Under the tent: The bluest of skies | AspenTimes.com

Under the tent: The bluest of skies

Kelly J. HayesThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – So each June, a crowd converges on the Aspen Food & Wine Classic to enjoy copious amounts of both wine and food. And yet, as great as the offerings have been over the years – anyone remember Merry Edwards of Matanzas Creek Chardonnay when she poured that first year of the event? – for those who have attended, the real draws are the deep blue skies, the villages of white tents and the green slopes of Aspen Mountain. The setting for all this lasts just three days every year, but if you have ever stood in the middle of the scene, the memory lasts a lifetime. It is a quintessential Aspen moment.Friday saw another gorgeous day dawn, and for the first time, Classic attendees and locals gathered in Rio Grande Park for a five-kilometer footrace to benefit Grow for Good, a charity favored by foodies. Celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Marcus Samuelsson led the first wave of runners just after sunrise, and the 300 or so racers had a perfect morning for a run. The consensus was that the event was a success, and all those who ran felt a little better in the tents as the day rolled on.Over at The Little Nell hotel, shortly after the finish of the race, plans for the remodel of the Montagna Dining Room were unveiled. As guests nibbled on caviar and scrambled eggs served in their shells, they got a look at the contemporary redesign that will commence on Sept. 9 with plans for completion by Thanksgiving. Bentel & Bentel, a design firm that won a James Beard Award this year for its work on New York’s Le Bernardin, has created a fresh and open look for the room that will emphasize the great wines that are signatures of the Nell. Plans also call for a new name for the restaurant. Inside the tents, both the crowds and the heat were intense. It felt that there were more people and energy during the initial Grand Tasting than there has been in some time. As always, the Wines of Spain tent was doing a booming business, and the crowds were three-deep at the Ribera Del Duero table in the southwest corner of the tent. Great Tempranillo grown at high altitudes – 2,500 feet to as high as 3,000 – are the draw here. If you love fine, hand-crafted artisan wines, this selection will not disappoint.The cooking tent at the ice rink also packed them for a grill session with Texas master Tim Love. Steak, pork and burgers were all on the menu for the engaging Love, who suggested that grill chefs use peanut oil for their steaks, slow-cook their pig at low temperatures and grind their own meat. He is the kind of presenter who makes you want to head home and light a fire.The general mood at this 30th Classic is that it has the potential to be the best yet.