Food & Wine Classic takes on value of expensive wine

by Dorothy Atkins, Special to the Aspen Daily News

Do expensive wines taste better than cheap wines?

That question played out during the 45-minute tasting sessions at Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic over the weekend.

On Friday, Ray Isle, executive wine editor for Food & Wine magazine, led a session where about 55 audience members taste-tested three different wine flights and voted on their favorite glass in the set. After Isle tallied the votes, he revealed the price of each bottle. In all three rounds, the crowd favorite was always the cheaper wine.

Audience members first taste-tested two champagnes — a Gosset Brut and a Ferrari Trentino Brut. The Ferrari was the crowd favorite, but the Gosset Brut was the more expensive bottle.

“Part of the reason I like doing this, is it makes us asks the question, ‘Why do we pay what we pay for wine?’” Isle explained after the first round.

 The audience then tasted three white-grape varietals and two red varietals. The crowd favored the cheaper bottle for both flights.

Wine prices are determined by different things, like the location of the vineyard, how old the wine is and how the wine is produced. That doesn’t mean the wine necessarily tastes better, Isle said.

“Pay attention to your own palate,” he advised people in the audience.

As Isle wrapped up his session on Friday, Food & Wine volunteers literally rolled out a red carpet for people waiting in line to see wine personality and entrepreneur Mark Oldman.

Oldman hosted two sessions — one on Friday and another on Saturday — called “Wines for IPO Millionaires: Special Occasion Wines” in a tent by The Little Nell.  Both sessions filled all 120 seats in the tent, and on Saturday more than 70 people were turned away.

When the doors opened Saturday, people rushed to grab seats near the front of the room as a re-mix of Pink Floyd’s “Money” played on the surround sound.

Justin Chapple, the associate editor for Food & Wine magazine’s test kitchen, introduced Oldman.

 Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News
Sommelier Mark Oldman presents a seminar titled “Wines for IPO Millionaires: Special Occasion Wines,” which included a taste of Dom Pérignon, as well as a wine from 1872.

“Money — makes the world go round, right?” Chapple asked the crowd as they took their seats.

Oldman, who’s presented at the past nine Food & Wine Classics, walked on stage wearing a metallic gold jacket and aviator sunglasses. The jacket was a product called “The Reversible Disco Hoodie” created by the San Francisco start-up company Betabrand.

“I know what the cultural zeitgeist is,” Oldman said regarding his tech-themed session. “... Tech people are the new heroes.”

Techies are making a lot of money, and the point of Oldman’s session was to taste the world’s best wine if price weren’t an issue, he explained. Each seat had six glasses half-full of wine collectively valued at $1,000 before taxes, Oldman said. The fact drew a cheer from the audience.

It’s the most expensive flight he has ever served at Food & Wine Classic, Oldman added.

As audience members drank the first glass filled with 2004 Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Brut Champagne, Oldman directed a woman from the audience to open her own bottle with a saber.

Oldman told the woman — who admitted she was drunk — to slide the sword along the side of the bottle as she held it at an angle. When the audience counted to three, Oldman told her to swipe the sword away from her and push the cork out of the bottle. The audience counted to three, but the woman struggled to pop the champagne.

“You’re doing it the Bobbitt way,” Oldman joked as the woman slashed at the cork. “If it doesn’t work the first time, slice off the head.”

The audience laughed and then cheered when the cork popped unexpectedly, spilling champagne across the stage.

The rest of the session included taste tests of a 2010 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2011 Louis Jadot Corton-Charlemagne Grande Cru and a 2006 Chateau Rieussec.

The session culminated in a final offer to audience members to taste a Madeira wine from the 1870s using an eyedropper or turkey baster. People who attended the event were given free pins to remember the occasion.

“I drink wine from the 70’s (sic),” the pin reads. “The 1870’s (sic).”