Living in a resort town means there are offseasons when the pace slows and there are on seasons when it’s action-packed — like the one we’ve just entered as we usher in the holidays. It’s a mad dash from function to function with events for all ages and times of day. I have to keep a calendar by the hour to not miss out on the many activities and activations.
Upcoming on the family circuit are more tree lightings and Santa sightings in town including free events like Olaf the Elf visits Hallam Lake at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies on Thursday, Dec. 12, from 4 to 5:30 p.m.; The St. Regis Aspen’s tree lighting this Saturday, Dec. 15, from 5 to 7 p.m.; and Santa and Mrs. Claus visit Hotel Jerome on Saturday, Dec. 21, from 1 to 3:30 p.m.
Benefits I don’t like to miss include The Next, Aspen Art Museum’s après-style event on Dec. 28, starting at 4 p.m., as well as the Audi Ajax Cup benefiting Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club on Dec. 30 with a ski race and after party. Typically, Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings also top the list, though this season they’ve been moved post-holidays from Jan. 4 to 7 — I think it’ll be a perfect match to follow the madness.
A List for the Ages: Wine Spectator’s Top 100
So I recently found myself at a very high-end steakhouse in Houston called Pappas Bros.
The highlight for me was the prodigious wine list that features upward of 3,900 different wines and would take an hour or more to properly peruse. My companions at the dinner had come not for the wine, but for the steak. So as I buried myself in the list, much grief was passed my way for being “an anti-social wine snob.” While there was some truth to their criticism, it stung nonetheless.
I tried to explain that this list was special and it was one of just 100 in the world to be granted Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. “That would be like being named a Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated,” I offered, attempting to give some context. But the group would have none of it, so I was left, odd man out, with my book of wines, my solitary appreciation for the breadth of bottles obtained by this Houston institution, and fortunately, my glass of Heitz Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
But the Sports Illustrated analogy got me to thinking about just how powerful an influence Wine Spectator is, and has been, on the world of wine. In addition to their restaurant wine list awards, of which over 3,800 restaurants worldwide are ranked based on their wine programs, the publication also produces the definitive “Top 100” most exciting wines of the year issue which came out this month.
The Top 100 list was originally conceived in 1988, to provide a service for readers to help them navigate their way through the wines of the world. Since then, however, the list has become a powerful force in the industry. Making the Top 100 can make an unknown brand both profitable and relevant. It can also bolster a well-known wine to stratospheric sales.
A team of 10 tasters at the publication, including its senior editors, started with over 6,250 wines that scored 90 points or higher in 2019. These wines represent successful wineries, regions and vintages from around the world. While it may seem like a fun process, tasting and rating wines, it can be a long and laborious journey for those at the publication whose job it is to whittle the world’s wines down to the final 100.
The goal is to create a list featuring wines that are not only tasty, but also reflect the tenor of the times, can reasonably be found in wine shops and have great stories behind them. Or, as they say at the Spectator, wines that bring “quality, value, availability and excitement” to the table. The wines are tasted blind and rated on a variety of criteria. Once the best wines are identified, they then undergo a thorough review so that the final rankings can be determined.
Of course, the wine which attains the rank of No. 1 on the Top 100 becomes a coveted commodity and that will no doubt be the case with 2019’s winner, the 2016 Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien from the Medoc region on the Left Bank of Bordeaux. A second-growth estate, the wine sold for just below $100 a bottle at the time of the coronation. It will be interesting to see what the market does in the coming months for the collectible wine that those who have tasted it say should be ready to drink in another five years or so. The guess here is that it will become a hot property in steakhouses like Pappas Bros. and much of the 11,000-case production will be consumed in its youth. On expense account, of course.
France, Italy and California were heavily represented on the 2019 honors, with 66 bottles coming from just those three regions. The 2016 vintage, one generally considered as outstanding across much of the planet, also was featured prominently, with 7 of the top 10 grown in that august year.
