WineInk: A Napa Icon comes to Aspen
‘The Mascot’ and Harlan Estate
One of the great privileges afforded by being in Aspen is the opportunity to participate in world class events – the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Aspen Art Museum, the X Games precursor of this year’s Olympics and, of course, the annual summer gatherings at the Aspen Institute are all examples of experiences that only happen here.
So, it makes sense that, as one of America’s great wine towns, prominent wine events often make their way to our mountain lair as well. But the weekend of Feb. 19 will see a pair of dinner events that are over the top even by Aspen wine standards.
Amanda Harlan, a part of the “next generation” of Harlan Estate, will be in Aspen in association with the Little Nell hotel to pour two tiers of wines from the collection of Napa Valley’s legendary producer Bill Harlan (Amanda’s father) and the family’s Harlan Estate.
On Friday evening, in an intimate dinner in the “Gallery” at the Nell’s Element 47 restaurant, Amanda will take diners on a journey through six wines produced under “The Mascot” brand, including the 2017 vintage, which is the most recent release and one which celebrates the wine’s 10th anniversary. Then on Saturday, Amanda will take a limited number of guests to the top of Ajax and the recently renovated Aspen Mountain Club for an ASPENX Harlan Estate Wine Dinner that will be an unparalleled experience. There, six wines from Harlan Estate, arguably the ultimate expression of Napa Valley Cabernet, will be poured alongside a meal prepared by the Nell’s Culinary Director, chef Matt Zubrod, and his team.
“Harlan Estate is certainly among the most elite when you think of the super-premium wines of the world and the Harlan family has been devoted over the past 40 years to creating a gold standard of sustained excellence in the Napa Valley,” said Chris Dunaway, wine director at the Nell.
In wine parlance, Harlan is to Napa what “First Growth” estates are to Bordeaux – wines of character and dignity.
“Compared to the First Growth Estates, Harlan achieves more opulence, richness, intensity and power,” Dunaway opined. “Additionally the production is on a much smaller scale. The top Châteaux of Bordeaux produce often more than 15-20,000 cases, where the brands of Harlan Estate produces around 2,000 cases maximum annually.”
Just getting the allocation of these extremely prized and limited releases is an achievement, and, for Dunaway and his team of Little Nell sommeliers (Jesse Libby, Jon Koch and Rachael Liggett-Draper), preparing and pouring the wines is the oenological equivalent of playing in a Super Bowl.
Reservations for these two dinners can be made by calling the Little Nell or at thelittlenell.com
Ten Year Anniversary of “The Mascot” Wine Dinner
Friday, Feb. 18, 7 p.m. in the Gallery at Element 47
In celebration of the 10th Anniversary of “The Mascot” Amanda Harlan will pour six wines from the 2011 through the currently released 2017 vintages to pair with a three-course meal and share the vision for the future of Harlan Estate.
$585 per person. Price includes tax and gratuity.
ASPENX Harlan Estate Wine Dinner
Feb. 19, 6 p.m. in the Aspen Mountain Club
The evening begins with a Krug reception in the ASPENX store at the base of Aspen Mountain. A snowcat will then transport guests to the newly renovated Mountain Club atop Aspen Mountain for a three-course tasting menu paired with six vintages from Harlan Estate ranging from 1996–2016. Amanda Harlan will present the wines and share Harlan Estate’s rich history.
$3,358 per person. Price includes tax and gratuity.
With the safety and wellbeing of staff and guests in mind, vaccination requirements are in place to attend.
“Having the opportunity to taste through six vintages of this famed Estate’s production, on top of Aspen Mountain, with Amanda Harlan, is about as rare an opportunity as it gets. We’re incredibly thrilled to be able to share this incredibly exclusive experience which is sure to be one for the ages!” Dunaway exclaimed. The wines of Harlan Estate sell for well north of $1,500 a bottle depending upon the vintage and are treasured by collectors and oenophiles for their ability to age.
And yet, as I spoke with Amanda about the two events, it seemed her heart gravitated towards the wines produced for “The Mascot.”
“People think that our family only drinks Harlan or BOND or Promontory wines (the three uber-high-end wines under the Harlan umbrella). But they were in such quantities that we rarely tasted them. Instead, when we were growing up, we would drink a wine made from the grapes grown on the younger, more recently planted vines that didn’t make the cut for those more expensive wines,” she said.
Literally the house wine of the Harlan Family, the predecessor to “The Mascot” was a blend made from younger vines on the three other estates. Friends and family so enjoyed the wines that the Harlans decided to produce and release it as a less expensive adjunct to their portfolio with the 2008 vintage. While still expensive, bottles sell at retail for beyond $150, the wines allow Cabernet lovers a chance to experience the essence of some of the great vineyards of Napa raised under the tutelage of the Harlan’s director of winegrowing, Corey Empting.
“I like to think that drinking these wines offers a peek behind the curtain. A chance to look to the future,” said Amanda. Indeed, as the vines that are sourced today for “The Mascot” in Rutherford, up in Promontory and around the Valley at the five vineyards of BOND, mature, they will become the source for future vintages of the more highly priced wines. While I used the term “starter wine” for “The Mascot,” Amanda preferred to note that it provides an entry point for those who are interested in the wines of Harlan: “There is a younger, broader demographic that is interested in tasting these wines that can’t afford some of our other wines. This gives them the chance to participate.”
There are still only 5,000 cases of “The Mascot” produced, so it too is comparatively limited.
It makes sense that Amanda is looking to the future. Somewhat famously, her father Bill talks prophetically of a “200-year plan” for the Estate, taking a long view much like European wine-producing families such as the Antinoris. Amanda recently returned to the Napa Valley full time and her brother Will was named managing director of Harlan Estate this past fall.
In addition to the wines, the Harlan Family has been the proprietors of the Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley since Bill purchased a run-down country club in 1979 in St Helena and transformed it into the first true luxury property in the Napa Valley. In September of 2020 the Glass Fire destroyed both the three-Michelin-star The Restaurant at Meadowood and several cottages on the property. While the hotel remains up and running, this is a time of transformation as the family begins to prepare for a new future for the resort.
Like the Meadowood Resort, The Little Nell is a part of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux hotel group. These dinners, in conjunction with the Nell, are the first in a series that will tour ten Relais & Châteaux properties this year, circumstances willing, culminating back at Meadowood for the reopening of The Restaurant at Meadowood scheduled for late fall.
You can join Amanda Harlan for these special on-mountain events that are part food, part wine and part history.
It’s another of those “only in Aspen” experiences.
© 2019 Marc Fiorito // Gamma Nine Photography
2017 “THE MASCOT”
It is impossible to discuss the wines of Harlan Estate without making mention of the labels. The first Harlan labels featured hand cut engravings of old bank notes and BOND continued the currency theme. But how do you do that with a wine named for a dog? Well, I’ll let them explain it:
“The engraving of “Prince” was commissioned over one-hundred years ago, by the president of the Farmers Deposit National Bank of Pittsburgh, for the bank’s stock certificates. The dog, an english bull-terrier, lived at the bank (greeting customers and employees alike), and became a beloved symbol of their down-to-earth, loyal, and personal customer service values.”
And the wine itself is a “Prince.” My initial reaction to this vintage, which I opened with a room service cheeseburger, was that it was opulent, aggressive and earthy. All things that I admire. But as I let the bottle sit for a while, and yes, even overnight, it began to soften and the deep fruits took over. I felt like I was drinking a wine of a special place in its infancy. I felt … privileged.
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