on the Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Colonnello 2016 (95). Vintage played a significant role. I love the freshness of the ’16s, and the Aldo Conterno wines are always complex and classy. This single-vineyard Colonello, from the Bussia MGA in Monforte d’Alba, now has a few more years of bottle age since its release and should be getting close to settling into its groove.
I chose two Burgundies, a white and a red. I’m a big fan of Chablis, and the Domaine Laroche Chablis Les Vaillons Vieilles Vignes 2019 (91) reflects its sunny exposure, resulting in a round white with apple and yellow plum flavors without losing the mineral expression characteristic of Chardonnay grown in fossilized soils in Chablis.
Maison Louis Latour’s Corton Château Corton Grancey 2019 (94) is the flagship of the company’s estate holdings, an anomaly because it is a blend of different vineyards from the hill of Corton, atypical for grand cru Burgundy. Though young, it’s a vibrant, expressive Pinot Noir, with cherry, strawberry, currant and earth flavors allied to a silky texture.
Less than a month ago I visited Portugal’s Douro Valley and Quinta do Crasto for the first time. To summarize the experience: Go! The Douro is probably one of the most stunning wine-producing regions I’ve ever seen, and both the still table wines—such as the Quinta do Crasto Douro Reserva Old Vines 2016 (93)—and the Ports for which it’s so famous are outstanding and distinctive. Like many offerings from the Douro, this red bottling is a field blend of anywhere from 20 to 30 different grape varieties, most of which you’ve probably never heard of, from vines averaging 70 years old.
Earlier this year my job became even more fun and exciting with the addition of a new role for me, lead taster for the wines of Spain. While I plan to taste through all of the Spanish offerings at the Grand Tour, these two stand out as examples of just why I love Spanish wine. On one hand, you have Marqués de Murrieta, a family-run winery credited with the production of the very first Rioja, in 1852; its Finca Ygay Reserva 2017 (90) is a standout example of the great tradition for quality winemaking from Spain. On the other hand, you have Bodegas El Nido, established only 20 years ago by the Gil family; it produces impressive wines in a powerful, modern style, such as the El Nido 2017 (93), from the Jumilla appellation, which has emerged only in the last two or three decades as a source for both quality and, in many cases, great value.
At 98 points, the Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2012 is the highest-rated red wine available at the Grand Tour—so that’s a no-brainer to try! And it’s from the 2012 vintage, providing a chance to taste a classic vintage with a decade of age. 2012 and 2013 were back-to-back great vintages in Tuscany—and for Brunello were rated 96 and 95 points, respectively, by my colleague Bruce Sanderson. If it weren’t for the 2015 and 2016 vintages (97 and 99 points!), we’d still be talking about ’12 and ’13. I still have some bottles of those in storage that I’ve been saving, so tasting the Fuligni will be a sneak peek at how the 2012s are doing.
Did I mention how great the 2015s and 2016s from Tuscany are? I’ll definitely taste the 2016 Brunello from Valdicava (95), as well as other ’15 and ’16 offerings from Tuscany, including bottlings from Carpineto, Castello di Albola, Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona, Fattoria dei Barbi, Marchesi de' Frescobaldi and Rocca delle Macie.
A friend introduced me to the Champagne Lanson Brut Champagne Black Label NV (91) while we were enjoying lunch at Bottega in Yountville, and it’s becoming a contender for my house sparkler. It’s so crisp and refreshing, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be back and forth to, um, “cleanse my palate” with this vibrant non-vintage Champagne at least a couple of times throughout the night.
The best wines can be transportive, and whenever I taste the Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough Te Muna 2020 (92), I’m immediately back on a terrace vineyard on Te Muna Road in Martinborough with the wind whipping around me. The crispness of this wine is stunning and complex, with plenty of aromatics. I’m ready to feel the proverbial New Zealand wind in my face again.
My colleague Aaron Romano recently took over as lead taster of the wines of South America. Part of our process for transitioning staff into new beats is to have a senior taster (me, in this case) check all of the wines they rated 90 points or higher. So recently I’ve been lucky enough to taste some really amazing South American wines, and it’s really reinvigorated my interest in the area. I’m going to check in on the stunning Catena Zapata Malbec Uco Valley Nicasia Vineyard Paraje Altamira 2018 (95) to see how it’s showing, and to consider stocking my cellar with some of these ageworthy beauties.
