They call this the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, but personally I like to reverse that and begin with the wines. So, today, my agenda begins with the wine seminars and then turns to the myriad bottles in the Grand Tasting Tent.
For somewhere between 12 and 14 years — he won’t say exactly how many (for obvious reasons) — longtime local John Beatty has been responsible for making sure all of the wine presenters at the Food & Wine Classic have the proper bottles with the proper juice ready to serve at the proper temperature for the proper seminar.
Sounds like a proper challenge, if you ask me.
“Not too many disasters this year,” John said while sipping his customary flat-white coffee in his coffee shop and wine bar, Victoria’s, on the eve of the Classic’s opening day. “We were a little worried about Anthony’s (wine presenter Anthony Giglio) ‘Man of War’ for his ‘Syrah vs. Shiraz Smackdown,’” he said, referring to the Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, Syrah that could, in my humble opinion, take the title. “But we’ll have it.”
For a man who started in February gathering wines from around the globe and making sure they get to the Roaring Fork Valley for a cadre of the world’s most knowledgeable and sophisticated wine professionals, John seems pretty cool. After all, this year just more than 3,700 bottles, or 416 cases, made the trek, all on time for the 50 seminars on tap.
So what does John look forward to?
“Well, I shouldn’t really say. I mean, I love working with all of the presenters. Some, like Andrea (Robinson) and Anthony (Giglio), I’ve been with for years.”
But when pressed, he noted that he always looks forward to Josh Wesson, and he finds today’s “Porktastic Pours: Best Wines for Charcuterie” event, at 2 p.m. in The Little Nell’s Tent No. 1, to be “intriguing.”
For the opener, John and I are both looking forward to taking a trip in a glass to the Italian high country with local favorite Bobby Stuckey when he pours “White Wines of Alta Italia” down by the Aspen Art Museum. Stuckey, who may well be wearing a medal for winning this morning’s 5K (maybe an age-group winner), is a great presenter and intensely passionate about Italian wines. And I’ll close my day at the aforementioned “Syrah vs. Shiraz Smackdown” — not just because I love Anthony and always learn something at his seminars but because I also love Syrah, no matter what you call it. That’s at 3:45 p.m. at the Aspen Art Museum
Other must-dos over the weekend include Robinson’s “Single Vineyard Sonoma Pinot Noir,” which will feature pours from the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma coast, along with a great bottle by Merry Edwards. Then there is Paul Grieco, one of the most multifaceted guys in the entire industry, who is doing a seminar Sunday morning titled “Great Wines Across America,” which will surely have a twist.
In the Grand Tasting Tent, I always start a little light and get bigger as the wine gives me greater bravado. Start pink with Sacha Lichine’s wines from Provence at the Chateau d’Esclans table. These wines are physically beautiful and will be better as a starter than a finisher. I also recommend stopping by Kalex, a Pinot producer from the cool climate and oh-so-southern Central Otago region of New Zealand. Alex Kaufman, an Aspen resident, purchased the winery in 2002, and it is making its debut this year. And I always stop by to taste Kalin Cellars’ incredible wines. Aged for years before release, they are always among the tent’s most interesting wines.
Finally, if you have been kissed by the sun, blessed with beauty and own a dress that accentuates both, I suggest that you stop by the Layer Cake table. Sample the Primitivo and Garnacha, but also, flutter your eyelashes and ask if they have any Hundred Acre behind the table.
It just might get you a little something extra.