Food & Wine Reporter’s Notebook Day 3: From lift off to a ‘drooly’ sipping Sunday

Lift Vodka lifts off Food & Wine weekend

Zack Neiditz, Lance Armstrong and Joe DiSalvo started Lift Vodka in 2020. Photo courtesy/Joe DiSalvo.
Courtesy photo

Former-pro-cyclist Lance Armstrong hosted about 300 people at his house in the West End on June 16 to kick off the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen and to share in the smooth taste and spirit of he and his partners’ latest business venture, Lift Vodka.

Their spirit, which debuted in the fall of 2020, has gained a following in Aspen and is now being distributed throughout the state by Southern Wine & Spirits.

Started by local bartender Zack Neiditz, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Armstrong, the trio experimented with blending the high minerality and alkalinity of Aspen water and a high ethanol vodka.

The vodka comes from non-GMO corn distillate and 100% Aspen water, which is shipped to California, where it is distilled.

They hope to produce the small-batch spirit in-state in the future, but for now they are trying to get the name out around Colorado.

Unable to afford a booth in the grand tasting tent at the Classic, having a tasting party in Armstrong’s front yard was the next best thing, DiSalvo said.

This year’s cocktail menu was much more robust than last year’s debut lawn party, with the Filthy Martini and the Lift Lance-A-Rita as the standouts.

The menu of Lift Vodka cocktails at the Lift Off party held Thursday.
Carolyn Sackariason

The ‘Rita is a refreshing cocktail of Lift Vodka, twisted Alchemy lime juice and Cointreau and Topo Chico.

The martini was made with Lift, Filthy olive brine, dry vermouth and garnished with Filthy pimento and blue cheese olives.

It was certainly a lifting experience to begin the classic with a locally crafted story of three guys who capture the spirit and flavor of Aspen.

—Carolyn Sackariason

Cheese, chocolate and sparkling wine a nice surprise

Eating chocolate, cheese and consuming wine all at once happens a lot in my house but it’s never been as intentional as it was on Sunday morning when renowned wine writer Wanda Mann pointed out the obvious: They all may be OK by themselves, but they are way better together.

Collaboration is key. I know I love cheese, wine and chocolate individually but there is a certain magic when we combine them.

As Mann noted, wine, cheese and chocolate have a lot in common. We like to indulge in it, whether it’s to feel better after a bad life event or something you want to share with friends and experience the pure joy of it.

“The other commonality between the three is the fermentation,” Wann said to about 120 people at The Little Nell tent during her seminar “Sweet & Salty; Chocolate & Cheese within Wine.” “We all know that you need to ferment grapes to make wine but also to make cheese and chocolate … I didn’t do very well in science in school, but had they included chocolate, wine and cheese, I would have paid a lot more attention.”

Touché, Wanda.

It was a bit of a Sunday school lesson for me to see how these three can go work so well together.

Out of all of the pairings, the two sparkling wines NV Altemasi Trentodoc Brut (from Italy) and the NV Codorniu Limited Edition Rose (from Spain), with the double cream Sherry Gray cheese from Jasper Hill Creamery and a Peruvian chocolate from the headwaters of the Amazon, stood out.

They are much better all together than they are separate, with the cheese and the chocolate creating a chocolate mousse effect on your palate. Add the sparkling wines, which are under $20 each, and it rounds out the full flavor effect.

Mann can be my Sunday school teacher anytime.

—Carolyn Sackariason

Getting “a little drooly” sipping Sunday cabernets

A tasting of eight red wines at 10 a.m. seemed like the kind of event that might go over my head on the last day of the 2022 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen — not so much because of a hangover or sleep deprivation but because even when I’m in tip-top shape, there’s a lot of wine jargon that I find a little (a lot) esoteric.

“Smells like blackberries” or “tastes super sweet” makes sense to me, but I get lost somewhere around a “good nose” and technical terms about polyphenols.

So I was glad to hear Ray Isle, Food & Wine Magazine’s executive wine editor, break down our cabernet-tasting experience into some more digestible terminology during Sunday morning’s “The Judgment of Aspen: Superstar Cabernets from Around the World.”

A lineup of cabernets from a seminar on “The Judgement of Aspen” at the 2022 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Sunday, June 19, 2022.
Kaya Williams/Aspen Times

Sure, there was still a lot of winespeak on the stage, where Isle sipped the selection alongside winemakers Braiden Albrecht from Mayacamas Vineyards in the Napa Valley and Andrew Latta from Latta Wines in Washington state.

The threesome tossed around phrases like “more restrained” and “phenolic ripeness.”

