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Little Nell’s Nick Barb passes sommelier exam

The Little Nell announced news from the Court of Master Sommeliers last month that Nick Barb of Element 47 has passed the advanced sommelier exam.

The Court of Master Sommeliers was established in the United Kingdom in 1969. Its purpose is to encourage improved standards of beverage knowledge and service in hotels and restaurants, with education as its charter.

There are four examination stages to attain the top qualifications of master sommelier Level I (introductory), Level II (certified), Level III (advanced) and Level IV (master).

All candidates must be 21 years old to participate, and all should have been employed in wine service for a minimum of three years, although this is not mandatory to enter the introductory course. Admittance to the advanced course is via a selection process of the court’s academic admissions committee. It requires a successful completion of the introductory course and a mandatory five years in the wine/service industry.

Barb is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduating, he interned in Vail, where he was introduced to wine and set his sights on a career as a sommelier. He next joined the team at Eleven Madison Park in New York City, where he spent five years working his way up the ladder to becoming a sommelier. Along the way, he learned about every detail that goes into fine dining while also enhancing his wine knowledge. In the fall of 2013, he moved to Aspen to join the wine team at Element 47 at the Little Nell, led by master sommelier and wine director Carlton McCoy.

In preparation for the advanced sommelier exam this spring, “Carlton played a major role in getting me ready,” Barb said. “He sat down with me every week to discuss and go through blind tasting. He also gave me pointers and areas to focus on for the service portion. Occasionally he would ask me theory questions while I was working the floor, which made them more difficult. Lastly, he would just make sure I wasn’t too stressed out with the upcoming exam by joking around and talking to me about something other than wine. That was really needed. He has become a great friend and mentor.”

Barb’s advanced sommelier exam was held in Portland, Oregon, in April as a three-part process. One part of the test was administered each day, with results given the last day of examination. Day One was the service exam, which consisted of two tables’ mock Champagne service and red-wine decanting. Day Two was blind tasting, where candidates have 25 minutes to go through six wines and come up with a conclusion. Day Three was the written theory exam, which covered questions about wine regions all over the world and questions about spirits and wine-program management. This spring, a record 66 candidates took the test, and 16 people passed.

Aspen and Snowmass property values rising

The overall value of Pitkin and Eagle county property rose in county assessors’ biennial valuation notice, thanks to a strengthening market — with generally rising sales prices — from mid-2012 to mid-2014, the time period on which the new valuations are based.

In Pitkin County, some areas see dramatic rises in value, while in others, values are more or less flat, according to Pitkin County Chief Assessor Larry Fite. Some properties have gone down in value. Fite says inconsistency is the main trend for this valuation period, with more of a spread between the highs and lows than any other time he can remember.

The differences are by neighborhood and sometimes by subdivision, Fite said. Aspen — across all classes of property (single-family homes, condos and townhomes) — has had the strongest sales and has seen values rise the most since the economic downturn. Conversely, Snowmass Village has been the most sluggish. Between the two communities, though, it’s less possible to generalize. West Aspen is stronger than East Aspen, for example, and while Basalt has seen a nice recovery, Old Snowmass is “hit or miss,” Fite said.

In Eagle County, nearly everything has gone up in value, according to Eagle County Appraisal Manager Kevin Cassidy, although the increase depends on the neighborhood and class of property. Overall, Basalt and El Jebel single-family home values have risen 28 percent on average since two years ago. Condo and townhome values there have risen 38 percent. Taking a closer look, Sopris Village home values are up 36 percent on average, while Elk Run averaged a 15 percent increase. Value increases vary within Blue Lake.

“More affordable properties — those under about $500,000 — tended to have increased more in value this past valuation period, while properties over $1 million rose less,” Cassidy said.

But while the increases in value in Eagle County may seem dramatic, that’s because they took an equivalent fall during the recession, Cassidy said.

“So it’s really just getting back to where it was before the recession,” he said. “It’s correcting itself.”

In the next valuation period, ending in 2017, homeowners shouldn’t see as much change, he added.

An increase in property value does not necessarily mean a proportional increase in property taxes, Fite said. That’s because Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights requires taxing districts to reduce mill levies when growth is strong to keep property tax revenue increases within a reasonable rate of inflation and growth. Some tax districts have received voter approval to be exempt from the Taxpayer Bill of Rights but most likely not enough to make property tax bills rise unreasonably.