WineInk: A Thanksgiving tradition
Carl’s Wine Sale
Often in this column, I make note of the special place Aspen holds in the world of wine. And annually, I am reminded of that this time of year when both local papers feature full-page advertisements, just before Thanksgiving, listing the great wines that are on sale at Carl’s Wine Cellar.
This year marks the 57th year that the tiny wine shop on Main Street has offered up special wines for exceptional prices. And who can’t use a price break in this day and age? For that matter, who can’t use a great bottle of wine or a special case for the holidays? The folks at Carl’s are there to meet your seasonal needs.
This only-in-Aspen tradition goes back to the mid-1960s, when the late Carl Bergman and his wife Katie purchased the old Matthews Drug store on Main and Monarch, renamed the building, added a second floor, and expanded the operation with a cosmetics counter. They also turned the west side of the building, which had formerly housed a soda fountain when it was Matthews, into a wine shop. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1966, the wine shop, christened Carl’s Wine Cellar, started the annual Thanksgiving sale.
Today, the Wine Cellar is an Aspen institution, and the staff – under the tutelage of the natty dreadlocked Yankee’s fan Maurice Eaton – likely sells more wine per square foot than any other shop in town. If not the state. It is known not only for carrying fine wines, but also for a healthy collection of craft beers, premium spirits, and, increasingly, the canned cocktails that have become so popular in the past couple of years. Oh, and it has the quirky, casual local vibe that reminds many of another time when this town was, well, a bit more quirky and casual. Same as it ever was, if you will.
Much of that vibe emanates from the learned staff of wine pros who populate the place. Both Eaton, who arrived at Carl’s in 1998, and Kyle Kroupa, who followed shortly after in 2000, are fixtures in the local wine scene and familiar faces to a generation of Aspen wine geeks. They are joined by the former, much loved, Aspen High School Principal Charlie Anastas, who has matriculated to fine wines, Francis Stuckens, newbie Laksmi Case, and the “weekend specialist” James Maxwell who also represents wines through his company Maxwell Wines.
Part of what makes the Carl’s Wine Cellar sale so unique is that they don’t just cut prices on their current inventory – they actually hand-select the wines for the sale.
“We have a great relationship with our distributors,” Eaton explains. “Each year, we connect and find out what wines they have left that are worthy of the sale.” Some may be overstocks, some are limited selections, but all are special wines. “I personally taste over 800 wines for the sale, and we have between 120 and 130 wines make the list each year,” he said.
Perhaps the best part of the sale for those who are “friends of the Cellar” is the annual staff training tasting, which has also become an annual tradition. This year’s tasting took place in the home that Eaton resides in with his wife Rebecca, which was once the residence of Carl Bergman himself.
“We usually have 20-30 people who come by, and we go through a bunch of the wines,” said Eaton. “It’s a great way to get to know the wines that will be on sale and to see old friends. We used to do it at the Red Onion before COVID, but now, we invite some customers and a few distributors and have a potluck. It’s a terrific way to start the sale and build a little comradery.”
But in the end, it’s really all about the wines, and this year’s sale has some exceptional offerings, including Wine Spectator’s 2023 Wine of the Year (see Under the Influence). Check out the ads in the papers or simply stop by for a cheat sheet of what is included this year.
Begin at the beginning. Start with bubbles this Thanksgiving. If you are into vintage Champagne, pick up a bottle of the Jean Josselin Extra Brut Alliance 2019. Dry as they come and a steal at $52.19 (marked down from $77.95). Looking for something a bit more affordable? How about a dazzling Scharffenberger Mendocino Brut Rose NV for $24.29? Nothing is prettier in a champagne flute than this pink-hued California beauty.
There are many lovers of white Burgundy in our little burg, and the Joseph Drouhin Puligny Montrachet Folatieres Premier Cru 2020 ($138.69) from the heart of the Côte de Beaune at a discount of fifty bucks a bottle is a deal too good to pass on. There is also a Domaine Huet Moelleaux Vouvrey ($49.19) and a Hugel Pinot Blanc ($15.99) that are tempting from the list of Imported White Wines.
I like to drink American on Thanksgiving, so despite the prodigious selection of Imported Reds for sale (2019 Château Le Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape [$61.19] or the Speri Amarone Classico 2018 [$72.99], for example), I would opt for a couple of choices from the domestic selections. The Shafer TD9 ($60.29), named for a tractor, is a powerful red blend from Napa, and the Frank Family Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($44.19), made by the great Todd Graff, are both wines that I would love to drink this winter season.
But it is a Pinot Noir that Eaton suggested, the Racine La Rinconda Pinot Noir ($62.69) from the Sta. Rita Hills that may be the best pairing with turkey on the whole damn list.
Obviously, these wines are only available as long as they are available. The spoils go to those who get there early. So with a week to go before Thanksgiving, when the sale ends, the time to strike is now.
As great as the annual sale is, Carl’s is also a wonderful place to buy wine on an everyday basis. When I asked the dreaded one why someone should come into Carl’s, he said with a shrug, “Personalized service. It’s what we do.”
From the days when the long narrow shop was part of what was then Matthew’s Drugs, to now, Carl’s Wine Cellar has been a must-stop for wine lovers.
It is an Aspen tradition.
Argiano Brunello di Montalcino 2018
Fair warning: This wine may have sold out before you had a chance to read this column. The 2018 vintage was just named as wine of the year by Wine Spectator, and the demand for it, well, increased exponentially.
“We put it in the sale before we knew that it was getting the award,” says Eaton, who marked down the winner from $94.95 to a steal of a deal at $74.79. A Tuscan beauty made from 100% Sangiovese is as refined and elegant as they come. This ancient winery (They have been making wines since 1580) has long produced some of the best wines in the region. This year, they have received yet another honor – as part of the Carl’s Wine Cellar 57th Annual Sale.
The charming neighborhoods showed off narrow lanes, intimate piazzas, fanciful fountains, and some of Europe’s best people-watching. It was my first day in Rome, and I was already in love.