Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. HayesAspen Times Weekly

It could be debated whether Aspen Mountain is the best ski hill in America. While long on quality, it occupies only 600 acres or so, making it a little short on breadth compared to say, Jackson Hole, or well, you make the argument.But when it comes to anointing the best wine list in American skiing, there is no debate. Montagna at The Little Nell, which sits in the very shadow of Aspen Mountain, is superior to any other ski country wine list. Long on quality, with an amazing array of many of the worlds best wines from the most prestigious makers and regions, it is also long on breadth with approximately 1,700 different offerings and 20,000 bottles. In a town full of world-class treasures, the wine program at The Little Nell must be considered one of Aspens greatest assets.Each year since 1997, the wine program at The Little Nell has been recognized with the Grand Award from Wine Spectator Magazine as having one of the worlds great wine lists. Just 73 wine lists globally, including 47 in the United States, are honored with the designation.For more than a decade, The Little Nell has not only maintained its reputation as a wine destination, it has enhanced it. While over that time the restaurant has changed chefs, undergone redesigns, and altered menus and food concepts, the wine program has continued to provide diners world-class service and selection. In sports, the standard for greatness is excellence coupled with longevity. The wine program at The Little Nell has not only met but continues to exceed both of those criteria.This season there are a few changes at Montagna that diners should be aware of. Over the summer, Wine Director Richard Betts, for the most part, turned over the floor and day-to-day operations to Sommelier Jonathan Pullis. While Betts, who has become (using another sports analogy) a three-tool player in the wine world as a Master Sommelier, winemaker and writer, remains in charge of the overall program, it will be Pullis and recent arrival Dustin Wilson who will taking orders, dispensing advice and running the 36 steps first down to The Nells cellar and then back up to collect and then pour the wines at their perfect temperature.Pullis, who arrived at The Little Nell in November 1998 and labored as a server before putting on the suit and joining the wine program, relishes the opportunity to work the floor that has been the domain of Betts and, before him, the legendary Bobby Stuckey. Both Betts and Stuckey are amongst the most prominent members of the Court of Master Sommeliers and following them is a bit like taking over for Brett Favre. (Im all about sports and wine.) Pressure to be sure, but an honor nonetheless. A University of Vermont economics grad, Pullis has a history of working at great properties beginning with the Relais & Chateaux member Pitcher Inn in Vermont and then New Mexicos Rancho de San Juan. For his part, Wilson, who was hired this fall, comes from a stint at Boulders FRASCA restaurant where he trained under the tutelage of Stuckey. Appropriate pedigrees indeed.The two will be making wine selections from a list that draws strength from both Bordeaux and Burgundy, but which also has been enhanced with unique and interesting selections from California, Oregon, Australia and New Zealand. It is possible to literally travel the world of wine by simply spending enough time and, of course, money, wining and dining in the cozy confines of Montagna.If dinner is not in your plans, a great way to experience The Little Nell wine program is to stop by the bar or the living room for a glass of wine. For white wine-lovers, Pullis currently recommends Randy Lewis Lewis Cellars 2007 Chardonnay Napa Valley, which is not found by the glass anywhere else in Colorado. For those who have yet to try Betts own wines, check out the 2006 Betts and Scholl The O.G. Grenache. Grown and groomed in South Australias Barossa Valley, it is as versatile as it is delicious.Ski Aspen Mountain, click out of your bindings and drink wine at The Little Nell. So goes the good life in our little town.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@wineink.com.

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