The Wine Spectator Grand Tour has a reputation for pouring more than 200 of the magazine's highest rated wines.

My mom was a prodigious shopper. Every weekend she would drag my father out to the area department stores and malls to hunt for the latest fashions and snag the best bargains. My dad, an easygoing sort, became accustomed to the Saturday ritual and probably figured it might take a few years off his time in purgatory.

I may have inherited a bit of Mom’s prowess as I do enjoy my share of browsing, especially when it comes to wine stores. I derive a great satisfaction in coming across a hidden gem from an obscure producer or snagging some small production wine which occasionally makes a brief appearance in the Tucson market with the rarity of Haley’s comet. The only thing that bests these shopping triumphs in my book is the chance to sample wines that have elicited high praise from the demi-gods who stand in judgement of the international wine trade: the critics and tasting panels of the premier wine publications, such as Wine Spectator and Decanter. When these "cream of the crop" wines pop up at retail stores and tasting events I always give them a bit more attention, if for nothing else to see if my evaluation will match the superlatives elicited from the critics.

An event that surfaces every year which brings together a critical mass of some of Wine Spectator’s highest scoring wines is the Grand Tour. Held every spring in Chicago, Miami and Las Vegas, this event offers participants an opportunity to sample more than 200 wines from around the world that have been rated as either "outstanding" or "classic" by their editorial staff. This year the Grand Tour’s stop in Las Vegas is on the evening of Saturday, April 27 at the Mirage Hotel. Tickets for this event are a little pricey at $200 per person, but this includes a commemorative Riedel glass, unlimited tastings of the showcased wines and an expansive buffet of appetizers and desserts.

For an event such as this one pre-planning is a must. The included wines are listed on the tour’s website and it is well worth your while to examine it closely and whittle them down to a reasonable list of wines that you are interested in sampling. I can tell you from experience it is quite a challenge to narrow your selection to 20 or 30 wines from such a well-regarded field.

As a destination city there is plenty to see and do when you’re not swirling and sniffing at the Grand Tour. Fine restaurants and theater shows are in endless supply and flights from Tucson are short and reasonably priced. I’ve already booked our room and am looking forward to a fun weekend away, perusing the tables at the Grand Tour and searching for that elusive 99 cent shrimp cocktail. Information and tickets for the Grand Tour can be found at Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or plan to attend.

The 12-month wine challenge selection for March is a white grape which hails from southern France; although it is widely grown in Australia, California and even Arizona. Viognier (“Vee-own-yay”) is one of my favorite white wines; medium bodied with stone fruit flavors and a lofty aromatic intensity. Better examples will offer notes of honeysuckle, peach and mango. Aromas and flavors of sweet baking spices will be present if the wine is aged in oak. Viognier is a primary component in white blends from the Côtes-du-Rhône, usually accompanied by Marsanne and Roussanne. Viognier pairs well with roasted chicken, turkey or pork, full flavored fish, along with baked brie.

Four of my go to Viognier’s are: Cline North Coast, California (under $10); D’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne blend - McLaren Vale, Australia (under $20); Zarpara Viognier – Willcox, Arizona (under $25) and Qupé, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Viognier - Edna Valley, California (under $40).

So armed with this good advice, hit the area wine stores, shop like a pro and make my mom proud!


Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England. He is available to answer your wine questions at