Food & Wine: The Little Nell, Aspen’s home grown wine gem |

Food & Wine: The Little Nell, Aspen’s home grown wine gem

Kelly J. Hayes
Food & Wine Magazine

As proud as Aspen’s local skiers are of the world-class ski mountain that rises above the town, so too are local wine lovers proud of the wine program at The Little Nell Hotel.

This year, the esteemed wine destination was honored to be a James Beard Award finalist in the category of “Outstanding Wine Program.” As of this writing, the announcement of the winner was still pending as the awards ceremony took place June 13 in Chicago at the Lyric Opera House.

Whether the program won or not, the nomination itself is indicative of The Little Nell’s long legacy of excellence for its extensive wine list and tradition of service. Wine director Chris Dunaway and his team, including Jesse Libby, Jon Koch and Rachel Liggett-Draper, were justly proud of what was the Hotel’s 16th James Beard nomination since the awards debuted in 1991.

“I’m just so incredibly proud of how well the team has persevered through the past few difficult years and made such an incredible commitment to guest experience and transforming that through the power of great wine and enlightened hospitality,” Dunaway said about the nomination for the Beard Award after the previous two years dealing with the pandemic. “What’s unique about us is that we are a part of a much larger organization, being a hotel as opposed to a restaurant or wine bar. It takes excellence in every department to make this happen, and I just want everyone at The Nell to be proud and feel like this is just as much their accomplishment as anyone else’s, and that goes to those here today and who’ve worked tirelessly for us over the decades.”

And for those decades since its founding in 1989, The Nell has been the de facto clubhouse for the wine crowd during the Food & Wine Classic. With a roster of 10 Master Sommeliers who served in the hotel, a funky wine cellar and speakeasy, the best patio in Aspen and operations at the top of the mountain, The Nell provides “only-in-Aspen experiences” for wine lovers.

Past Master Sommeliers on The Nell’s wine staff who have gone on to make lasting impacts on the world of wine include Carlton McCoy, managing partner of Lawrence Wine Estates in Napa, California; Dustin Wilson, who founded the eclectic Verve wine shops in New York, Chicago and San Francisco; Bobby Stuckey, Food & Wine presenter and partner in Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine; and, of course, local wine maven Jonathan Pullis. All have been a part of creating the culture that makes The Nell what it is today.

This year, the hotel will be hosting a pair of wine dinners during the Classic featuring the cuisine of Matt Zubrod, The Nell’s culinary director. On Friday, there will be a celebration of Viña Tondonia from Rioja, Spain, at the López de Heredia Wine Dinner. Guests will sip the bodega’s most highly coveted gran reserva wines along with a four-course tasting menu.

Then on Saturday, the Nell’s wine team will toast Mayacamas Vineyards’ winemaker Braiden Albrecht as they pair a four-course dinner alongside Mayacamas’ sublime expressions of cabernet sauvignon from the Mt. Veeder AVA in the Napa Valley.

Of course, those are just the scheduled events as winemakers, distributors and connoisseurs will gather at all hours to drink the wines available on The Nell’s Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning list. For many, the pinnacle of the Food & Wine experience takes place at The Little Nell.

It’s as good as the skiing.

This story was featured in the 39th Aspen Times Food & Wine Classic Weekend magazine, available now on location and at


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