I struggled to write about this year’s Grand Wine Experience (for personal reasons), but I wanted to start off the article writing one true sentence that captures what I felt about the event:
It was like a massive reunion… A reunion of wine-minded individuals who haven’t really hung out in three years over a multitude of great drinks. Grand Wine was put on hold because of the pandemic (obviously). I was told by Ronnie Joseph himself that it would have been half-baked if they pushed through last year, what with the restrictions imposed at the time… and I agreed.
To make up for the lost time, they pulled out all the stops… It was so massive that I took 2 laps around the monster Marriott Grand Ballroom to figure out a plan of attack. After running into several industry friends, I got inspired to use a strategy to coherently sample the goodies from the 1,000 wines, spirits, and sake (the spirit is willing but the liver is weak, people!): Ask for friends’ recommendations.
I can’t talk about Grand Wine friends without talking about the hostess with the mostest: Ines Cabarrus-Habayeb, who hosted Grand Wine for the xxth time (in yet another glorious number). After catching up for a few minutes (adulting hit us hard, we haven’t seen each other in a minute), we decided to mosey on to the Champagne booth…
…where I ran into another good wine buddy, Rodolphe Le Pesant (so that’s why I’ve been seeing the champagne he represents, Charles de Cazanove, in the Philippines… Yay for getting a good distributor!). I first met Rodolphe years ago in a Hong Kong wine expo, and it was great to catch up with him. Charles de Cazanove, I personally find, is a well-rounded, refreshing take on champagne and was a great way to start the evening (or any party… Or by the beach. By the veranda. Anywhere, really).
My next stop is the reason why I started to go to Grand Wine so many moons ago: Concha y Toro. Isn’t there a saying that goes, “you never forget your first…”? It felt like a Fly Ace Corporation (yes, the same people behind Doña Elena olive oil) reunion… and hey, reunions are always made better with wine, right? I’m familiar with most of the CYT line, except for the new Heritage. It was a massive, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with Cabernet Franc for a balancing acidity) red… an intense wine that did not lose its dark fruit characteristics, making it a wine made for food (think dark red meats and tomato-based stews with loads of herbs.
I intermittently ran into Eric Kahn and Joey Pineda who let me in on a little secret: Hardy’s brought in a premium line. I’m far from being a wine snob, and I would never diss a wine… But I gotta admit that Hardy’s has this image of being a supermarket wine. Thomas Hardy Cabernet Sauvignon is a wonderful way for the winery to play in the premium game, with its dry, full-bodied, boldly complex, dark fruit style. I would highly recommend the wine to people willing to surprise their wine snob friends (“Oh? You like this wine? It’s a Hardy’s”) or to have over a rich meal.
Now. Jay Labrador is a longtime friend, fellow wino, WSET classmate, and has one of the country’s best tastes in wine (trust him when he says a particular wine is good). When he pointed me to the Château Ste. Michelle booth to get me to try a couple of things: Ethos and Cold Creek Vineyard. To quote their website, “Planted in 1973, Cold Creek Vineyard stands as one of the oldest and most acclaimed vineyards in Washington State.” The vineyard’s age and ideal terroir produce grapes that produce intricate, sumptuous reds such as the Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2020 I had during the event felt a little young but undoubtedly had aging potential. The Ethos Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was more open, showing its rich concentration and complex style. (Shoutout to David Andrews of Château Ste. Michelle, I found parking 😉 and Nicky took good care of me, I promise).
Here’s the thing: If you’ve been in the industry long enough and attend Grand Wine, you get to partake in the “no it doesn’t exist!” secret stash each supplier has. I’m not telling anyone exactly who it was I managed to wheedle a secret bottle from, but holy cow. That Grand Burge Shadrach from Barossa was phenomenal…
(inhales, exhales) let me backtrack.
I was hanging around the Grant Burge booth and was fortunate enough to sample the Grant Burge Meshach Barossa Shiraz. Meshach is a biblical name and the wine was almost as biblical (just in case momma is reading this, I don’t want her to think I’m that sacrilegious). It’s an elegant take on a Barossa Shiraz, with its full bodied, bold style… The flavors reminded me of dark chocolates and yummy dark fruits. Anyway, the Shadrach… Mama mia, the Grant Burge Shadrach (inserts a gasping emoji here). I understand it’s 100% Cabernet Sauvignon… and while Barossa is a region famed for their Shiraz, they make stonking Cabernet Sauvignon too. In typical Barossa style, it was a powerful, impactful wine with dark fruit flavors and aromas with a ton of oak influence. It sounds aggressive when I describe it this way but personally… I’d call it a thinking wine, a wine that I’d drink without food just to savor its many layers.
