Cheers to Wine

Grand Tour 2017 kicks off in Las Vegas to high accolades

by Marisa Finetti

Not every wine reaches the glory of 90+ points, but every wine tells a compelling story that, once told, results in a finish capable of lasting forever. Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour 2017 in Las Vegas showcased 244 wines, which earned high accolades from Wine Spectator reviewers. And, for those guests who were interested in savoring and listening, they were sure to leave with tales as delicious as the wines.

Kopke Colheita Port is one example. To taste a wine is to taste history, and in the case of the 1978 Colheita, a tawny port from a single harvest, it means remembering an event like the great fire that devastated the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro. The fire destroyed nearly all of the museum’s entire collection, including works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. While this devastation took place nearly 5,000 miles away from Portugal, the liquid that artfully was crafted during that same year, then later captured in the bottle, holds a piece of the world’s history.

Makers of port, such as Kopke, the first and oldest port wine house that started in 1638, also employ a mix of philosophy, faith and tradition that involves planning for future generations. Just as planting a cork oak tree comes with an understanding that it won’t see its first harvest for 20 years, some styles of port won’t be released for nearly 40 years, as in Kopke’s 1978.

Port is crafted with a skill, vision and realization that the winemaker may not be around to see it released. The 1978 Colheita is an elegant fortified wine, crisp and spicy, with notes of dried orange peel, maple and ginger supported with luxurious white chocolate that floods a tangy finish. Locked into its place along the Douro River, it’s the juice that tells time.

One of the wines that flows from the northern most region of Italy bordered by Switzerland and Austria, called Alto Adige, comes from the pristine vineyards of Elena Walch. A leading Alto Adige wine estate founded in 1869, at the time when the land was part of Austria, the philosophy of the estate is dedicated to the idea that the wines are a reflection of the individual expression of their terroir. Founded by Elena Walch, whose drive for quality and innovation persevered, these hallmarks earned the family business international esteem. Because of its location, Alto Adige enjoys a climate that fluctuates in temperature from day to night.

“Our grapes are able to ripen fully and develop the full spectrum of primary aromas yet, due to the cool nights, we are able to retain the acidity,” said Karoline Walch, a fifth-generation winemaker at Elena Walch.

The wines of Elena Walch are as elegant as the name, always showing character and personality. Among the many grapes used to make the estate’s wines is Lagrein (pronounced la-grine), an autochthonous, or indigenous, varietal primarily grown in Alto Adige.

“Lagrein is known to produce powerfully structured wines,” said Kirk Peterson, beverage director of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Las Vegas. “It has the potential to create brawny, highly tannic wines in the hands of those less adept. Elena Walch’s Lagrein Riserva from the Castel Ringberg vineyard is a muscular yet elegant expression where poise and power find equilibrium, and the more rustic characteristics of the varietal are shown in the best possible light.”

“Being our ‘local’ wine, it is certainly a wine that I grew up with and learned to appreciate at a very early stage,” said Karoline Walch, whose childhood bedroom was situated above the barrel room. “It’s very versatile overall, but my favorite pairing would be with venison!”

Also situated near the Alps, but in Piedmont in the northwestern region of Italy are the historical vineyards of Barolo. G.D. Vajra’s Bricco delle Viole (hill of violets) vineyard receives breezes from the Alpine range that mitigate the heat and produce a climate characterized by warm days and cool, ventilated nights.

“There is a finesse in the perfume and elegance, which is the expression of the vineyard,” said Giuseppe Vaira, whose family name is spelled with an “i” despite the winery name being spelled with a “j”. He went on to say that the diurnal shift that this particular terroir receives, fosters the expression of the nebbiolo grape by lifting its aromatics and sharpening its flavors. G.D. Vajra’s Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2012 is a sophisticated and decidedly sensual Barolo that has inviting flavors of red cherries and florals with subtle minerality.

“I believe Bricco delle Viole to be one of the most underrated Crus of Barolo out there,” said Peterson. “The Vaira family is well-respected and forward-thinking, but perhaps more importantly, they possess a specific kind of sincerity that is necessary to create wines as honest and expressive as they do.”

Peterson recommends pairing this Barolo with the Strauss farm veal chop with a porcini rub at Carnevino, located inside The Palazzo.

“Veal and Barolo are a classic pairing, and they were made for each other. The wine of kings deserves a kingly meal,” he said.

