While the cooking demonstrations and wine seminars are the foundation of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, another hallmark of the Classic is all the receptions, parties, and other special events. This year was no exception. I had so many invitations, I just couldn’t make them all … and believe me I tried.


But I still had many opportunities to discover new wines and meet new winemakers. For me, one of the best things about the Classic is the opportunity it presents to meet winemakers and winery owners and to taste wines from producers whom I seldom or never get a chance to try.

For instance, I had a chance to sit down with Michael Martini, the third generation winemaker for the Louis M. Martini Winery in the Napa Valley. Michael, who has been the winemaker for this family (a family that has an over 100 year old history of winemaking in California) since 1977, was anxious to tell me about (and have me taste) his wines. Mariola Varona Bayola, the Export Manager for Bodegas Martin Codax, also joined us. Martín Códax is a 27 year old Spanish winery that is best known for its Albariño. Confused that representatives of a California winery and a Spanish winery both were at this meeting? Don’t be, both are now owned by the Gallo family. And both were delightful lunch companions. And their wines – Martini Cabs and Codax Albariño – were equally enjoyable.


It was a treat to be able to attend a reserve tasting moderated by Master Sommelier Richard Betts on “The Extraordinary Wines of California’s Sine Qua Non.” Now, if you have never heard of Sine Qua Non, don’t worry. That just means you are not a wine geek. Sine Qua Non is a “cult wine” among the cult wines. You can only buy them if you first get on their mailing list and then wait only God knows how long to get in. Maybe you can find one on a restaurant wine list but it probably will cost hundreds of dollars. This is what is special about these reserve tasting’s. They offer rare opportunities to taste equally rare and extraordinary wines.

All of the wines we tasted reflected differing blends of various Rhone varietals – the reds presented different expressions of syrah and grenache, while the whites showed off combinations of roussanne, viognier, and chardonnay. My key take away from the tasting is that the wines definitely lived up to their hype. First and foremost, all six wines showed off beautiful fruit. The use of oak showed in balance with the depth of fruit and acidity.


It’s a ritual every year to wander the Grand Tasting Tent, where producers from all over the world display their wares, in the hopes of making new discoveries. As with previous years, I ended up on a sort of world tour. I don’t have room to list all the wines tasted but here are a few highlights.

Although Australia is best known for many great Shiraz, I’m glad I was persuaded to take the road less traveled and try some really outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. From Penley Estate, a highly regarded winery in the Coonawarra region of South Australia, I enjoyed the “Phoenix” and Reserve Cabs and chatting with Proprietor/Chief Winemaker Kym Tolley. From the Yarra Valley region of Victoria, I really was impressed with Pinot Noirs from Giant Steps and Innocent Bystander, partly because one usually doesn’t think of great Pinot Noir from Australia but also because Owner/Winemaker Phil Sexton was pouring and explaining the wines. Before leaving Australia, I found one more wine I also highly recommend: the Vasse Felix “Heytesbury” Cabernet Sauvignon from the Margaret river region of Southwestern Australia.


Representing Portugal, the Esporão Assobio, which is made predominantly from touriga nacional, tinta roriz and touriga franca grapes, is a distinguished single vineyard red worthy of any serious wine drinker. If you think the only Portugal wine worth drinking is Port (and Port is great stuff), think again. There is a lot of great Portuguese dry table wine and Assobio is one of the best.


Wines from Spain for many years has hosted a whole tent as a separate location within the Grand Tasting park and it is always a great place to hunt for new wines. This year I was especially impressed with the wines at the “Drink Ribera” (that’s Ribera del Duero, one of Spain’s most important regions). My favorites were the Bodegas Montecastro, from high altitude vineyards, and Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera, from a pioneer of modern Spanish wine. Both are excellent representations of tempranillo, Spain’s most distinguished grape.


I finished my tour in the tent tasting several California wines, with the highlights being the following, all really outstanding, wines:


  • 2011 Franciscan Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay
  • 2009 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
  • 2009 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Landslide Vineyard
  • 2009 Franciscan Magnificat (Bordeaux-style blend)
  • 2009 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
  • 2010 Ravenswood Zinfandel Belloni Vineyard

As for the receptions, the annual Wines from Spain/Jose Andres Spanish Barbecue was another stunner. Hosted at an amazing trophy home/mansion in the mountains above the Buttermilk ski area, there were again delectable grilled meats and shrimp, tasty charcuterie, and a wonderful array of cheeses. Of course, there also were some excellent wines. I was impressed enough with three wines – Bodegas Roda Rioja  “Roda 1,” Bodegas Muga Rioja “Torre Muga,” and Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero “C21 Malabrigo” – to actually write them down amid all the happy chaos.

But I was especially impressed this year with the reception for the “Chef’s Club by Food & Wine” restaurant. This is a special restaurant within the St. Regis hotel that features a rotating lineup of Food & Wine Best New Chefs doing the cooking. What was really cool was the collection of fine Colorado artisan producers presenting their creations in the courtyard. Kudos to Continental Sausage (Denver), Licious Organics (Boulder), Linger restaurant (Denver), Quixotic Tilapia Farm (Canon City), Magpies (Eagle), Aero Farm (Lakewood), Outrageous Gluten-Free Baking (Denver), Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy (Buena Vista), Etalia Gluten-Free Breads (Boulder), Raquelitas Tortillas (Denver), and

Esoteric Foods “Zuke” Pickled Products (Boulder).


Needless to say, it was another year of discovery at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. I already can’t wait for next year.



About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.