WineInk: The Little Nell pours it on this summer

Kelly J. Hayes
The team at The Little Nell is gearing up for a summer full of culinary delights.
The Little Nell/Courtesy photo

It’s summer, and the culinary and wine teams at Aspen’s Little Nell hotel are gearing up for some serious events.

It all begins with the Aspen Food & Wine Classic when they pair the wines of France’s  Krug Champagne house with the cuisine of guest chef Nathan Rich of Vermont’s standout Relais & Château property, Twin Farms. The special dinner will take place on Friday night, June 16, and is sure to be a highlight of the 40th anniversary edition of the Classic.

Then, in July, the five-diamond, five-star property will present the third annual Little Nell Culinary Fest featuring eight chefs from esteemed Relais & Châteaux properties throughout North America. Launched as a passion project in 2021 by the Nell’s culinary director, Matt Zubrod, as a fill in for the then postponed Food & Wine Classic, the four-day event has found footing as a celebration of the best of the Relais & Châteaux culinary teams and a singularly sensational event.


The beautiful and delicious work of the culinary team at The Little Nell.
The Little Nell/Courtesy photo

When they give you lemons, you make, well, the freshest and zestiest foods for the summer season. Such is the case with the five-course meal that Chef Rich will prepare to augment the finest wines from one of the most renowned purveyors of bubbles in all of Champagne.   

Founded in Reims, France, in 1843 by the German-born Joseph Krug, the House of Krug has become a beacon for Champagne connoisseurs who seek out the annual releases of the Krug Grande Cuvée, which is blended from 120 individually made lots of wines from a decade of vintages. This non-vintage gem, in their distinctive, narrow-necked bottles, is a Champagne designed to create a style of its very own and has been released every year since the inception of Krug. The unique wines sit in bottle for at least six years and are the product of decades of winemaking. They are, in fact, a work of art.

Little Nell Wine Director Chris Dunaway is looking forward to pouring the Krug wines: “We’re incredibly excited to be able to partner with our friends at Krug and Twin Farms for this phenomenal occasion during Food & Wine. Krug, to me, is a benchmark of luxury. Each selection represents the perfect combination of intensity, elegance, refinement, and extraordinary complexity. To many in the industry, the Grande Cuvée is considered one of the greatest if not the greatest multi-vintage blend on the planet.”

Each year, the House of Krug selects a humble single ingredient to honor and invites renowned Krug Ambassade chefs to create food pairings to accompany the latest editions of Krug Grande Cuvée and Krug Rosé. In 2023, chefs have been asked to celebrate what Krug has selected as its “beacon of generosity and vitality and the first fruit to be elected Single Ingredient: the vibrant citrus called lemon.”

The Little Nell culinary team hard at work.
The Little Nell/Courtesy photo

So it is that Chef Rich will travel from his home in Barnard, Vermont, and celebrate lemons. As a chef who delights in the preparation of light, local, fresh, and clean cuisine, the opportunity to pair lemon-influenced dishes with the wines of the House of Krug will be a delight. On the planned menu will be a Lemon Olive Oil Poached Sturgeon, Vichyssoise, Trout Roe dish and a Summer Berry Pavlova, Yuzu, Lemon Ash dessert — all served with different releases of the Krug Grande Cuvée and the Krug Rosé, poured from magnums and jeroboam bottlings. An elegant and tasty, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you are so inclined, the Nell is the site of two more special wine-centric dinners during the Food & Wine Classic week. On the Wednesday before the Classic, California winemaker Chris Carpenter will be pouring the wines of the Jackson Family Wines Spire Collection, including wines he has overseen like La Jota, Lakoya, and Cardinale. Then on Saturday, there will be a Library Dinner with Gaia Gaja, as she brings her family’s esteemed Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello, and “Super-Tuscan” wines to the Nell from Piedmonte for a special evening.

