Foodstuff: Wining and dining

Passholder access is only part of the Food & Wine experience

A crowd enjoys the sunshine outside of the Wines of Spain Tent at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The tents are up. The wine glasses are waiting. The fancy people are in town; maybe you’re even one of them.

If you had $1,800 to spare and the foresight to snag a ticket to this weekend’s Food & Wine Classic in Aspen (or, like me, you’ve finagled some access through work), you’re in for a treat — many, many, many treats.

The Grand Tasting Pavilion is to wining and dining adults what the M&M’s emporium in Times Square is to a sugar-fueled middle schooler: stimulating, inebriating and overwhelming if not tackled in small doses.

Attendees taste wines and foods in the Wines of Spain tent at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Sept. 11, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Last year I relished in the flavors of an earthy gazpacho and full-bodied reds, yes, but I also tasted a mini dairy-free ice cream, a peanut butter cup that contained no real peanut butter and an espresso iteration of Jägermeister. It’s … a lot to take in.

The real richness of the Food & Wine passholder experience comes not from the sips and nibbles but from the seminars, anyway. The one I attended last year, led by Andrew Zimmern and rooted in historical recipes, was easily the most delightful hour of my weekend.

Andrew Zimmern offers a taste of schnitzel to an audience member during a seminar on "NYC's French Favorites" in Paepke Park during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Sign-ups happened this spring for the various slots. Some include tastings, some are mostly presentations or demonstrations, but all of them have the spark (and educational value) of sitting on the set of a live show about the subject.

All of this experience, of course, hinges on you having one of those precious passes that sold out a long, long time ago.

Volunteering has long been an alternative port of entry for the every-man (or anyone looking for an even more hands-on experience), with options to work and play at the festival.

But even those without a pass or a volunteer sign-up can get very nearly as much experience as those with. The central programming for the Classic is only part of a whirlwind weekend of eating, drinking and rubbing elbows with famous faces, after all.

Debbie Braun, president and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, opens up the Food & Wine Classic member luncheon on Sept. 9, 2021, inside the Hotel Jerome in Aspen. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

If you’ve got a lot of dough, you’ve got a lot of leverage in the extracurriculars of Food & Wine weekend. Scuttlebutt says the real crux of the weekend is the after-parties and elaborate dinners timed in conjunction with the Classic, of which there are many at a myriad of price tags.

I’ve already seen press releases, promos and invites for a snacking, sipping and home-goods-and-apparel shopping experience at HUMANITY Aspen on Thursday; late-night bites with Chrissy Teigen and Lorena Garcia at Chica and a Hendrick’s Gin “Sip Safari” on Friday; a Milagro Tequila “Salsa Dance” at the Hotel Jerome and a rare bourbon and whiskey tasting at the St. Regis on Saturday and various chef’s dinners and tastings about town.

Some events don’t list prices or are invite-only; others are open to anyone with the thousands to spend on an immersive experience. Some dinners cost more than the price of the three-day Classic pass; some ring in at triple-digit prices per head. And others are free and open to all — welcome news for those without so many liquid assets to spend on liquid assets.

Consider, for instance, the offerings at The Little Nell this weekend.

For $2,000, you can enjoy a López de Heredia wine dinner on Friday evening at the Nell, featuring “the most highly coveted and high-quality reserva and gran reserva wines” from the vineyard of Viña Tondonia in Rioja, Spain. Culinary director Matt Zubrod is prepping the four-course tasting menu; wine director Chris Dunaway will pour the varietals, according to a press release.

The next night, for $1,925, you can head back for a Mayacamas Vineyards Wine Dinner at Element 47, hosted by Mayacamas Winemaker Braiden Albrechet with a four-course menu from the culinary team at the Nell.

If you want a change of scenery, you might as well wander over to the Hotel Jerome — they’re offering their own “Epicurean Passport” experience for “10 exclusive culinary events” throughout the weekend at the rate of $1,750 a person.

Or you could just walk up to the Element 47 patio back at the Nell any afternoon Thursday through Saturday. There’s free Aperol spritzes from 2-5 p.m. and free Grey Goose espresso martinis from 6-9 p.m. to anyone over 21 who wants one.

Kaya Williams is a reporter for The Aspen Times and The Snowmass Sun who thinks you could probably get plenty of the Food & Wine experience just by dressing up and seeing what you might stumble into as you walk around town. Email her at