While one may think the list includes only wines of great expense, there are some values, as well. In the top 20, for example, there are three chianti wines from Tuscany that are all available for reasonable prices (2016 San Giusto a Rentennano $36, 2017 Castellare di Castellina $22, 2015 Tenuta Bibbiano Chianti Classico Riserva $30). The most expensive wine was a Bordeaux, a 2016 Château Pichon Longueville Lalande Pauillac, which retails for $197 a bottle and placed 97th on the list. By my count just 14 of the wines on the list exceed $100 a bottle and the average price of the Top 100 is $54 a bottle.
The issue, on newsstands now, is one I keep. My pile of Top 100s goes back a few years. It is always fun to count the wines I have tried and to compare notes with what those at Wine Spectator had to say. I guess that’s just one of those things that an “anti-social wine snob” does.
High Country: The Top 10 Cannabis Strains of 2019
Last year, High Country introduced you to Smokey Town (smokey.town; @smokey_town), a Basalt-based startup that provides an in-depth database of reviews for every cannabis strain found on shelf at dispensaries from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. Since its launch in early 2018, it remains the most thorough resource for finding flower in the Roaring Fork Valley.
According to its co-founders, who’ve requested anonymity, “We are the Lorax. We speak for the trees. In 2019, we saw weed shortages and corporate buyouts. Finding growers committed to the craft is harder and more important than ever. You have to be able to trust the integrity of the people nurturing the product from seed to sale. With Aspen taking in roughly $11 million a year in marijuana-related sales, there is plenty of demand. However, with eight shops now in operation, taking into account rent and an inability to deduct business expenses and labor costs, we may be looking at an oversupplied market in 2020.”
Working with close to 20 partners and expert judges, Smokey Town scours every dispensary in the area to compile detailed information. There are currently more than 250 strain reviews available and subscribers of the Smokey Town e-newsletter also receive an update in their inbox as soon as a new strain is added to the database.
As we wind down 2019, we turned to Smokey Town again for their top 10 rankings of the best strains its team smoked this year — complete with origin, effects and relief details, plus recommended pairings for music, drinks and food.
Origin: Cross between Pre-98 Bubba Kush x Grand Daddy Purps strains
Origin: Cross between Grape Stomper x OG Grape Krypt
Music: “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin
Food: A slice at New York Pizza
Effects: Focus, Alertness, Motivation, Uplifting
Relief: ADD, Stress
Shop: The Green Solution, 106 S. Mill St., Aspen, 970-760-0284, tsgcolorado.com
10. Tangerine Haze
Origin: Cross between G13 Haze x NYC Diesel strains
Music: “Voodoo Child” by Jimmy Hendrix
Food: Cookies and Hot Cocoa at Paradise Bakery
Shop: Green Dragon, 409 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen, 970-429-4365, greendragon.com
Katie Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.
Libations: Aspen’s Winter Cocktail Crawl
I’ve finally decided to admit that winter and the holidays are in full swing. It can only be put off so long.
In between wondering if I can risk skimping on expedited shipping for family presents and making sure the Weezer Christmas album wasn’t a figment of my imagination, I’ve been trying to update my cocktail go-to’s for the weather. I have a dire need to find a tequila drink I enjoy in order to maintain any of my friendships, and a tequila sunrise leads to some strange looks in this weather.
My original plan was to find a bar in town, preferably something I hadn’t visited in some time, and check for any updated menus. First stop was The Living Room inside Hotel Jerome, J-Bar’s perhaps lesser known but equally charming brother. Recommendations all pointed here, but unfortunately, I was too early and told to return in around two weeks time for an updated menu and wine list.
Onto the secondary plan of the Limelight Lounge. Again, I was informed I was too early and that a menu would be arriving around Dec. 16. However, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a few winter cocktail works-in-progress from their creator herself, hand-written and discreetly (openly) slid across the bar. I don’t want to spill proprietary recipes, but even reading the full ingredients for a spiced cider mule made me plan to return for one.