Seats can be purchased at


The Little Nell Culinary Fest will return for its third year this summer.
The Little Nell/Courtesy photo

The second week of July will see the third iteration of what is fast becoming a summer tradition in Aspen, as the Nell hosts its eponymous food and wine event. The fest will feature a series of food and wine focused breakfasts, lunches, and dinners over four days at the Nell — all paired with the appropriate wines, of course.

This year’s edition will see Matt Zubrod, the founder of the fest, and Oscar Carrasco, executive chef at The Little Nell, open their prestigious kitchens to host Relais & Châteaux chefs, including: Julian Eckhardt, culinary director at the revered Inn at Little Washington in Virginia; Jack Mahoney, executive chef at Magee Homestead in Wyoming; and the aforementioned Chef Nathan Rich, a mountain biker who can’t seem to get enough of Aspen.

“Since 2015, when I joined The Little Nell and the Relais & Chateaux chef community, I immediately discovered a shared commitment to quality, a passion and commitment to hospitality, and for the most part with little to no ego,” Zubrod said about the chefs who join him in Aspen for the fest.

The wine team at The Little Nell will be pouring a curated list of wines for the third Little Nell Culinary Fest.
The Little Nell/Courtesy photo

For its part, the Nell’s wine team — including sommeliers Rachael Liggett-Draper, Jesse Libby, Jon Koch, and wine director Dunaway — will be joined by former Nell-ian Carlton McCoy, who is now a managing partner at Lawrence Wine Estates. McCoy will be presenting a Napa Valley Wine Class and Lunch at the ASPENX Mountain Club on Wednesday, July 12. He will also lead a special tasting in the Nell’s wine cellar, where he will pour wines from the Lawrence Wine Estate portfolio, including Heitz Cellar, Stony Hill, Burgess, Ink Grade, Haynes Estate, and Châteaux Lascombes.

“It’s always special when you’re able to bring home legends like Carlton,” Dunaway said about having his friend and colleague come to the fest. “His impact on our wine program’s legacy has been seismic. Just to be able to sling some bottles like old times and catch up will be a pleasure.”

In addition to a wide variety of activities, including a bike around of Aspen, mushroom foraging in the local mountains, and a delightful tour of the Nell’s amazing gardens hosted by Arabella Beavers-Kaplansky, who is the keeper of the green kingdom, there are three meals each day at the Nell for attendees who purchase the full Culinary Fest passes. There are also special dining events, including a street festival on the patio of Ajax Tavern and a gala dinner in Element 47 that will feature cuisine prepared by the chefs from the Relais & Châteaux properties.

Long before the trend of what are now called boutique hotels, the restaurants and hotels that were members of Relais & Châteaux were renowned for their high standards and individuality.

In 1954, Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, who owned a hotel and restaurant on the Right Bank of the Rhône called La Cardinale, came up with the idea of branding related properties under the slogan “La Route du Bonheur,” or the “Road of Happiness.” The different houses, or hotels, each with their own distinct character, lined the road from Paris to Nice, united by shared values of the finest of amenities, outstanding fine dining and wine service, and individual interpretations of the art of living.

Today, the Relais & Châteaux is a confederation of 580 uniquely authentic hotel and restaurant properties, including The Little Nell, that remain committed to providing guests the finest in wine, gastronomy, and a taste of the local culture.

Three years into the Little Nell’s Culinary Festival history, Zubrod is pleased with the progress he has seen: “The Little Nell Culinary Fest has exceeded my expectations. It’s like inviting your childhood heroes to your house to cook dinner with you. Entering our third year, it’s getting harder as so many chefs want to come to Aspen, so the first five that reply to me in time get the nod!”

A la carte tickets are available to the public for the individual events ranging from $100 to $250 per seat. There is also a Culinary Fest package with bundled pricing starting at $1,500 per person. Guests who purchase the full Culinary Fest package will receive 40% off accommodations at The Little Nell. Registration is now open, and seats at the table are going fast. To register, go to

Summer is here, and the living is easy.

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