After everything I’ve been through for the past six months, there was no way I was missing the Boston Wine Expo. My guts owed me some normalcy and some fun, big time! This was our third year, but the first year attending the actual tastings, not just seminars. To try the best of both worlds, we opted for the Vintner’s Reserve Lounge. It was pricey, but the tickets enabled you to attend both that and the Grand Tasting. It was described as “the ideal setting for serious wine enthusiasts looking to sample rare and expensive vintages before they purchase a bottle. Located in a private room away from the Grand Tasting, the Vintner’s Reserve Lounge is the perfect way to spend an afternoon sampling fine wine and tasting delectable treats from the top restaurants in the city. Most wines poured in the Vintner’s Reserve Lounge retail for $75 and up while enjoying live entertainment.” Our vote? In a nutshell: Skip the Grand Tasting, even if you’re new to wine, and do the seminars. If you’re a wine pro…skip the Reserve Lounge and do the seminars too. They span the wine-experience spectrum, from Kevin Zraly’s “The One Hour Wine Expert” (which was a fantastic class) to more advanced sessions on very specific topics such as elevage or the “Terroir of the Sherry Bodega.” You still end up tasting a lot of wine (assuming you do more than one seminar) and you learn far more than you do elbowing your fellow oenophiles out of the way for a tasting pour. PLUS, there are always a few non-wine seminars, such as Scotch 101 or this year, Rum 101.
And let me get a general concern out of the way – anyone with IBD worried about restroom availability need not fear, both the Seaport Hotel and the World Trade Center have bathrooms galore. Like, around every corner. Outside every room, practically. You might find lines at the massive Grand Tasting, but if you opt for seminars (which I highly recommend) they are in smaller conference rooms situated next door to the facilities, so you shouldn’t have a problem.
As for snacks? Bring your own (we even brought our own water bottles though water was available) or partake of what’s offered. We didn’t see much of what was being passed around in the Grand Tasting, but the Reserve Lounge was handing out grass-fed aged beef on quinoa, oysters on the half-shell and slices of filet mignon, as well as meatballs and cheese-and-cracker buffets. I’m still low-gluten, so I avoided the crackers, ate the meat off the crostinis and gave that to my husband. He was happy, my guts were happy too. I believe some seminars that involve wine-food pairings offer some eats, like cheeses, but I’ve never done one of those so don’t take my word for it.
The highlights for this year? We got to try some truly amazing wines (and some not-so-amazing wines). The stand-outs? 2008 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, 1987, 1989, 1990 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon (though we both thought that ultimately the 2011 Caymus cabs were better, as in, more drinkable). Also Bonny Doon’s very own leader, Randall Grahm, poured us his Le Cigare Blancs and explained the difference in elevage (he also conducted a Sunday seminar but unfortunately we could only make it to the Expo on Saturday) as well as his Le Cigare Volant reds (yum!). We also received a terrific education in Spanish wine and loved the Teixar, the “only single varietal Garnacha Peluda wine made in Spain.” Rare and delicious.
The let-downs? None were a major disappointment, however seeing Chalone chardonnay in the Reserve Lounge did raise my eyebrows. I consider that a daily-drinker, and while good, it felt out of place among its fellow grapes from Grgich Hills and Far Niente. Seeing Ravenswood was also a “?” moment. Nothing against these wines, but the way the Reserve Lounge was marketed–most wines retailing for $75+–I didn’t expect to see the wines I see every time I wander into Rapid Liquors to restock my wine rack.
And as for the Grand Tasting…well you know the saying. If you don’t have anything nice to say… In all fairness, there were good wines there, but they were hidden in the labyrinth of gimmicky mass-market juice calling itself wine and a host of non-wine-related products, like Infiniti. Walking through was overwhelming. I can’t imagine wanting to learn more about wine and trying to do so in such a boisterous crowd. It was hard enough to have a brief discussion in the relative calm of the Reserve Lounge! Thus, if you’re serious about learning more about wine, or just serious about wine, the seminars are the real gem of the Boston Wine Expo. One thumb for the Reserve Lounge, two thumbs up for the seminars.