Wine Spectator NY Wine Experience Gala Event

A Whimsical Wine Spectator Weekend

October 31, 2016

What do you get when you combine the Top 100 wines of the world, twenty plus of the best SommelieWine Spectator Advanced Sommelier Jenny Benziers in the United States (and Canada, too), Huey Lewis & The News and Times Square? Sounds like a complex wine tasting note, I know. All the more reason that we are talking about the 36th Annual Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience!

This three-day celebration of great wine happens every year towards the end of October at the Marriott Marquis right in the heart of Times Square in New York City.

The weekend comprises of educational programs for both the novice and the expert, along with aficionados that fall somewhere in between with their wine knowledge and expertise. This is an incredible opportunity to attend sit-down seminars and taste the world’s best wines guided by the estates’ owners and winemakers on Friday and Saturday during the day, along with attending two nights of Critics’ Choice Grand Tastings with more than 250 wines on two floors that have been rated 90 points or higher by the team of wine experts at Wine Spectator.


Having previously worked at restaurants that participated and were awarded with the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards Program, I have been fortunate to be part of the Sommelier team for this event on numerous occasions. This was my seventh year in the past ten years on a Sommelier tasting team, along with this year also being part of the wine support team.  It is important to note that this event has been under the direction of Wine Event Coordinator Andréa Fulton-Higgins for 30 years (seen above in the black suit with the Sommelier Team)!

Wine Spectator - Sommelier Kirk Baker & Laurent Drouhin

Sommelier Kirk Baker & Laurent Drouhin of Burgundy, Nantucket Wine Fest Participant!

What exactly does this mean? Very simply, we are responsible for receiving all the wine that is used for every single event, inventorying and staging the wine for each event, along with tasting as a sommelier team any wines that are used for the seminars so that the attendees do not receive any bad bottles of wine.

How many bottles of wine is that? A lot. We start the day at 7 am and dive right in to whatever seminar happens to be first that day and don’t stop until the seminars are over. Depending on how many seminar attendees there are, there could be on average 60-72 bottles of each wine that must be tasted by at least two people (sometimes a third person if the wine is in question). There are four to six wines per seminar and approximately five seminars per day. For the Grand Tastings, we are responsible for distributing the wines to each table and collecting any wines that may be leftover to be used the following evening. Luckily, we get to walk around and taste these wines at our leisure during the event and not in the wine room hours before guests arrive.

Here is a brief listing of a handful of this year’s seminars:

Dom Perignon RoséTéte de Cuvées – From four of Champagne’s top producers including Salon, Bollinger, Dom Pérignon and Piper Heidsieck. What better way to start the weekend than with bubbly seminar. Unfortunately, I wasn’t on one of these tasting teams!

Unique, rare and historic Dessert Wines – Also know as ‘sweeties’ from all corners of the earth including the illustrious Château d’Yquem of Sauternes, France, the illusive Klein Constantia Vin de Constance Constantia (my first time ever tasting such nectar!), the underestimated Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2001 and the rarest Royal Tokaji Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos Betsek 2008.

Wine Spectator’s 2015 Top 10 Wines of the Year – At no other time will you ever see these wines and their producers in the same room together presenting their wines like this! These wines are actually split into two seminars where you taste wines 6-10 on the first day and wines 1-5 on the second morning.

Wine Spectator Sommelier TeamCalifornia Cabernet Sauvignon – This was a showcase of top producers from Pritchard Hill, one of Napa Valley’s premier sub-regions.

Global Pinot Noir – Representing Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon, Russian River Valley in California, Corton from Burgundy, France and Central Otago on the South Island in New Zealand.

France’s Château Lafite Rothschild – A vertical offering of six different vintages from one of Bordeaux’s most famous first-growth châteaux.

Between seminars are wine region sponsored luncheons, food and wine pairing challenges from Star Chefs and wine critics alike and brief Wine Star presentations highlighting great wines by renowned vintners from around the globe, each a star in the world of wine. Trudie Styler was one such presenter this year, representing her biodynamic winery Il Palagio located in Tuscany. The wine she poured was called ‘Sister Moon,’ named in reference to the same named song penned by her husband singer/songwriter Sting. This Super Tuscan blend was the first wine ever produced at Il Palagio under the direction of Trudie and Sting after they acquired and lovingly restored the property iWine Spectator - Advanced Sommelier Jenny Benzie + Sommelier Kirk Baker n 1999. As a great surprise to all of us, Sting also made a brief appearance on stage in order to perform his apropos hit ‘Message in a Bottle.’ (Click here to view!)

The weekend culminates with a lavish black-tie Grand Award banquet that honors any new restaurant recipients of the ‘Grand Award’ and their story of how they achieved such success. It also highlights those we have lost in the past year that made an impact on the wine business at some point in their lifetime. This year’s Distinguished Service Award was presented to Mel Dick, President of the Wine Division for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, for his decades of work on behalf of wine education. Once the formalities were finished, attendees then got to enjoy the rockin’ live music of Huey Lewis and the News (and another Sting appearance!).


If you are not familiar with the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards program, you will be thrilled to know that many of our fabulous restaurants on Nantucket have been awarded these prestigious awards. Sommeliers and wine directors must submit their wine list and current menus every year in order to continue to receive such a heralded accolade.

Restaurants on Nantucket that have earned a Wine Spectator Award

Grand Award: (only 87 awarded in the entire world)
Topper’s at the Wauwinet

Best of Award of Excellence:
American Season’s
Boarding House
The Brant Point Grill
The Pearl

Award of Excellence:
CRU Restaurant
Dune Restaurant
Ship’s Inn
The Nautilus
The Proprietors Bar & Table