WineInk: Aspen and Snowmass

A Winning Wine Community

World-renowned wine at The Little Nell.
Courtesy photo

As if we needed any more validation that Aspen and Snowmass are great wine destinations, a couple of recent events — one in Snowmass and one in London — provided added proof.

Last weekend, the Snowmass Rotarians hosted the 21st annual Snowmass Wine Festival, pouring hundreds of wines to raise money to support non-profits and people in need. This year, the event began with a celebration of the wines of Washington State with a Friday dinner at the Snowmass Viceroy.

“The wines poured paired perfectly with the four-course meal the Viceroy prepared,”  said Barbara Bakios-Wickes, who oversees all the wines for the Festival.

Then, Saturday afternoon in Town Park, the community once again gathered under a picture-perfect September sky to try some of the world’s finest wines at the Grand Tasting. Both the dinner at the Viceroy and the Grand Tasting were sold-out affairs this year.

“We try and keep the capacity to about 1,200 people at the Grand Tasting,” said Bakios-Wickes, “and we are so happy we sold it out. People just seem to be thrilled with the wines.”

Barbara Bakios-Wickes holds a bottle of wine at a previous Snowmass Wine Festival dinner. She is also the owner of Sundance Liquor and Gifts and organizes the wine for the event every year.
Jill Beathard/Snowmass Sun |

­That combination of a casual atmosphere and a collection of quality wines shows why this event is, annually, one of the best in the state. We are lucky to have the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen in June here each year, but there are many who prefer the locally-produced and community-focused Snowmass event for its relaxed atmosphere and spirit. ­

Kudos must go once again to those in the Snowmass Rotary whose efforts help to raise upwards of $150,000 each year for donations to local student scholarships, Vocational Contributions to local schools, and financial support for 27 local charities, including the Aspen Hope Center, Bridging Bionics, Wind Walkers EAL & Therapy Center, Youthentity, and Ascendigo Autism Services, amongst many others.

Of course, none of this happens without the hard work of Bakios-Wickes, owner of Sundance Liquor & Gifts in Snowmass, who for the last two decades has been the veritable Godmother of the Snowmass Fest. Using her knowledge of fine wines and connections in the broader wine industry, she has invited, cajoled, and welcomed many of the most renowned global producers who come each year to pour their wines. She says it is a labor of love for her, but her efforts have made such a difference — not only for those who enjoy the Fest, but also for those who benefit from the money that is raised as well.

“I’m not sure why, but it’s such a feel-good festival,” she said. Much of the “why” has to do with her involvement.

Earlier that same week, nearly 5,000 miles away in a ballroom at Glaziers Hall in London, The Little Nell received global recognition for its esteemed wine list. On Sept. 11, The World of Fine Wine honored the Nell by naming the hotel’s wine list as “Best Hotel Wine List in the World.” Pretty heady stuff.

The Little Nell’s list is 112 pages long, and the cellar features a collection of 20,000 bottles of the world’s most sought-after wines. The Nell was selected from a prestigious list of regional international winners that included: Restaurant Petrus at Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong; Jonah’s Palm Beach in New South Wales, Australia; Switzerland’s Park Hotel Vitznau; the Archipel Wine Cellar at Constance Prince Maurice; Poste de Flacq in Mauritius; and the Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant in Nassau, Bahamas. In other words, some of the top wine destinations on the planet.

Chris Dunaway.
Little Nell/Courtesy photo

It was a special honor and The Little Nell Wine Director Chris Dunaway traveled all the way to London to attend the event and accept the award on behalf of his team and the entire hotel. 

“What a special accolade to help celebrate the great wine legacy at the Nell,” said Dunaway. “We’ve worked tirelessly for the past 34 years to source and share some great fine and rare wines with our guests, and to be mentioned in the same breath with the great properties represented at the 2023 World of Fine Wine Awards was truly a great honor. And to be there and win on the world stage has us all buzzing with excitement.”

The World’s Best Wine Lists is a global awards program created in 2014 by the multi-award-winning publication The World of Fine Wine. The winners are judged according to a rigorous protocol by independent, international panels of leading professionals, including World Champion Sommeliers, Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, and highly-respected wine writers. It is the first awards program to acknowledge the crucial importance of a good wine selection — regardless of size — in the modern dining experience all around the world.

Along with Chris Dunaway, The Little Nell’s wine team consists of Sommeliers Jesse Libby, Jon Koch, and Rachael Liggett-Draper, who were justifiably proud of the recognition they received.

“We’re looking forward to sharing the excitement with our guests this upcoming season and beyond,” said Dunaway.

While a validation by The World of Fine Wine for the wine program at The Little Nell was special, the wine team is used to being recognized. Since 1997, the hotel has annually been honored by Wine Spectator with their Grand Award, which recognizes the best wine lists in the world. It is a testament to not just the current team, but also to all those who have toiled in the small but mighty wine cellar that houses the Nell’s collection of wines.

Little Nell/Courtesy photo

The list is a classic that reflects the effort of dozens of wine-obsessed sommeliers who have worked the floor of the storied restaurants that have been in the hotel over the decades and is reflected in its many pages. It is a list of both breadth and depth, meaning that it not only features wines from a broad number of regions, but also different vintages of the great wines of the world.

Dunaway, in a past interview, explained the importance of diversity in the list:

“For me, a great list is comprised of not just the fine and the rare or a running list of benchmarks, but also of an abundance of diverse expressions from the periphery and the lesser-known regions inspired by these classic expressions,” he shares. “These wines can help one to not only better understand the classics and appreciate them, but they can inspire a more adventurous journey through the world of wine which leads often to wines of extraordinary value and intrigue.”

It was a good week for wine in Aspen and Snowmass.


2019 Dakota Shy Cabernet Sauvignon

As we are coming off the 21st Snowmass Wine Festival, I thought it appropriate to ask Barbara Bakios-Wickes to suggest a wine that was poured during the Fest and is currently on the shelves at Sundance Liquor & Gifts. She recommended a bottle from Aspen wine broker Rob Leventhal’s Napa Fine Wine Collection, the 2019 Dakota Shy Cabernet Sauvignon.

“This is a lush and layered wine, which is elegant to the core. Although the wine has power, the tannins are silky smooth. There are dark fruit flavors in abundance — currants, plums, and black cherries with a hint of mocha chocolate,” she wrote. “It is a very refined and lovely wine. Although this is somewhat pricey at $159.95, it is a beautiful wine, which is highly-allocated.”

Dakota Shy Cabernet Sauvignon.
Courtesy photo
More Like This, Tap A Topic
Aspen Times Weekly

See more