In Spain’s Duero River Valley is a monastery that was built in 1146 that today houses an awarded winery, Abadia Retuerta, a five-star hotel and the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the region.

“The vineyards are located in what it is considered the Golden Mile of Ribera del Duero,” said Chloe Helfand, lead sommelier at Bazaar Meat. “The winery has identified over 50 different soil types in the property, and they grow everything from tempranillo, to cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, to syrah.”

“The Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon is a marvelous way to show off the vineyard, which is composed of plantings that are 75 percent tempranillo, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent syrah,” said Pablo Paredes, American regional delegate to Abadia Retuerta.

This blend is reflective of the estate’s innovative approach of combining Spain’s indigenous tempranillo with varietals from other parts of the world.

Also from Spain is Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España, commonly known as CVNE, which produces the Imperial Gran Reserva. This wine was started in 1920 and initially sold to England in imperial pints, thus the name. Imperial was also the first Spanish wine to be honored with Wine Spectator’s No. 1 Wine of the Year. The 2010, which has received critical acclaim, is made from 20-year-old vines and expresses elegant autumn berry fruits, coffee, caramel and cinnamon — a delicious choice for roasted meats and game birds.

It’s been a long road for malagousia, a grape that was rescued by winemaker Vangelis Gerovassiliou during the 1970s in Greece. Up until that time, nobody heard of this indigenous varietal. The forgotten vine was difficult to grow and ultimately abandoned during the Greek Civil War. Upon its rediscovery 30 years later, Gerovassiliou took the opportunity to plant the grape in his vineyard only to discover the sheer beauty it would produce in a glass.

Today, the malagousia is cultivated throughout Greece and is lauded a top-class grape for its appealing aromatics, flavors and ability to pair exquisitely with its native food. The characteristics of the single vineyard Malagousia 2015 (90 points), which harnesses ripe pear, mango and lemon peel, have captured the hearts of critics and wine professionals around the world.

“Malagousia is an aromatic white wine that pairs particularly well with our octopus appetizer, which features tender, grilled octopus and capers from the island of Santorini,” said Elise Vandenberg, lead sommelier at Estiatorio Milos, located inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. “Malagousia’s fresh and crisp tropical fruit flavors provide a balancing counterpoint to the smoky, grilled notes of the octopus, while the beautiful, floral aromas refresh the palate.”

Moving further into the Southern Hemisphere is Swartland, a region in South Africa that has been producing exciting wines in the world, especially in the past decade.

“Andrea and Chris Mullineux (of Mullineux Family Wines) have been leading that charge,” said Jason Smith, MGM Resorts executive director of wine and Master Sommelier. “With Chris in the vineyards and Andrea in the cellar, they create the exact type of wines I like to drink — balanced, complex and with a sense of place. It is the style of wine that makes you enjoy each sip.”

Mullineux’s 91-point wine is the Syrah Swartland 2014.

“This syrah has a tremendous balance between forward dark fruits and undertones on earthiness,” he added.

Smith suggests pairing it with a medium-rare roasted squab breast with morel mushrooms and spring pea risotto.

“This dish would accentuate the subtle earth tones in the wine.”

Concluding the world tour of Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour, the wine taster’s palate is brought back to the Napa Valley of the 1960s, when much of the land was dedicated to fruit crops and cattle. Wine growers had not discovered the bench lands that surrounded the valley floor quite yet, but Al Brounstein, proprietor Phil Ross’ father, was a successful businessman who decided to “head to the hills” and do something about his love for wine.

In 1968, he founded Diamond Creek Vineyards, California’s first exclusively cabernet sauvignon estate and the first to plant on Diamond Mountain’s virginal ground. A lover of Bordeaux varietals, Brounstein brought back a handful of vines from the famed French region and planted them on his secluded property.

To his delight, three distinct soil types on the land started to produce distinctively stunning, single-vineyard cabernet sauvignons. Each year, the estate produces a small amount of elegant wines with great depth and richness that are revered by connoisseurs the world over. The 92-point 2012 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Fortieth Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, is one of them. This exuberant red comes from the 5-acre Gravelly Meadow vineyard.

Originally a prehistoric riverbed, this stony, gravelly soil drains rapidly and makes the vines struggle for moisture — a good thing for winemakers — because roots have to work harder to branch off and gather nutrients. So, the idea of a struggling grapevine triumphing over agricultural adversity to make amazing wines — that’s Gravelly Meadow.

And, with that, we can roll up the red carpet and make a toast to some of the most captivating wines in the world.