Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
People have their reasons for buying wines at a particular shop. Location tops most lists, followed by value and then probably selection.And while these are all valid points, to me the best reason to patronize a shop is because you like and trust the people who are selling the wines. Unlike buying, say, gasoline, or groceries, the act of walking into a wine shop, perusing the shelves, getting a recommendation and ultimately selecting a bottle to take home can, and should be, a fun experience. One you look forward to.And that is where a knowledgeable and engaged wine professional can make all the difference.Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, we have a plethora of choices for good wine shops, but two recent additions, the Basalt Wine Shop on Midland Avenue and Sopris Liquor and Wine on Highway 133 in Carbondale are worth checking out. And I make this recommendation not because they are conveniently located, have good prices and interesting wines, though they do, but rather because the people running the floor and selling the wines make wine-buying fun.In Carbondale, the catalyst for the greatly improved and still improving wine program has been Johnny Ivansco, who came aboard as wine manager in November. Many of you will remember the curly-haired, bespectacled Ivansco from his long stint at Aspen’s Of Grape & Grain, where he learned about grapes under the tutelage of Gary Plumley.Sopris Liquor and Wine is huge, perhaps the biggest liquor store in the valley. Until recently, however, the wine program consisted mostly of high-volume brands that had been selected based on price and dealer discounts. Owners Terry and Julie Kirk were keen to change that image and create an accessible program focused on higher quality, small producers of great wines from around the world. That’s where Johnny came in. A Carbondale local who lives with his wife and 11-week-old son, Sawyer, just three blocks from the store, Ivansco has completely revamped the Sopris’s offerings.Great values from Spain, a country Johnny has traveled extensively, mingle with cult classic Pinot Noirs from Oregon and spicy Zinfandels from California. An emerging Australian and New Zealand section cuts out the marketing fat and gets to the quality wines that are real values in those regions.Johnny knows his wines, is enthusiastic about explaining them and cares enough to try to make sure every customer gets a wine that works with their palate and their budget. There is a 10 percent discount on all six-bottle purchases, which by the way are presented to customers in a slick recyclable sack, and each Wednesday there is a wine tasting with different distributors pouring their wines.Richard Chelec’s newly opened Basalt Wine Shop is a different thing entirely. With just 250 selections at any given time in a store that is roughly 700 square feet, Richard has picked a path based on affordable quality and a neighborhood clientele. The result is a place that is as much fun to hang out in as it is a great place to buy wine.Chelec will be remembered, by many of the same people who remember Ivansco, as the guy who ran Blue Maize in Aspen for 11 years. After closing the popular restaurant and taking a year off, he decided that he wanted to remain in the food and beverage biz, but didn’t want to do another eatery. When the sweetly small space on Midland Avenue became available, he snapped it up and filled it with bottles, books and a few knick-knacks.He prides himself that either he, or his store manager, Chris Kelly, has tasted everything he sells and 80 percent of the inventory consists of wines selling for $20 or less. Richard’s personal tastes run to new-world wines from Chile and Argentina and he has a strong selection of great values from Spain as well. The front rack of the store changes monthly to showcase wines from different regions (this month, Washington and Oregon get front billing), and the store has twice-monthly wine tastings that have become increasingly popular with locals. Open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, there is a 10 percent discount on all Sunday sales. It’s a good post-church stop.I’ve shopped in both stores recently and came away with good wines, good values and great vibes. Both Johnny and Richard are as much fun to do business with as they are to talk wine with. Be sure to stop in and see both next time your wine rack has a few empty rungs.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Aspen High School girls soccer team fought off a couple of key injuries to finish in a 1-1 draw with visiting Roaring Fork on Thursday night on the AHS turf. Over in New Castle, Basalt girls soccer edged out Coal Ridge for a 1-0 win.