The 20th Grand Wine Experience: A post event review

The 20th Grand Wine Experience: A post event review

After what seemed like an almost eternity-long absence for wine enthusiasts like me (when in reality it was only three years), the 20th Grand Wine Experience made its successful comeback on Nov. 17 at the Marriott Grand Ballroom in Newport City.

Like thousands of Metro Manila dwellers who had made their annual pilgrimage to the Grand Wine event since 2000, I couldn’t wait to be at the venue. I made it to this year’s event at around 6:30 p.m., early by the usual standards though officially this event opened at 5 p.m. This year, it seemed that Grand Wine patrons came in earlier, as the crowd was sizeable even at the time I arrived, which was previously not the case, especially since we are notorious for our “Filipino Time.”

Being that it was the 20th staging of the extravaganza, the Grand Wine Experience organizers — the Joseph siblings from the country’s top wine importer, Philippine Wine Merchant (PWM) — have already gotten the success formula right. As I noted since the inception of the Grand Wine Experience, this is one huge, authentic social-drinking party for the wine trade and its practitioners! There was no selling, no food and wine pairing, no presentations, no sequencing, no pretention and, best of all, self-pacing.

Other than missing a year in the mid-2000s, and then the pandemic years of 2020 to 2022, the Grand Wine Experience has been very much part of the Philippine wine culture since the start of this millennium. With this regard, this 2023 version of Grand Wine Experience was no different. Below were the usual things as expected, and as the adage goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

• Wines being poured: I really don’t know if there were 1,000+ wines and spirits in the event as advertised, but fortunately, the usual reliable suspects were there, notably renowned wine brands imported by PWM themselves: Montes, Trapiche, Saint Claire, Wente, Coppola, Yalumba, Pirramimma, Vasse Felix, Bouchard Pere & Fils, Bolla, Marques de Murrieta, Champagne Marguet and much more. Like in the past, the icon wines of each of this brand were still not openly displayed but were in special hidden stashes, to be poured only at the discretion of the organizers for control purpose.

• Hosting and Entertainment: For as long as I recall especially when Marriott was the chosen venue, the hosts of the event had been the triumvirate of Johnny Revilla, Robi Joseph, and Ines Cabarrus-Habayeb — three genuinely wine-knowledgeable and passionate hosts who can relate to the crowd. The musical entertainment was provided by the Mel Villena band, another safe bet as the backdrop chill sound for wine enjoyment.

• Grand Wine Buffet: Though the event was more about wine and “quality” inebriation, the food side had always been a “savior.” You can’t appreciate and taste as many different wines as you want on an empty stomach, and there were indeed plenty of delicacies and choices which Marriot’s long-tenured Executive Chef Meik Brammer had once more delivered. But I missed having the human-size edible chocolate sculpture which was in a previous Grand Wine event.

The higher priced tickets and the emergence of more sake selections and spirits brands were among the unexpected and perhaps less than usual things at the 20th Grand Wine Experience. But none was as noteworthy as, for the first time, not having the presence of the eldest of the four Joseph siblings that started this all, Robert “Bobby” Lim Joseph.

• Missing a Joseph: Usually every Grand Wine Experience starts with an opening toast from the four Joseph siblings that created this tradition, but this year, one of the pillars, eldest brother Bobby, was no longer around. Bobby passed away in June 2022, after bravely battling stage 4 kidney cancer for 20 years. Not seeing Bobby Joseph at this event was particularly strange, to say the least. He was surely missed, but the rest of the brothers — Ralph, Ronnie, and Raymond — were nevertheless their usual gracious selves, chatting and drinking with their guests who by now were more like family and friends than mere acquaintances.

• The Sake Portfolio: Thanks to the youngest Joseph sibling Raymond’s exploits in sake, it seemed that the sake section has been getting more and more traction from Grand Wine patrons. And why not? Over the last few months, I myself have tasted some of the best sakes in town, bought in by PWM, including Masumi (my favorite), Hakkaisan (especially the Snow-aged Junmai-Daiginjo), and Dassai. With Japan being a popular Filipino travel destination, I can see sake culture making it here sooner than later. Very good vision from Raymond and rest of PWM.

• Higher Ticket Price: It was a jaw-dropper when the ticket price was first announced. After all, it was P6,500 the last time the event was held in 2019, and three years later, it was P8,500 — a huge P2,000 jump of over 30%. While we all know of the current inflation, the amount still created an early shock wave, but then, when we think of it, Spiral at the Sofitel already charges around P5,000 for their dinner buffet without the wine. The question next for calculative individuals was whether one could drink P3,500 (P8,500 less P5,000) worth of alcohol to justify the cost — and the answer should be a resounding “yes.” If one chose and drank the right alcohol at Grand Wine, it would be worth the ticket price, not to mention being in the company of similar-minded people.

• Fewer Wines, Better Selection: Honestly, I think this year’s Grand Wine featured fewer everyday drinking wines than it did in 2019. The wine selection seemed smaller in quantity in lieu of more spirits and sakes being featured, but better wines were being poured. Gone were the days when I saw some entry level wines making it to the list. Like all my previous Grand Wine Experiences, except for 2013, I would always stay up till midnight or closing — whichever came first. (On Nov. 15, 2013, I was already inside the Grand Wine event when I got a call from one of my siblings that my mom was rushed to the ICU, so I just went to congratulate the Joseph brothers and left for the hospital immediately. My mom, Rosa Ang Lao, would sadly pass away two days later on Nov. 17 — this year’s Grand Wine Experience fell exactly on her 10th death anniversary). And the reason I stay late always is because no one wants to leave a good party when the party is not yet over, and at these annual Grand Wine gatherings, the party somehow never stops, wines never stop pouring, and you will always encounter somebody you know who you want to catch up with, and before you realize it, it is past midnight already.

Congratulations once more to Ralph, Ronnie, Raymond, and the rest of PWM. While I would have loved to see more new faces, but the old familiar faces and genuine camaraderie built from the wine business were and would always be a welcome sight. And, yes, my liver may have been a bit messed up from the indulgence, but I have survived anew to tell my tale!


Sherwin A. Lao is the first Filipino wine writer member of both Bordeaux based Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux (FIJEV) and the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy, and other wine related concerns, e-mail the author at, or check his wine training website