The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this year, is the gastronomic and vinous equivalent of every foodie and wine lover's mecca; it's our golden fleece, our Holy Grail, our industry's version of the Olympics.
We can think of plenty of parallels between the centuries-old tradition of the global Olympiad and the annual Food & Wine Classic. The talented athletes are represented here by the world's top chefs, culinary merchandise purveyors, wine producers and sommeliers, all of whom train for months to prepare; the spectators are the festival-goers themselves. The competition is fierce -- and sometimes painful -- to get a seat inside of crammed festival tents, tasting lectures and celebrity-attended soirées. The spoils? Glorious: Those lucky enough to take part in what can only be called a thirty-six hour-long exercise in outright hedonism stumble home with starry-eyed memories, full bellies and epic hangovers. Read on for three days' worth of our gold, silver and bronze medal-winning experiences.
Wine Industry Celebrity Event Medalists:
Bronze Medal: When we showed up to a combination announcement / sneak-tasting of The Little Nell's new incarnation of its flagship restaurant, Montagna, we never expected to wash down our breakfast with wine. But that's exactly what we did, starting with a couple of glasses of bubbly (preceded by a comical Champagne bottle sabering performed by wine personality and author Mark Oldman). Explaining the reasoning behind his '80s rock band Loverboy-inspired attire, Oldman went on to present us with bottles of the still-stunning Chateau La Croix Pomerol 1982 -- a clever nod to the thirtieth anniversary of the Food & Wine Classic. Colorado's newest master sommelier (and wine director of The Little Nell) Sabato Sagaria expertly decanted and served us splashes of this incredibly special wine -- and smiled knowingly when he busted us pouring the last few drops from the decanter into our glass.
Silver Medal: It's official: We can now cross off our bucket list getting a personalized discourse on all things riesling from rock-star somm and co-owner of the successful string of Terroir NYC wine bar-restaurants Paul Grieco. A self-proclaimed "acid hound," Grieco gamely volunteered to taste us through upwards of a dozen equally lip-smacking manifestations of this noble grape at the Wines of Germany booth. (Riesling has officially been our go-to white wine for a minute now, by the way.) Running the gamut from Mojave desert-dry to honey-kissed sweet, we emerged ever-more in love with this versatile grape. And we came thisclose to getting our very own inking of the bad-ass "riesling" tattoo that stretched the length of Grieco's forearm. Gold Medal: Frasca Food and Wine co-owner and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey and winemaker Giampaolo Venica teamed up to treat us to a no-bullshit seminar dedicated to the completely slept-on Italian wine region of Fruili-Venezia Giulia that served as a reminder of why we became a sommelier in the first place. Inside of 45 action-packed minutes, they poured out primers on a gorgeously floral malvasia bianca and an anything-but-typical Fruilian sauvignon, along with five other perfect-for-summertime northern Italian whites. We especially adored Stuckey's clever use of metaphor (he's a fan of wines that "find another gear") and the endless adoration he heaps upon his wife, Danette (aka "D-Bomb") while recounting stories of their wine travels. Every wine seminar should be that entertaining.
Wine-Soaked Event Medalists:
Bronze Medal: We arrived at the Gloria Ferrer / Freixenet wine event at Jimmy's Aspen last Thursday night road-weary and starving. Feigning cool -- and resisting the urge to ogle the veritable all-star lineup of industry celebs (Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay and Jonathan Waxman, for starters) -- we squeezed through the crowded bar and made our way into a postage stamp-sized space in the back of the dining room. It turned out to be worth the effort, for we were rewarded with magnums of limited-release Segura Viudas 'Reserva Herredad Cava NV, an iced-down oysters display, and a rather cheekily-displayed service of ham and cheese croquettas. Priced at around eight bucks a pop, we've been longtime fans of the entry-level Viudas sparkler as a value-priced bubbly to serve at large gatherings (or for mixing into bubbly-based cocktails); this decidedly higher-end, positively scrumptious bottling is well worth every nickel of its $20-ish price tag -- and then some.
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Silver Medal: The excitement for this year's "Swine At The Mine" was mostly based on rumor and innuendo, all of which turned out to be accurate. Greeted just inside the entrance with our choice of winemaker Ben Parson's newest releases (250 ML-sized, canned versions of his Back Alley Rosé and Back Alley Red) we bellied up to Masterpiece Delicatessen (and next up, Old Major) chef-owner Justin Brunson's buffet of Tender Belly-sourced porky goodness. Add to all of that even more IMT selections to quaff, plus freshly-baked pizzas from Boulder's Pizzeria Basta, tours through the abandoned mine and beats by DJ Ejay and this damn-near-impossible-to-get-tickets-to affair became our second-favorite wine event of the weekend.
Gold Medal: "Holy mother" is perhaps the phrase that best describes the shrine to heritage-breed swine (And oysters. And cheese. And wine. And beer. And whiskey.) that was Sunday afternoon's Grand Cochon event. Essentially serving as the informal wrap up of the weekend's wanton indulgence, the Hotel Jerome was jammed with hundreds of guests -- each of whom were apparently hungry and thirsty enough to brave one last opportunity to max out their cholesterol readings. Featuring a ridiculous roster of ten regional Cochon 555 tour winners (Michelle Bernstein and Thomas McNaughten, for starters) and their pork-based plates, the only thing that made us salivate more than the persistent aroma of bacon was the ADD-inspiring assortment of wines to sample. Our top pick was the Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rosé 2011, a mouth-watering pink that was the perfect for washing down all that pork.