Right next to the Gant Burge booth is the stall of one of Manila’s OG winos, wine writer extraordinaire (he’s an idol of mine in that regard) Sherwin Lao. So, confession: at that point in the evening, my palate was starting to tire out from all the massive wines I’ve had and his Brand’s Laira The Marching Captain Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon was a welcome break. It wasn’t without the impactful characteristics of red wine found in the region, sure… and Coonawara is pretty well-known for producing quality Cabernet Sauvignon. The Marching Captain (it’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? I wonder if the winemakers would get ticked off if I call it “Cap’n Cab”) was pretty approachable, easy drinking, and a welcome break for my mouth.
Speaking of Jay Lab (I know, that was so two paragraphs ago), he also pointed me to the direction of Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino. Story time: I am horrible with names (I would make a terrible diplomat)… and there are a number of R. Josephs in Philippine Wine Merchant’s organization that I tend to mix them up. Also, I’ve been teaching since 2009 and I tend to lose track of students’ names (former or otherwise… I’ve given up on that). I needed to say that because the wine’s booth was manned by Renzo Joseph, and a former Enderun student of mine who proudly showed me her shiny new WSET2 pin. On the wine… By DOCG laws, a Brunello di Montalcino should be made from 100% Sangiovese… and traditionally should be aged in Slavonian oak to provide an austere style to the wine. In typical Sangiovese fashion, it had notes of violets, followed by black pepper, and liquorice. I also appreciated the tannin’s elegance… I could imagine myself drinking it in an Italian villa over pasta.
Now I want pasta.
While I’m on the topic of students, I have got to talk about one of our best ones, Lysandra Yu. Pretty easy to spot with her tight spiral curls and a snarky attitude that puts me to shame, I felt that she was the best person to man the Sancerre booth. She poured me a glass of J. de Villebois Sancerre Griottes. The wine deviated a little from the region’s stereotypical austere, crisp style… It had richer tropical fruit notes, which was largely because the winemaker decided to use grapes from a riper terroir… I wondered how the fact that griottes are sour cherries in French factored with the naming of the wine…? Anyway. I personally liked the J. de Villebois Sancerre Marnes Kimméridgiennes, with its refreshing, spicy flavors that I could imagine drinking on a warm day. I ran into Ines’ husband, Elian Habayeb, in the same booth… Who told me to try the J. de Villebois Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc. It had a distinctly aromatic, floral style which made the wine very interesting… I can imagine having the region’s famous goat cheese with it.
I made my way across the ballroom, determined to finally get to the sake booths. I agreed with my Enderun boss, Bel Castro, that it might have been more comfortable to do a sake tasting in a quieter venue… but hey. Philippine Wine Merchants has one of the largest sake portfolios in the country, so I get why there was a massive turnout on the sake front… Loads of Japanese people too, like my favorite sake buddy, Takato Ishimoto-san of Mitsukoshi Fresh.
But, I swear Rodolphe followed me to the sake area (I have a website, ami… I get to call dibs on who followed whom ;)). He genuinely surprised me with his knowledge of Nihongo, so he ended up being a useful tag along while I hunted for a new favorite sake. After getting the exhibitor to stop dancing long enough to show us their sake, we settled into trying a bit of the Kagamiyama from Saitama Prefecture. The Junmai Daiginjo was a bit more rounded than what I’m used to, but It’s a sake I’d have with delicate Japanese food (like sushi).
Rodolphe and I moseyed over to Kitaya booth, where we were given a Junmai Daiginjo Kitaya Kanansui. I felt like it was a bit cold when it was served to us because I was waiting for the crispness to come out, and characteristics that should have come out from the sake’s Yamada-Nishiki and Omachi rice origins… but it was still pretty good.
As an initially planned last stop (more on that later), I wanted to stop by Eagle Guingona’s booth and check out the Japanese wine selection. Here’s the thing about Japanese still wines: They’re readily available in Japanese konbinis (I legit got a couple of bottles from one near the Osaka train station), and follow the philosophy of Japanese gastronomy: They’re generally gentle, sedate, crisp, and would rarely clash with, say, sashimi (just don’t dunk it in soy sauce like a heathen). The lineup of Château Lumière was an excellent way to peek into what Japanese winemaking has to offer… From the frothy Lumière Sparkling (which uses the same method as champagne) to the Lumière Muscat Bailey A (which I’d be daring enough to have with a bowl of ramen).
As I was about to leave, I ran into Rigo Joseph… who promptly stopped me long enough to pour me a Pauillac by Pichon-Longueville. I mean, how was I to say no to such an iconic wine? It was elegance in a glass, with the Merlot-dominant wine exhibiting exquisite flavors of red fruits and spices… It was a beautiful ending.
Speaking of endings, ending this article by telling readers that most of the drinks here are available in your friendly neighborhood Ralph’s Wines and Spirits… Or, their agents can hook you up. Christmas presents, maybe? 😉
For Poppa, my favorite drinking buddy. I will miss supplying you with alcohol (yes, 1 each for you and Momma). I will miss your endless storytelling over gin and tonic turned wine turned cognac meals, and generally… you. Love you, thank you, and vaya con Dios.