My assignment now turning into a pub crawl, I headed to Jimmy’s to give it another try. While the bar didn’t have a specific winter drink menu, the bartenders made excellent recommendations and I was pointed toward their Harvest Manhattan, made with rye and maple syrup to help you picture being snowed in at a log cabin.
As a final option, and as a way to actually eat dinner, I made my way to Aspen Public House to take a look at their revamped menu. The drink lineup was still in flux, but the bartender suggested their Atomic Man cocktail. A drink living between two climates, it combined cinnamon and rye with apple, pineapple and lime juice if you’re not quite ready to give up those feelings of warmer weather.
My impromptu trek across town showed bars in various stages of preparation for the full winter season. I’m now waiting to return and try a few new drinks, and had a chance to enjoy some wonderful combinations to help get me through the colder weather, all of which can hit the spot after a day on the slopes.
Food Matters: A Rustique Bistro resurrection at Anderson Ranch
If food is art — if eating an exquisite meal is on par with attending a spirited concert or viewing an esteemed painting — then Rob Ittner is leading a one-man traveling exhibition.
On Dec. 17, the chef-entrepreneur revives Rustique Bistro — which he operated for nearly 20 years on Hopkins Avenue in Aspen and closed this past April — during a special pop-up dinner at Anderson Ranch to conclude the art mecca’s annual Holiday Open House. “Rustique at the Ranch” will showcase a multicourse, family-style supper of classic dishes from the beloved restaurant, served in the Snowmass Village property’s Schermer Meeting Hall beginning promptly at 7 p.m.
“We want to make it more elegant,” says Anderson Ranch marketing director Katherine Roberts. “Not to take away from the homespun fun of the event, but something new and dynamic.”
A Rustique Bistro resurrection fits naturally at Anderson Ranch, home to more than two dozen resident artists who invite the public into their creative workspaces and offer studio tours and talks during the free Holiday Open House. Ittner believes that this culinary enhancement to the 25-year-plus tradition will bring newcomers to the Ranch, “an international art treasure.”
Beginning in 2013, Ittner ran the subterranean Cooking School of Aspen — a 2.0 revival from an earlier iteration that launched in the 1990s, then closed around 2007 — guided by an artful philosophy.
“My whole mission with the Cooking School and Rustique: food is art,” Ittner says. “I think it quite often gets ignored as an art form. Just like listening to something at the Music Tent or going into an art gallery, experiencing a meal is a form of art. It’s something you’re going to remember for a long time.”
Rustique at the Ranch — priced at $50 per person and featuring linens and servers — reprises iconic dishes that persevered for almost two decades. To start: Rustique’s spinach salad with bacon lardons, goat cheese crostini, and shallot vinaigrette, alongside shared appetizers including the restaurant’s famed roasted mushroom-truffle mac and cheese. Three-time winner of the bygone Aspen Mac and Cheese Festival, the dish of creamy, savory gemelli pasta is likely one of the first that resurfaces when folks reminisce about Rustique.
Next up, a family-style main course of former bestsellers: braised short ribs over polenta with root vegetables and slow-baked salmon topped with balsamic-tomato jam, alongside country ratatouille, mushroom risotto and caramelized Brussels sprouts with bacon-orange gastrique. The feast finishes with apple tart tatin and a selection of French cheeses.
In featuring such classics, the Rustique redo might be compared to revisiting favorite European master works. “I don’t say, ‘Oh, I’ve (already) been to the Musée d’Orsay,’” Ittner explains. “I say, ‘I want to go back and experience “Starry Night” again.’ I define art very specifically in my cooking classes: experience through our senses that inspires emotion. It’s not (always) something you listen to or see, but it can be something we smell, taste or touch.”
Ittner shares a story of visiting the Louvre in Paris and observing a group of blind students led through a Degas exhibit. “They all had white gloves and were allowed to touch the sculptures,” Ittner marvels. “It was amazing — a direct reflection that all (senses) experience art. My expression has been smell and taste.”
