Bacchus, behold! At a divinely orchestrated event, Wine Spectator—the world’s leading authority on wine—is bringing its exceptional wine-tasting Grand Tour to Las Vegas on May 5, 2018. Featuring 244 wines from five domestic states and thirteen countries, the evening promises to be a wine connoisseur’s paradise as well as an amateur’s induction to a veritable Tower of Babel of world famous varietals.
VOE stomped with joy at a chance to interview Tom Matthews (TM), executive editor of Wine Spectator. As head of one of (if not the) most comprehensive wine publications in the world, Tom shares an insider’s knowledge of the process of selection and ratings for this prestigious event and more.
This year at the Mirage Hotel Las Vegas, 244 wines from five states and thirteen countries will be presented. How long was the selection process and how many wine editors were involved in selecting these vintages?
TM: Selecting the wineries for our Grand Tour is a multi-step process that begins in late autumn the year before the events take place in spring.
We consider wineries that have participated in the past; recommendations for new wineries from our editors; requests to participate from new producers. Every year we have more willing candidates than spaces available.
To make our final selection, I collate all this material, then issue invitations considering quality (based on the scores of the wines proposed); diversity (based on the origins of the wineries); and track record.
Each of the wine selections rates over 90 points from the editors. What percentage of wines tasted each year reach that rank?
TM: In 2017, we reviewed nearly 16,000 wines in our official blind tastings. Of these, 3% scored 95-100, and 41% scored 90-94.
What is the number one quality the average wine lover should look for when making selections?
TM: Whether the wines suits his or her palate! If you don’t like it, it’s not a “quality” wine for you. However, that’s a short summary of a complicated answer, because learning what wines do suit your palate, and educating your palate to be more discerning and adventurous, is a life-long project.
It wasn’t that long ago that France was the most recognized producer of fine wines. Which countries would you rank as the top five today?
TM: I could argue that France remains #1 for the diversity, quality and heritage of its fine wines. Italy sends the most wines to the US of any foreign country, for good reason. California makes about 75% of all the wines we drink. I review the wines of Spain, and I consider it the most dynamic wine industry in the Old World. Among New World countries, Australia probably has the most long-term potential.
Which region would you say strives the hardest to produce its best?
TM: As the wine world continues to grow, producers in every region know that only their best can lead to success. I don’t think any serious wine region is resting on its laurels today.
Wine Spectator publishes expert reviews of more than 16,000 wines per year. How does a varietal qualify for a review?
TM: Many more wines are produced each year than we can possibly review. We select wines based on several criteria: First, they must be imported to the US, where most of our readers live. Second, they must have broad enough distribution so that our national readership is not completely frustrated in an effort to find them. Then, we look at a wine’s track record, and its price: we hope to review wines that offer a good ratio of quality to price.
What are the highlights this year at the Grand Tour at the Mirage Hotel?
TM: That depends, of course, on what types of wines an attendee prefers. The wines on offer run the gamut – from sparkling, to dry whites, to elegant and powerful reds, to dessert wines.
Some people will gravitate towards the benchmarks, such as Bordeaux first growth Chateau Haut-Brion, or California landmark Heitz Martha’s Vineyard or one of Italy’s classic Brunello di Montalcinos.
Others may prefer to explore. We offer excellent wines from Uruguay, Israel, Greece, and the states of New York and Virginia.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach the tasting.
Have any wines from Pahrump or Las Vegas been included in Wine Spectator tastings?
TM: Not yet! But Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico are all viable candidates.
What qualifies a person to become a Wine Spectator editor/taster?
TM: Practice! We train our own tasters through an apprenticeship program that can take several years. Aspiring tasters taste alongside our senior editors, comparing their notes and scores. Only when we are confident in their ability to gauge quality and character are they permitted to review wines on their own.
Our tasters are among the most experienced in the field. James Laube, our lead taster for California, has been reviewing the state’s wines since the 1980s. I have been reviewing the wines of Spain since the 1990s.
This kind of experience creates the context that allows judgment to be credible. Our blind tasting methodology insures that our reviews are fair and objective. This combination of expertise and integrity builds reader trust, which is what has made Wine Spectator the most widely read wine publication in the world.
A portion of net proceeds goes to the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation. When was it established and what is its purpose?
TM: The Foundation was established in the 1980s and has disbursed millions of dollars to educational and philanthropic institutions that focus on training young people to enter the wine and hospitality industries. For more information: Wine Spectator Giving Back
Meet the winemakers, Saturday, May 5. Enjoy a complimentary buffet while sampling hundreds of wines from around the the world. Attendees will receive a souvenir RiedelTM tasting glass.
VIP $325 | General Admission $225
6:00 PM – 10:00 PM
6:00 PM – VIP Entry
7:00 PM – General Admission Entry
May 5, 2018: The Mirage Hotel , 3400 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV
For all things wine, please visit: Wine Spectator