Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

The first thing you should know about IWM Cellars, the smart new tasting room that opened this August in the front colonnade of the Little Nell Hotel, is that it is not a wine shop. That is to say, it is not a place where you go to buy a bottle of wine.

It is, however, a must-stop destination for anyone interested in tasting, learning, collecting and most of all experiencing great wines. Stylish, efficient and welcoming, IWM Cellars is a significant addition to Aspen’s already sophisticated wine community.

Aspen’s IWM Cellars, located at 605 E. Durant Ave., is the third leg in a triangle of world-class wine destinations conceived by Sergio Esposito, a passionate evangelist for great wines, especially those from Italy. The first shop called Italian Wine Merchants opened in New York City in 1999, as a partnership between Esposito, Mario Batali (the chef who is as well-known for his orange Crocs as his exquisite Italian cooking) and Joe Bastianich, a member of one of the world’s great food and wine families.

The goal was to offer an experience that paired the foods and wines of Italy in an environment where oenophiles could taste, learn about and buy wines that may not have been on their radar. It soon morphed into a place where collectors could hire wine experts, dubbed “portfolio managers”, who would help them in organizing, growing and maintaining their cellars.

Today, the New York operation thrives and IWM Cellars (sans Batali and Bastianich, who departed amicably to focus on other projects) has opened outposts in Hong Kong and here in Aspen.

Chris Deas, the managing director of Aspen’s IWM Cellars, spent the past year sweating the details of the new tasting room. He says the mission is to offer wine lovers a chance to experience bottles, labels and winemakers that they may have not been introduced to before. IWM Cellars also provides what it calls “Collectors Services” to assist locals and second-home owners who either already have wine cellars or wish to begin collecting.

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For tasters, there are number of ways to take advantage of the IWM Cellars offerings. To begin with, simply stop by at any time between noon and 8 p.m. for a tasting of the “Featured Wine Flights.” Ranging in price from $25 to $80, depending on the number of wines tasted and the size of the pours, one can indulge in, say, “A Taste of Spain,” or “La Dolce Vita,” a sampling of wines from around Italy.

On Saturday evenings there will be special tastings. This Saturday, Oct. 2 at 5 p.m., for example, Chris will pull the cork on “Italy meets France.” For $75, people can taste wines from Barolo and Burgundy, Tuscany and Bordeaux side-by-side, and experience the similarities and differences between some of the world’s great wine regions. There will also be little nibbles – not enough to qualify as appetizers, but enough to enhance the wines. Thin slices of manchego cheese and jamon from Spain, add just the right flavors to complement the experience.

People can also book the room for private tastings and have the staff arrange which wines to try. And Chris holds special events hosting innovative winemakers from around the globe. Expect more to come.

The “Collectors Services” are also exciting, especially if you have a cellar. Chris has hired three wine professionals who can help collectors inventory their wines, catalogue them in a customized computer program, evaluate the physical attributes of the cellar and make “drink term” recommendations on the wines the collector already owns. For people interested in acquiring wines, IWM Cellars can help source and represent buyers in purchases. There is also a feature called “”White Glove Services” where IWM experts will conduct monthly reviews of a cellar.

Chris, who has a background in Internet services and products, has developed a super-friendly consumer and collector computer program that allows users to keep track of any wine they drink. Simply stop by the tasting room he can sign you up for the IPad-compatible program that provides notes on the wines that are available for tasting at IWM Cellars.

It’s an amazing thing to open what is essentially a wine shop that can’t sell wine. But then again, Aspen is an amazing wine town. For all of us who are passionate about the world of wine, IWM Cellars will be a terrific asset. Reach IWM at 970-544-3800 or iwmcellars.com.