Nostalgia, then, is the ability to experience emotion over and over.
“The memory of Rustique in my mind has to do with refined flavors in a rustic manner,” Ittner says. “And comfort. The mass following of Rustique had to do with feeling comfortable (there), comfort food. That’s the emotion. Food as art.”
Passionate about recreating a certain coziness through hospitality, Ittner is calling upon former Rustique sous chef Neal Stiles and select waitstaff to bring Rustique back to life for the night. Anderson Ranch chef Greg Basiliere will assist Ittner, who serves as executive chef for the event.
“Any meal you have is an art form — even making an omelet in the morning,” Ittner says. “Doing things with purpose. When you add salt, pepper and flavors to an omelet, you’re expressing yourself in a particular way.”
Though Rustique at the Ranch was announced a couple of weeks ago and has since reached capacity of more than 100 seats, those hoping to get on the waitlist should contact Molly O’Leary at 970-924-5056. Wine is included in the ticket price.
“We often think of art as extracurricular activity, as a pleasure of life,” says Ittner, who is consulting on a possible guest chef series at Anderson Ranch this winter. “I think experiencing food as art is a necessity.”
Photographer Scott Brockmeier’s travels with avalanche rescue dogs of Aspen and Colorado
The avalanche working dogs at ski resorts throughout Colorado have intrigued and delighted as well as rescued countless numbers of visitors and residents during the winter months.
I’ve spent more than 10 years capturing images of these amazing four-legged first responders. It all started by visiting various ski patrol huts throughout the west to photograph the dogs and other search-and-rescue teams to raise awareness of their life-saving work.
I’ve spent time with these pups beyond resort boundaries, documented the special bond between the dogs and their humans and marveled at beautiful vistas while taking shots of the patrollers’ “home playgrounds.”
I’ve now collected more than 100 colorful images for the book “Skier’s Best Friends: Avalanche Working Dogs of Colorado,” which reveals the beauty of Colorado mountain resorts and the joy and dedication of the dogs and their handlers. A portion of all books sales will be made to the Avalanche Rescue Dog teams who keep skiers safe on snow-covered playgrounds. It’s been a labor of love created in the company of some of the best people in the ski industry and their pups over the past 10 years.
Gear Guide: Winter mitts, tested
When it’s too cold for gloves (generally around 10 degrees F), a good pair of mittens is crucial to enjoying wintertime activity. Sure, you sacrifice a bit of dexterity for cozy digits, but that’s the price of warmth in the rock-bottom cold months of the year.
There are many mittens to pick from in the outdoors market. These three mitten models are some of my favorites, including two high-end options and a budget choice.
Black Diamond Mercury Mitt ($110)
I think of these mitts as cocoons for the hands. They’re stuffed with PrimaLoft insulation for warmth and have leather on the palm. A “trigger finger” that separates your index finger from the rest increases dexterity.
Marmot Expedition Mittens ($115)
These mega mitts are wonderfully warm and made for Mount Everest climbers and South Pole scientists. They are puffy, PrimaLoft-stuffed mitts that have kept our hands toasty in extreme temps as low as -30 degrees F.
IceArmor Mitten ($40)
Looking for a mitten that won’t break the bank? Then you need to check out the IceArmor Mittens. A favorite among ice fishers, these mittens offer a roomy fit and are easy to get on and off.
Click here to read the full review of all three mittens.
BW: I always feel strange when people buy me birthday or Christmas presents, because now I’m obligated to reciprocate when I can barely remember your last name, let alone what time you were born. In the heyday of social media, staring at the Facebook notifications as the dozens of happy birthday notes poured in was the ego boost of the year. Now I seethe when people try to wring it out with those stupid donation requests or “thanks for the birthday wishes!” posts. Leave me alone.
Sean and I don’t exchange gifts because we’re grown-up men. If I want something, I just buy it. How hard is it to declare bankruptcy, anyway? Practically free money.
