Welcome to the 31st annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
While this year doesn’t carry the milestone year-marker of last season’s 30th anniversary grand celebration, complete with the fabulous Elvis Costello evening at the Benedict Music Tent, don’t fret. Rather, get ready, get hydrated and have your itineraries set; it’s Food & Wine time — the best weekend of the year in our fair little town.
This year will once again feature four sold-out grand tastings, where a gaggle of chattering industry professionals, wine makers and the frothy public will charge forth to sample from well over 100 vendor tables, offering everything from sparkling, rose, white and red wines; to beer, rum, chocolate, sparkling water (remember, stay hydrated!) and beyond. Don’t try to cram it all in, rather, pace yourself; don’t take notes, and talk to as many people as you can.
Attend all four time slots and see how much grand ground you can cover, and how many new friends you can make. Be sure to start your tour with sparkling wine and spend as much time sampling Spanish wines, as the Wines of Spain will again be represented in one of the largest showings in the Grand Tasting. Festival goers will be able to taste all styles of rose, red and whites, from the famous region of Rioja as well as elegant Priorat wines and many new and more obscure growing regions. This is always a bustling area and it is a challenge in itself just to take it all in.
Beyond the grand tastings, there will be V.I.P. welcome receptions on Thursday evening. Be sure to get a head start on the weekend and attend one of these dazzling previews and rub elbows with the industry playmakers.
This year does feature a special milestone, as one of the Classic’s hallmark events, the Best New Chefs, celebrates its 25th anniversary. Simply put, the Best New Chefs awards have always singled out and honored those with outstanding and unique culinary vision. No other event has single-handedly done more for the evolution of the gourmet food industry than the Best New Chefs, as it blends passion, ingenuity, creativity, skill, good looks and flair with celebrity status.
A myriad of past winners, such as John Besh (’99); Daniel Boulud (’88); David Chang (’06); and Thomas Keller (’89) will hop aboard the Silver Queen gondola for a very special dinner atop Ajax Mountain (that’s Aspen Mountain for you non-locals) beginning at 8 p.m. on Saturday evening. For a small fee of $250 you could join them, though tickets may be scarce by the weekend.
And every year, Dana Cowin and the talented staff of Food & Wine magazine assemble an amazing lineup of industry professionals to educate, humor and delight small, attentive groups in seminars, ranging from cooking demonstrations, blind and reserve wine tastings and Q&A sessions.
Some of the highlights this year might be Master Sommelier Richard Betts’ annual pilgrimage back to the ski town that built his wine career, whilst he was studying and slinging Burgundy at the Little Nell. Betts, now the purveyor of mescal and several new brands of French wine, will present a seminar on the myth of price-to-quality in wine (Sunday, 10:30 a.m.), as well as a tasting featuring central California cult-Rhône producers Sine Qua Non (Friday, 4 p.m.). Betts’ predecessor at the Little Nell, Boulder restaurateur (Frasca!) and former professional cyclist Bobby Stuckey will share his knowledge and love of northern Italy in “White Wines of Alta Italia” (Friday, 10 a.m.).
Sommelier and author Marnie Old will try “Pairing the World’s Most Difficult Foods” (Friday and Saturday, 3:45 p.m.). I wonder if she will break out asparagus and artichokes, as Sally James and I did back in 2008, using macadamia nuts to bridge tannic red wines with super-vegetal flavored bites.
Wine Romeo Mark Oldman returns to the festival this year to share his trove of Argentina’s top malbecs (Friday, 3:45 p.m.) and Ray Isle, Food & Wine magazine’s Executive Wine Editor will peek into the extraordinary Bordeaux vintage of 2009, which wine critic Robert Parker hailed as the best ever for it’s uncommon ripeness, calling it some of the finest wine he has ever tasted (Friday, 3:45). Isle will also present “Napa’s Most Exclusive Cabernet Address: Pritchard Hill,” home of the iconic mountain wines of David Arthur, Bryant Family, Chappellet, Colgin, Continuum and Ovid, among others (Saturday, 2 p.m.).
And at the top of my list is Antonio Galloni, lead critic for Parker’s Wine Advocate, who will be sharing the magic of Italy with “A Piedmont Superstar: The Wine of Antonio Gaja,” (Friday, 10 a.m.) and “Brunello di Montalcino: The Spectacular Vintage of 2006” (Friday, 4 p.m.). Time to break out the decanters, as Galloni dives into the man, the myth, the legend that is Antonio Gaja, fourth generation wine maker, known as the “King of Barbaresco,” and as the “Man that dragged Piedmont into the modern world.” Expect some serious nebbiolo to be spoken about, maybe even poured.
While there may be no Elvis Costello this year (has Elvis really left the building?) there will be a dessert party. From one pun to another, fork over $125 and you get into the Last Bite Dessert Bash, hosted by Food & Wine’s own Gail Simmons, judge of Bravo’s “Top Chef.” This show-stopping party will be a celebration of decadence, featuring a never-ending spread of desserts, including buttercream-frosted cakes, pastries, meringues, parfaits, petit fours, tarts and galettes. It’s Friday at 10 p.m. in the Hotel Jerome.
If you’re afraid all that high altitude hob-knobbery is going to go straight to your pretty little waist, be sure to be at Rio Grande Park by 6:30 a.m. (that’s a.m., party people) Saturday morning with your jogging shoes and sign up for the Food & Wine Celebrity Chef 5K Race. Pit your lung and leg strength against Flay and Samuelsson, et al, and burn some calories, all while supporting Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting small and mid-size farms, and making fresh, healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables available to all people, regardless of income. Wholesome Wave partners with farm-to-retail venues, community leaders, health-care providers, like-minded nonprofits and government entities to implement programs that benefit both consumers in under-served communities and the farmers who provide for them.
I have a good feeling about the Food & Wine Classic 2013, and wow, I feel like I’ve just done the whole weekend in one sitting here! I need a glass of rosé!
Whatever you can pack into your schedule, have fun, and enjoy our magical mountain getaway. Don’t forget to stay hydrated, and don’t rush. Stop, look around. You are in the greatest setting in the world for a wine festival. Breath deep and smile.
Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.