Barry Smith: Smooth, subtle notes on Food & Wine
After all these years I really could have learned something.I mean, I have the killer gig – running camera and sound in the Cement Tent for Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic. Wine experts from all over the world sit before me and ponder the nuances of the best wines available. I could have been tasting them (and spitting, of course), making notes about vintage, vineyards, tannins, body, finish, all of it. I’ve had this gig for eight years. Come on! Where’s the personal growth?Instead, I spend my time scribbling in my notebook – silly observations, bits of overheard conversation, nonwine-related anecdotes, and so on – in order to share with you. So, in a way, it’s your fault. I guess that’s my point.Well, OK, I did learn one thing about wine this year: It appears that I’ve been pronouncing “Merlot” wrong all this time.* In lieu of learning, I listen to wine descriptions (as proclaimed by the expert panelists) with one criteria in mind: Could that collection of words also be used to describe me? More often than not, the answer is yes.Like these:”A very muscular Pinot …””Silky, elegant body …””Firm, firm tannins …””100 percent new wood …”* After watching thousands of people stream out of the main tent, staggering like newborns, so drunk they couldn’t even make toast (unbuttered), I am shocked to realize that Lincoln is one of the sponsors of this event. Somehow the thought of these wine enthusiasts crawling behind the wheel of an SUV the size of an oil tanker makes me nervous, dual front-seat climate control or not.* OVERHEARD QUOTE: “Jim’s 2000 is showing well now.”* I was standing outside of the main tent when a woman walked up to me and asked, “Excuse me, do you know where this is?”She was pointing at the tent, the tent that takes up an entire park, the tent that was a few feet away from us, asking me if I knew where it was. I thought it was some sort of a Zen test.”Uhhhhh, yeah … I know where it is,” I was finally able to answer.”Will you tell him,” she said, handing me a tiny cell phone.* WINE-TASTING PANELIST: “These are the hardest working vines on the planet. And that’s not meant to be an oblique reference to James Brown.”Oh, good, thanks for clearing that up for me.* A few more overheard wine/Barry descriptions:”Elegance, discretion and concentration …” “A buttery, round, soft style …””A certain dusty overlay in the aroma …””The fruit is really deep in there …”* In past Food & Wine Columns I have chronicled the tongue slips of wine-tasting panelists which seem to be the result of a day of not spitting. This year’s winner: “Site specificity.” Five honest tries, but no luck. I think they were just asking for trouble. Have some Burgundy and give it a try yourself.* I do my A/V thing in what is known as the Cement Tent, which is that seriously unfinished bit of real estate in the St. Remus. When people get to the top of the stairs and emerge into this “tent,” seeing for the first time its exposed wires, pipes, ducts, beams and such, they utter some variation of: “Oh, I see why they call it the cement tent.” Then they laugh a clever little laugh.They say it a lot, year after year. About every fourth person, at least. This year, while watching the parade of repetitious observation, it occurs to me that I would say the exact same thing in that situation. And I would think I was being as clever, unique and original as everyone else does. I’m just one of the herd, plodding along mooing and bleating on cue like everyone else, never saying or thinking anything that hasn’t already been said or thunk a thousand times before. Jesus, I’m depressed. I need a drink.Oh, look! Hundreds of glasses of wine!* The absolute best combination of words used to describe a wine, ever, EVER, were spoken right in front of me, but I was too busy operating the video camera to write it down. Oh, it was so good; the one that all the others have been leading up to. And when my hands were finally free I had lost it. Poof. Gone. Just like that.Next year I’m requesting an intern.* And even more overheard Barry descriptors that could also be used for wine:”A bland white grape …””Definite hint of herb …””Very small berries …” “Smells better than it tastes …””About $30 a bottle …”* You know those little cocktail forks, the tiny little three-pronged ones that are all fancy? Well, there was one sitting on top of a urinal in the facilities of a very nice hotel in town. I don’t consider myself easily unsettled, but, well … ughhhhh! The placement just made me cringe, and I don’t think it was just the bad feng shui.* OVERHEARD CONVERSATION:PERSON ONE: “He’s the top cheese expert in the world.”PERSON TWO: “And the two of them are gonna team up in a seminar together?”PERSON THREE: “It’s too good to be true.”* And now for my crisp, refreshing, well-balanced finish: I know that the novelty has worn off for the year when the panelist says, “There’s a nut taste in my mouth now” and I don’t even bother to write it down.
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High Points: Now I don’t want to be an apologist for the Aspen Skiing Company, but to me $199 to ski the crown jewel of American skiing during the height of what is traditionally the busiest time of year is a total bargain.