Speaking of ageworthy beauties, it’s always a joy to check in on Yalumba, and I’m blown away that they are pouring this stunning red: Yalumba Cabernet-Shiraz South Australia The Caley 2016 (95). Cabernet-Shiraz blends are a classic Aussie combo, and I’m really glad more wineries in the country are embracing their history with modern versions. The Caley is becoming one of Yalumba’s iconic bottlings, and for good reason.
Another regular pleasure at the Grand Tours is visiting the Mollydooker table. “Mollydooker” is Australian slang for a left-handed person, and you may be confronted with a member of the family trying to shake your left hand when you come by for a taste of the Mollydooker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2018 (93). The label makes me smile, as does the rich, bold red wine. I’m almost certain to text a photo of the table to my husband, who adores Mollydooker wines but will be home cat-sitting.
As a child of the ’80s, I was raised on the music of Bon Jovi. The child inside who used to sing “Livin’ on a Prayer” into a wire whisk would be remiss if I didn’t get some 2020 Hampton Water Languedoc Rosé (90)—a partnership among Jon Bon Jovi, his son Jesse and French vintner Gérard Bertrand—in my glass when I can.
Wherever and whenever there are bubbles served, I will sniff them out like a bloodhound. I’m with Tim on making sure the Bollinger Special Cuvee (93), with its satin-like mousse, finds its way into your glass.
For me, the Grand Tour is an opportunity to taste some European wines that don’t come through the Napa office. Before getting into the big and bold, the polished Priorat Salmos 2017 (92) from Familia Torres is an excellent place to start. I’ve been tasting a fair amount of old-vine Carignan from Chile, my new tasting beat, so it would be fun to compare those to this Carignan blend from Spain’s best-known wine family.
Speaking of my new tasting beats, I can’t ignore a chance to recommend a South American pick. Sebastián Zuccardi has taken the helm of his family’s vineyard and is producing some of Argentina’s most exciting wines. The Zuccardi Aluvional Paraje Altamira 2018 (94) is grown in the heart of an alluvial plain along the Tunuyán River, where the chalky soils are expressed in the wine. The 2018 is a remarkable example of how Argentina balances Malbec’s bold profile in a focused and fresh way.
With a last name like Romano, you know I have to have an affinity for Italy’s finest. The trouble is, which one to choose here? Any wine with a few years of aging is always a good bet, but I’m also a sucker for a red with vibrant acidity. The Castello di Albola Chianti Classico Santa Caterina Gran Selezione 2015 (95) has reached the beginning of its ideal drink window, and well, who doesn’t love a good Chianti?
Even the most aimless wanderer will drink ridiculously well at the Grand Tour. (No shame in not having a plan of action, by the way.)
Feeling more ambitious? Strategize some comparative tastings. My Grand Tour game plan begins with two of my favorite Albariños: Bodegas La Caña Navia 2018 (91) from the grape’s home turf of Rias Baixas in northwest Spain and Bodega Garzón Albariño Reserva 2021 (91) from Uruguay.
I can never resist a tour of one of my most loved regions on the planet: France’s Rhône Valley. Starting in the north with Syrahs from two iconic estates, Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets 2018 (94) and E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis 2017 (95), I’ll next head to sunny Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the south, hitting both Château La Nerthe 2019 (92) and Château de Beaucastel 2019 (96), blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault (and more).
In Wine Spectator’s New York office where I work, we don’t get to taste all the South American wines that colleagues in our Napa office do, so it’s a chance for me to revisit a handful of my favorite Malbecs of Argentina’s high-altitude Uco Valley. I highly recommend this rock-star quartet: Domaine Bousquet Malbec Gualtallary Ameri 2019 (92); Bodegas Salentein Malbec Pr1mum 2015 (93); Zuccardi Aluvional Paraje Altamira 2018 (94); and Catena Zapata Malbec Nicasia Vineyard Paraje Altamira 2018 (95).
Finally, you’ll find me with a (full) glass of Champagne Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvée NV. See you in Vegas!