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Volunteers get a good taste of Food and Wine Classic

Tim Mutrie

“It delves into the furthest reaches of your mouth and makes you perk up and take notice.”

That was the remark of one local volunteer to a vintner while making the rounds at this weekend’s Food and Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen.

The vintner was taken aback by the man’s unpolished appearance, particularly his tattered, once-white golf shirt now highlighted with several vertical streaks of burgundy. However, impressed by his observations, the vintner – a purveyor of Spanish reds – replied in earnest, “Yes, doesn’t it. Now try the Rioja.” And so it went.

As one of the 900 or so locals who make up approximately 10 percent of the festival’s attendees, the volunteer did his best to capture the essence of Food and Wine from that artful perspective of faking it ’til you make it.

The weather, mostly sunny and 70-plus degrees each day, couldn’t be beaten with a stick (or is schtick?). And with more than a thousand different wines offered by more than 300 vintners from around the globe, as well as an equally diverse smattering of foods, the lucky local volunteers found heaven here in Aspen.

“The upper-deck, top-shelf, can’t-be-beaten event of the wine universe,” said vintner Sam Mura, describing the festival.

Representing the San Francisco-based Broadbent Selections, an importer of ports, Madeiras, cherries, champagnes and vintage ports, the fast-talking, steady-pouring Sam enjoyed his third Food and Wine over the weekend.

“If you’re not in Aspen at the Food and Wine Classic, you’re just drinking wine,” he says. “I love coming back. I can’t believe they pay me to be here.”

The Denver Post reported Sunday that the median income of festival attendees is nearly $350,000, annually. The Aspen Times speculated that the median number of intoxicating “tastes” swilled by local volunteers was nearly 350.

The ever-friendly New Zealander vintners, occupying their customary spot in the northwest corner of the Grand Tasting Tent, once again attracted many ravenous festival-goers. Thirsty for the Kiwis’ brand of white wines – particularly the refreshingly fruity and clean-finishing sauvignon blancs that have been lauded by Colorado critics already – and hungry for their generous offerings of green-lipped mussels and rack of lamb, the Kiwi quadrant was a place of solace amid the largely frenzied Grand Tasting Tent.

Noting the liberal portions, the Kiwis’ mellow dispositions and willingness to answer questions (or to just pour and pour and pour), one satisfied customer dubbed the quadrant “a metaphoric shade tree.”

“These people are low maintenance,” one local cop remarked about the festival and its patrons. No one was arrested who was related to the Food and Wine Classic, though local authorities assisted several over-served attendees in finding their friends and/or accommodations. Aspen police made two arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol on Sunday. No word whether the arrests were related to the festival.

There just aren’t enough strawberries in the world to properly cleanse one’s palate of one wine before trying another among thousands to choose from at the festival.

“That’s why I spit a lot of them – you just want to get that knee-jerk taste reaction,” said Fritz Mawicke, a wine specialist who works at The Wine Cellar in Aspen. “But it’s true that when you do drink a lot of wines, your palate ends up fading a little bit. And when you get to that point, that’s when you start drinking.”


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