WineInk: Rob Ittner & the Art of Wine
IF YOU GO ...
The Cooking School of Aspen
Spring Wine Class Schedule
The Wines of South America
An Exploration of Zinfandel
The Wines of the Loire Valley
For more information and to sign up for classes go to:
Cooking School of Aspen
305 E. Hopkins Ave.
Aspen, CO 81611
“I don’t know anything about wine,” said the woman next to me as she looked deeply into a glass of tawny port at a recent wine tasting at the Cooking School of Aspen. “But,” she continued, as she took a big sip of the wine, “I know what I like.”
The fact is, what she likes is all she needs to know about wine. And, in reality, she probably knows more than she thinks she does about wine. But the hope is she will be inspired enough by what was in that taste of the tawny to want to learn more about why.
“People like food and wine,” said Rob Ittner, founder of the Cooking School of Aspen. “But they don’t always understand that one of the reasons they like the taste of something is because of the emotions that they derive from their food or wine. I like to help them explore that.”
To do that, Ittner has created a series of casual but focused wine seminars that bring wine lovers together for fun- and fact-filled tastings. Over the next four weeks, those who want to know more about and taste wines from around the world can gather in the Cooking School from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays for what are dubbed as Après: Wine Tastings (see schedule, facing page).
WINE AS ART
But it is clear that Ittner has a bigger goal in mind than just pouring wine.
“My mission with the Cooking School is to help people view wine and food as art forms,” he said in a conversation after a recent class that introduced 20 or so Aspenites to the power of port wines from Portugal. “Art is an experience of emotions through the senses. Just like a painting or a musical performance can make you feel something, so too does food and wine.”
“If you go to an art museum and see a painting of, say, a dove, it can mean different things to different people. Some may see flight, others may see a symbol of peace. The same can be true for wines,” he enthused. “When I taste a pinot noir, the go-to characteristic for me is ‘the earth sweating.’ It is a reminder of when I was growing up in Vermont and the smell that I had of the dirt and earth in my backyard after a rain. It is a strong emotional reminder of my childhood.”
While we may just see a glass filled with wine when we sit down at a wine tasting, Ittner sees an opportunity for edification. “If you go to the Music Tent for a performance by Joshua Bell, you might not know anything about music, but you’ll enjoy it just the same. But add a little knowledge of the performer or the piece and you’ll like it even better.” That’s what Ittner wants to add to the wine-tasting experience.
The Cooking School of Aspen debuted a little over a year ago downstairs below Rustique, the beloved French Bistro opened by Itner and former Aspen chef Charles Dale back in 2001. The sleek, dynamic space feels a bit like an open art gallery with concrete floors and soft mood lighting. It features a full demo kitchen, with facilities large enough to host up to 20 chefs, and room to seat as many as 120 guests for meals.
It also serves as the stage for a full schedule of cooking classes and private events that are creatively conceived to fuel the passions of food and wine lovers, be they corporate groups, weddings or simply gatherings of like-minded connoisseurs. But Thursday afternoons at 5:30 belong to wine.
For $45, guests will get to taste from four to six wines hand selected by Ittner from a specific region. There are passed nibbles, as well, but the real attraction is the opportunity to explore the aromas, flavors and tastes of the wines while learning a bit more about them.
“Basically you get a bite or two, and two and a half glasses of wine, along with a chance to experience and learn about an art form,” Ittner explained. “Where else can you do that in Aspen for happy hour?”
It also is a great way to meet people with similar interests in wines.
“It’s really fun when people speak up and begin to participate,” Ittner said. “Everyone brings a different repertoire of experiences to the wines and for a lot of folks it’s new.”
The Cooking School provides the perfect venue for Ittner, who studied wine at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California, and taught wine basics to chefs at the New England Culinary Institute before coming to Aspen almost 20 years ago. “Inherently, as human beings we like to share what we know. And I like to help,” he said.
And so he does, with a glass of wine in hand.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Former race-car driver, current Lewis Cellars winemaker Randy Lewis hosts Aspen dinner alongside chef Byron Gomez as part of the “Aspen Summer Supper Club Series” at 7908.