Aspen Times Weekly: America’s Greatest Little Wine Town |

Aspen Times Weekly: America’s Greatest Little Wine Town

by Kelly Hayes
Tiziano Gortan from l'Hostaria
unknown |


2014 Owen Roe - “The Kilmore” Pinot Noir

Winemaker David O’Reilly is a personal favorite. One of the most prolific and accomplished producers in the Northwest, he will be pouring his wines at a special dinner at The Caribou Club on June 17. He does wondrous things with pinot noir and this wine from Oregon will be paired with chef Miles Angelo’s Black Char Bigeye Tuna, ash tempura, black truffled tartare, and foie gras beurre rouge.


Call (970) 925-2929 or email for reservations.

It’s Food & Wine weekend, and I usually use this space to humbly, but proudly, wax poetic on what a great wine town Aspen is.

I’d note that Aspen is the cradle of Master Sommeliers, listing the dozen or so folks who have passed the rigorous exams after doing their “undergraduate” work here. I’d talk about the award-winning wine lists and the fact that Aspen has not just one but two weekly wine columns (Drew Stofflet writes a wonderful column in the competitive paper). I’d mention town’s distinguished wine collectors (did you bid on the Koch collection of wines at Sotheby’s last month?), and I’d argue that the symbiotic relationship between the Food & Wine Classic and Aspen make both better.

But rather than rewrite that always-satisfying column, this year I thought I would simply make a few suggestions of things a wine (and spirits) lover should do to best experience Aspen during the Classic. Do any one of them, and you will get a feel for how this town lives up to its reputation as one of the great hospitality destinations in the world.

Your first stop should be at the iconic “Of Grape and Grain” wine shop on Monarch Street to pay homage to Gary Plumley, without whom you would not be here. You see, it was Plumley who first conjured the concept to hold a food- and-wine-tasting event in Snowmass back in 1983. That first event featured just 22 wines. In 1987, Food & Wine magazine took the reins and the rest is history. A veteran of 50 seasons on Aspen Mountain’s ski slopes, Gary is a local treasure, and anyone who wants to talk wine will be welcome.

Follow any of Kelly J. Hayes’ suggestions and you will get a feel for how this town lives up to its reputation as one of the great hospitality destinations in the world.

Both the craft beer and craft spirits renaissances have had deep roots here in Aspen. First, at the late, lamented Flying Dog Brew Pub and then with the introduction of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. Both had their genesis under Woody Creek entrepreneur George Stranahan. Today it is the Woody Creek Distillers Tasting Room in the Basalt Design Center that is a must-stop for those who love handcrafted spirits and cocktails. If you can make it down to see the stills, custom made by Germany’s Carl, it will be well worth the trip. If not, stop in and have a taste of their products in the Grand Tasting Pavilion with brand ambassador Sean Kenyon at the Woody Creek Distillery station.

The defacto mountain lair of the Best New Chefs is Chefs Club by Food & Wine, which is independently operated and located in the St. Regis Resort. Master Sommelier and Chefs Club CEO Jonathan Pullis oversees the operation that includes not just a world-class kitchen with an ever-rotating collection of chefs, but a world-class wine list and a bar that offers some of the valley’s most innovative cocktails. Sit at the bar with Mattias Horseman, have a cocktail and peruse the wine list in luxurious comfort.

While you are at the St. Regis Resort, take a moment to say hello to the new Sommelier in town. Ericka Briscoe arrived from Sonoma County, California, this past winter, where she did stints with Jackson Family Wines and was Bill Foley’s personal sommelier. A great addition to a great wine community.

Feel like taking a trip to Italy while you are here? Head over to Tiziano Gortan’s L’Hostaria and settle in with the wine list overseen by sommelier Carlos Valenzuela. The list, which has an emphasis on the wines of Piemonte, is as authentic as the cuisine. And the bar menu and scene are both legendary.

Locals and international visitors have long known that the best place to have an intimate conversation over a glass of bubbly is at Jody Lerner’s Cache Cache. The sleek and sexy bar is a haven from the bustle of the busy streets (especially during Food & Wine weekend), and Sommelier Alex Harvier’s list of Champagnes pleases even the French.

So it is not The Modern, Danny Meyer’s signature restaurant in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, but the café at the Aspen Art Museum does offer splendid views of Aspen Mountain from its perch above the galleries. It also has a tasty collection of wines, including South African vintner Ken Forrester’s “Petit” Chenin Blanc. Admission to the museum is free, and the crisp glass of wine will cost you just $9. You can then find Ken in the tents and tell him how much you like his wines.

Everybody knows Jimmy’s as a spot for great cocktails with the finest hand-selected spirits. But underrated is Greg Van Wagner’s eclectic wine list, featuring selections from around the globe. Greg loves to pour American wines, and you can even find gems from Nevada. Ask for a bottle of the Pahrump Valley Winery Desert Blush. It’s the only bottle in Aspen.

Of course, any wine lover’s visit to Aspen would be incomplete without a stop at The Little Nell. Carlton McCoy, a Master Sommelier himself, oversees a wine list that rivals the best in the world. Perhaps even more importantly, Element 47, the Nell’s restaurant, is ground zero for the big-gun wine folks who come to town for the Classic. Look for Rajat Parr’s Italian Rare Wines Dinner on June 17 and Aspen local and Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher’s Guild of Sommeliers Rare Wine Dinner on June 18. Both are extremely limited in size and for the well-heeled only.

This weekend, it is Aspen’s turn to shine. And we do so proudly.

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

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.