Richard BettsMontagna at The Little Nell |

Richard BettsMontagna at The Little Nell

Aspen Times writer

For Richard Betts, wine is in many ways akin to water. “One of my more lofty ambitions is to see everyone drinking wine, because I really do believe it can improve the quality of one’s life,” says Betts, who built and now oversees the 20,000-bottle wine list at the Little Nell’s Montagna restaurant.And when it comes to wine, Betts knows what he’s talking about. Betts is one of just 56 designated master sommeliers in the United States.Still, he brings the finer points of wine to a level non-oenologists can understand.”It’s important to think of wine as a grocery, not a luxury,” says Betts, whose love affair with the grape began while taking a break from his undergraduate studies to live in Italy. “I really fell in love with wine … not so much the study of it, but as a way of life.”It is this passion for wine, and the easygoing way in which he encourages others to relax and enjoy that made Betts the perfect pairing for our quest to learn more about imbibing in Aspen. “As a sommelier,” he says, “I have to remember that it’s about the superstar diner’s experience, not the superstar chef or superstar sommelier.”Gotta drink therePutting his impressive wine cellar aside, Betts says Piñons, Syzygy and Cache Cache are the call for fine wine. “Cache Cache is at the top of that list,” he says. “Jodi [Larner] has a great passion for wine, and her passion is contagious.”But, as Betts is quick to point out, you don’t have to go upscale or to a restaurant with its own wine cellar to enjoy a nice glass of the grape. He suggests the Wild Fig or Ajax Tavern.Cheers!The nice thing about wine is that you don’t have to go out to get the goods. Just stop at any of a number of good wine shops in town, advises Betts. “We get great wine allocations here … you can walk into any of our wine stores and find great wines on the shelf.” he says. “I think it speaks to the cosmopolitan nature of Aspen.”Wine on their mindsWhen it comes to great chefs, Aspen has plenty. But when it comes to great chefs who create dishes with a flair for wine pairings, Betts had to salute his partner at Montagna, Paul Wade. “Paul is cooking some of the greatest food Aspen has ever seen … he’s really hitting his stride,” says Betts. “And he does as much research as I do on the wines sometimes – he’s really devoted.” Other chefs with a great palate for wine, according to Betts: Martin Oswald at Syzygy and Christopher Lanter at Cache Cache.The dishEven for Betts, there is more to life than wine. “I have to say I’ve become a recent devotee of the margaritas at Blue Maize.”Getting wacky with wineWine isn’t as a serious as you might think. Or at least it wasn’t for Betts and his crew on this occasion: “It was a spring holiday party and we put wine” – a sweet red wine, of course – “into an ice cream machine. I served it to the staff with shot of vodka. It was fun … let’s go with that.”

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