WineInk: Aspen’s annual Food & Wine Classic returns to June |

WineInk: Aspen’s annual Food & Wine Classic returns to June

Previewing the Classic Wines

Kelly J. Hayes
Food & Wine Classic attendees taste wines throughout the Wines of Spain Tent during the first day in Aspen on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

There are many things that work in concert to make Aspen one of America’s great wine towns.

Start with the passion of the local sommelier community which has graduated more Master Sommeliers than towns 100 times its size with — at current count — 11 who have passed through the Little Nell alone. Then there is the concentration of wine lovers who flock to local restaurants and wine shops to buy the significant and hard-to-find wines that educated wine buyers know will be appreciated by their clientele. And that thirst extends to the number of deep-pocketed wine collectors who indulge their interest in wines from around the world and make their way to this resort community.

Yes, Aspen is perhaps the best wine town between Chicago and the Coast. But one of the most important influences on Aspen’s wine credibility has been the annual road show that is the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

A line wraps around the walking mall to get into the first Grand Tasting of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

This June marks a triumphant return to the summer season for the event that was cancelled due to COVID in 2020 and was held last year in September on an abbreviated basis. Just over a month from now, the Classic will uncork and pour over 10,000 bottles of global wines for over 4,000 daily visitors in the Grand Pavilion tents in Wagner Park during the Grand Tastings.

But while the tents are for tasting, it is what takes place in the seminar venues that is the Classic’s special sauce. Dozens of the most knowledgeable and entertaining wine professionals in the industry spend months selecting just the right wines and preparing presentations that will both inform and engage attendees. Some are regulars who each year change up the wines they bring and the focus of the seminars, while other new presenters focus on keeping the seminars fresh.

A quick look shows the diversity of the wine world that will be on display.

The opening sessions of this year’s Food & Wine, on Friday June 17, will see that dynamic play out once again at the River Tents by the old Aspen Art Museum. There, with the sounds of the Roaring Fork River providing the backdrop, Classic favorite Anthony Giglio will pour hand selected Italian treats in his seminar titled “The Wine Less Traveled: Discovering Italy’s Hidden Gems.”

Anthony Giglio makes a toast to his 25th anniversary at Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Giglio, who wears his New Jersey Italian heritage on his sleeve, will no doubt present wines that are new to you as he has for the last 25 years that he’s come to the Classic. Over the years Giglio has crafted a career in wine that has seen him author 11 books and make countless television and radio appearances. But he may have more fun here than at any of the myriad events he is a part of.

Right across the lawn on that same morning, sparkling wine afficionado and one of the most enthusiastic personalities in wine, June Rodil, will pour some bubbles to help inaugurate the festivities. In her “Champagne for Every Occasion” seminar, Rodil, a noted restauranter as a partner in Goodnight Hospitality, will pour sparkling wines from the world’s most famous wine region.

Last spring Rodil helped bring the Mediterranean-centric March to Houston’s dining scene, highlighted by an extraordinarily deep wine list. She has also paired in the past with Austrian winemaker Markus Huber to produce a private label sparkling wine, June’s Brut Rosé. Rodil, a University of Texas grad who also passed the Master Sommelier exam, brings a breadth of knowledge and passion to her presentations at the Classic.

Another highlight of that opening morning to look forward to will be a chill session with sommeliers Femi Oyediran and Miles White in the St. Regis Hotel. The pair of sommeliers, who opened the acclaimed Graft Wine Shop and Wine Bar in uptown Charleston, South Carolina and bring big time bona fides to the proceedings will be hosting “Chill Out: Light Reds You Can Chill.” No doubt global grapes will be on ice, and you might expect some music from the pair who describe their shop as “a celebration of good wine, community, great times and the best music.” Sounds like Aspen.

Wine expert and author Mark Oldman with one big bottle of BV at his popular wine seminar. Courtesy photo.

And one of Aspen’s best acts will also be opening the festivities during that wine packed first session of the summer Classic as Mark Oldman changes it up a bit this year. Instead of the long running “Wines for millionaires/billionaires/gazillionaires” seminars that have been staples of past Classics, Oldman will kick off his 2022 appearance with a new high-end concept. A showman who has brought spectacular wines to the Classic in the past to share with seminar attendees (who can forget the massive bottle of 80th Anniversary vintage of the Beaulieu Vineyard George de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet he poured last year?) Oldman will tee up “World’s Best Special-Occasion Wines” at the Little Nell.

Appropriately, the “World’s Best Special-Occasion Wines” seminar is about “Le Grand Hotel” and Oldman describes it as “celebrating the return to the art of luxe travel and hospitality.” The seminar will focus on a “fictional luxury wine-oriented hotel – an amalgam of the great hotels of the world, with souvenirs from the hotel’s gift shop for the audience.”

Oldman will be taking wine inspiration from the Hotel Ritz Paris, New York’s The Plaza and The Carlyle, the previously mentioned Little Nell in Aspen, Chateau Marmont and Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles, the Peninsula in Shanghai, and Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel.”

“Great wine and great hotels are the two pillars of memorable travel – which we all crave and are (hopefully) returning to!” he notes.

Sounds like a pretty good act. And that’s just the beginning. Over the next 48 hours of the Classic there will be 25 different wine seminars. The presenters range from NBA stars Dwyane Wade and CJ McCollum (both of whom are now winemakers) who will discuss their journey from the basketball court to the vineyards, to Food & Wine executive wine editor Ray Isle who is reprising his much loved “Wine & Potato Chips: Salt, Pepper, Pinot, and More!”

Longtime Aspen local and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey will return to Aspen from Boulder, where he runs Frasca Food and Wine which focuses on the Friuli region of Italy, and he will be pouring “Iconic Italian Whites.” Naturally.

Carlos Solórzano-Smith, an Aspen local sommelier and partner in the Aspen Hospitality Group which operates Acquolina and Duemani, will be joined by Charles Antin & Erik Segelbaum for a session dubbed Investopedia Presents: “Investing in Wine – The Grapes of Yield.” And Boston’s Alicia Towns Franken & wine industry veteran Dlynn Proctor will bring the big glasses for their seminar where they will pour the wines of two of the world’s most prestigious wine regions in “Legendary Reds: Barolo vs Burgundy.”

It looks to be another outstanding wine lineup as the Classic returns to its June home in Aspen.

Be sure to come thirsty.

Under the Influence

2018 Ram’s Gate Carneros Syrah “Hyde Vineyard”

I was reintroduced to this delicious cool-climate Syrah grown in the historic Hyde Vineyard this past weekend and it was a highlight. Made by Joe Nielsen, Ram’s Gate director of winemaking from fruit grown on quarter-century old vines in the Napa section of the Carneros AVA (remember Carneros is the only AVA to cross into both Napa and Sonoma) this Syrah packs a punch. Deep and dark, the wine has all the attributes that make the Rhône grape such a favorite of so many. Dark berries abound in a balanced and food friendly edition of this intensely flavorful wine. There are hints of the soils and a spiciness that resonate with each sip.

It is a signature wine for both the Hyde Vineyard and Ram’s Gate.

Aspen Times Weekly

This week in Aspen history

“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.

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