And if we did get shit for each other, it would look like the scene in “Donnie Brasco” where Al Pacino and Johnny Depp trade envelopes with equal amounts of cash, except we would do it with bottles of Michter’s.
I’ve noticed chicks get presents for their friends a lot. I think that would be really hard to do when your budget is however many cashback points you’ve accumulated on your Amazon card and items that can be sent with two-day shipping on Dec. 22. As you can probably surmise, my deadline for this was yesterday.
Anticipating that annual rare and high-dollar gift our rich parents, I mean Santa*, can bring us, this week we forgo wasting a forever stamp and make our pleas to jolly St. Nick in this space.
SB: Dear Santa,
Hi Mr. Kringle, let me remember if I know how to do this. I know I haven’t written in a long time. Is this the part of the evaluation where you ask me how I think I performed this year even though you know the answer? Between the options strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree and strongly disagree, I’m taking agree to “Have I been nice?” and neutral to “Have I been naughty?” (Kids, the key is to avoid incriminating yourself.)
I’m not going to sit here and take your lie-detector test. All I want is something between coal and a new snowboard. (Bindings would be ideal, big guy.) However, in the off chance that your elves were doing whatever other creepy shit elves do when they’re not spying on children, here’s a more comprehensive list of potential presents:
1. I would like Ben to come up with better column ideas than “Roaring Fork Gift Swap” and, when pressed for an example, a better response than scrolling through Roaring Fork Swap naming items people are trying to get rid of.
2. A web shooter. Not the silly string ones that you give to kids. I want the one with the electric webs, web bombs, web bullets, impact web, etc. I can handle it; I’m an adult now, I use semicolons semi correctly. (I also would take one with silly string.)
3. How are you with credit card debt? I’m asking for my friend … Shane … Beckwitz. You don’t have to pay off the whole thing, just half.
4. If paying down Sea, err, Shane’s Discover tab isn’t doable, I would like the “Goldeneye” tech weapon. I’m not trying to create an electronic-less new world order or avenge a Cossack grudge. I merely want to erase a couple financial records and call it good. I’ll destroy it after my objective is complete like Batman did with the cellphone radar.
5. I would like some new socks and boxers. As I said earlier, I’m an adult now and I see the small luxury that is fresh boxers and warm socks after my old ones disintegrated. There will be no follow-up questions to that statement.
6. Lastly, how about a plane ticket to Chamonix? If you get me there, I can handle the rest. (Shout out Discover Card.)
I would’ve asked for peace on Earth but everybody asks for that. And I bet that’s especially true heading into an election year. I hope the reindeer are doing well and the elves are reviewing privacy law. I’ll leave out some mint-cream Oreos because I don’t bake and mint is Christmas-themed, right? I’m leaving the milk in the fridge, though, because only perverts and babies like warm milk. Best of luck on your big night.
BW: Dear Santa,
I’m sorry we haven’t talked in 20 years. Soon after the last time I wrote, my mom lied and said you weren’t real. I was eating a plum. I cried that August day — for the first and last time in my life.
How’s the missus? Still a smokeshow? You’re a lucky man when you’re not, you know, peeping on sleeping kids. I had so many existential questions when I learned you were friends with Jesus, but also not Jesus, in Sunday school. You mind explaining that one to me? Where do you belong in the Father-Son-Holy Ghost thing? Theology is wild, man. No wonder we have two popes.
I feel weird and a little emasculated saying I’ve been a good boy this year, because it sounds like I’m either a dog or a dominatrix slave, and I’m really not into either. But hey, the only crimes I committed in 2019 would be classified as “petty” at best. Also I still haven’t puked in any Silver Queen Gondola buckets.
To begin, I would like a Baby Yoda. This is the cutest thing since the mall stampedes over Tickle Me Elmo, which mean advance copies sell for a fortune on eBay. An origins story on Yoda or Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi is the last hope I cling to for the “Star Wars” franchise, and it’s really a shame they blew it as a sidequest for Mando the Mandalorian. Can you imagine a kid so spoiled, screaming so loudly for a Muppet that its parents would do aNyThInG to find that toy? Um, sir, this is the Miner’s Building.