But Isle also explained that the tannins are “the astringent characteristics in cabernet that give it some texture and structure — and also do things like glue your tongue to the roof of your mouth.” And Latta taught us that people who tend to drool on their pillow when they sleep (“hypersalivator” would be the technical term) are well-equipped with the spit to handle those tannins.

“People that are a little drooly … are probably enjoying this tasting maybe a little bit more,” he joked.

As someone who can be “a little drooly” myself, I enjoyed the tasting very much indeed.

— Kaya Williams

Let’s Get GrooVee: Austria’s Spectacular Grüner Veltliners, Rieslings, and More with June Rodil & friends Sabato Sagaria and Alicia Towns Franken

A map of Austrian wine regions from a “Let’s Get GrooVee” seminar at the 2022 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Sunday, June 19, 2022.
Amy Laha/Aspen Times

When Food & Wine published its seminar schedule “Let’s Get GrooVee: Austria’s Spectacular Grüner Veltliners, Rieslings, and More with June Rodil” was my top choice (despite the very cheesy name).

Having studied abroad in Vienna in college, I long to go back and re-experience things that my 20-year-old palate couldn’t understand. While in Austria I lived in the 19th district, just down the hill from heurige houses (local wine taverns) and the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods) where nature walks inevitably turned into day drinking with friends.

Rodil, a bubbly master sommelier, was our guide into the traditions of Austrian wine. Despite the reputation that rieslings might have, Austrian wines are 99% dry with very few wine makers delving into sweet options. Many of the super-versatile white options are perfect pairings for a wide range of food from crisp salads all the way to fried chicken (thank you to guest panelist Alicia Towns Franken for that epic suggestion). June’s other guest, Sabato Sagaria, called grüner veltliners the Swiss (well, Austrian) Army knives of pairings, with an acidity that makes your mouth water a little and go back for more food.

A selection of Austrian wines from a “Let’s Get GrooVee” seminar at the 2022 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Sunday, June 19, 2022.
Amy Laha/Aspen Times

Another plus side to Austrian wines is their price point, even on a wine list — Rodil said the best rieslings top out around $150, and there are plenty of really great options in the $15 retail range. Pro tip: Check the back wine label and reach out to the importers for questions on the vineyard and what other varietals they carry. They are happy to help!

On a personal note, I cannot recommend Austria enough, from skiing in the Austrian Alps to the history and architecture of Vienna to sipping wine atop a heurige house and, now, to their centuries old wine regions that have just made my bucket list.

— Amy Laha

A social following: Top Chef and a TikTok chef at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

Chefs Stephanie Izard and Tiffy Cooks prepare dishes during a morning seminar at the Hotel Jerome during Food & Wine in Aspen on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

What better way to kick off the Saturday morning of Food & Wine weekend than with a Lexus Presents seminar?

If you’re a regular attendee of this annual festival in Aspen, you may have heard the insider tip that the Lexus seminars are always the best. Guests indulge in a three-course meal with each course paired perfectly with a cocktail. Top Chef winner and restaurant owner Stephanie Izard along with famous TikTok chef Tiffany Chen (Tiffy Cooks on TikTok) presented a seminar called FoodTok in the ballroom of the Hotel Jerome.

Chef Tiffy Cooks lays a plate out for display during a morning seminar at Hotel Jerome at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Chen posted her first TikTok in September 2020, and the rest is history. Her social media platforms have grown significantly in popularity with her easy Asian recipes that have been passed down from her grandmother. Chen would often FaceTime with her grandmother during the height of the pandemic to try and recreate family recipes that she would then share on her TikTok account.

Chef Stephanie Izard answers questions from an audience at the morning seminar at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The women duo brought three amazing Asian-inspired street food dishes to life during this hour-long seminar. First, we delighted in a 10 a.m. cocktail called Thai Basil Gin Fizz. Next, Izard prepared a Thai-inspired sweet and sour chicken satay. This was followed by a decadent family dish from Chen’s grandmother. She presented us with a Kenting splash cocktail and Taiwanese braised pork belly rice with a cucumber salad. The pork belly seamlessly melted in my mouth, and I enjoyed every last bite. For dessert, we delighted in Thai fried bananas that tasted like heaven. This was paired wonderfully with a mango coconut dreamy daiquiri.

— Shannon Asher

Activity & Events

Professional dancers return to Aspen to perform in ‘The Nutcracker’

Roaring Fork Valley natives Emily Ridings and Nikki Ferry have come full circle when it comes to dance. Both studied dance with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) as kids, continued their training with other prominent schools, and now return this weekend, as ASFB presents “The Nutcracker” at Aspen District Theater.

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