Do you ever feel complicit in the act of parental units manipulating their children to behave under the guise of withheld presents? I know it’s not your fault, but come on, how many kids actually get lumps of coal? The EPA has that so regulated not even Santa M.F. Claus can get it through customs.
Sorry my handwriting is so sloppy, I’m kind of durnk.
How about you just send me pants that actually fit? I can never buy clothes online that are the right size because I’ve been too terrified to step on a scale in three years. And we don’t have a Marshall’s with a fitting room in Aspen. I’d send you my waist size but my carpenter-grade tape measure doesn’t have that kind of flexibility.
I’ve been surfing through Roaring Fork Swap for some oddities you could load up on that sleigh since I don’t have a car. Please consider the “dopey dope stoner” palm tree ski coat, an 8×8 garage door with all the fixins, and a “gently used” mattress, whatever that means. Only vanilla positions? Afterward we can have a bonfire and alight my old bed in the street, maybe spitroast some Vixen or whatever you named that thing.
Anyhoo, hope you’re gucci. I’ve opened the flue so you shouldn’t have any trouble shimmying down my fireplace. I’ve hid one pot cookie in with the rest on the plate, good luck. I don’t have any milk but help yourself to a Svedka-diet or Modelo in my fridge. Please try to keep it down.
*We’re pretty sure this column is not being read by children. Or by anyone, for that matter. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Know Your Liftie: Tara Toy
Who are the people who stand outside all day making sure the lifts are running and where do they come from? In this new wintertime series, each week we will be introducing you to a liftie that works on one of Aspen Skiing Co.’s four mountains.
How long have you been in Aspen? About three weeks.
What brought you to Aspen? I’ve never really gone outside of California, so I decided I’d go somewhere for a bit, but long enough to settle down and have a community.
How did you pick Aspen? I applied to jobs in a bunch of different states and Aspen just kind of seemed like the best fit for me.
What has surprised you about Aspen so far? I love the small-town feeling. I think that’s just what’s surprised me the most and has been the most pleasant, because I’ve already seen plenty of faces from just being here for a couple weeks. I really, really like that.
How do you stay warm working outside? How do I stay warm? I don’t. Well, the thing is I was Californa-coast born, raised and maintained, so that’s also why I came here. I’m not good at the cold so if I put myself in this environment I will have to adapt; so layers, and gloves and handwarmers.
Will the gondola always be your assigned lift? I actually don’t know how to ski or snowboard so I’m here to learn — that’s also what brought me here is I want to learn — so for now I’m going to be at the gondola and then hopefully I’ll learn how to get down the mountain without downloading and then I’ll be at other spots on the mountain.
Aspen History: Dog days of winter
“The avalanche dog is back on the slopes,” announced The Aspen Times on Jan. 27, 1983. “Chopper is a two-year-old black lab and golden retriever mix, with intelligent eyes and a willingness to learn. He has been with Highlands ski patrolman Chris Kessler since he was a puppy barely five weeks old. Kessler is convinced that the long and consistent bond has aided in Chopper’s training. At first the training was a game for Chopper — although Kessler knew better. Kessler, 26, is a native of Aspen, and has served on the Highlands patrol for five years, working as a Highlands ski instructor before that. So Chopper is familiar with the territory. The dog responds to hand and voice signals issued by his trainers. ‘Seek,’ to Chopper, means a chance to do what he enjoys most. The avalanche dog experiment has so far proved so successful that the Highlands patrol is contemplating training another dog as a backup. As Kessler pointed out, given the peculiar snow conditions of this winter, avalanche hazard could be higher than usual. And while they hope they never have to call Chopper to duty — he’s ready when they are.” The image above shows Chopper the avalanche dog finding Highlands patrolman Art Smythe during training, 1983.