My last morning at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen was spent watching part of the Quickfire Cookoff between Rick Bayless of Frontera in Chicago and Michael Voltaggio of The Langham in Pasadena, Cal. and being entertained and educated by Riesling fan extraordinaire Paul Grieco.
This final morning of the Classic traditionally is the quietest of the three-day event, as many people are thinking about heading home while there also are plenty of Saturday-night hangovers being nursed.
Grieco is co-owner of Hearth restaurant and Terroir
wine bar in NYC and such a devoted fan of the Riesling he was sporting for the weekend a big, bold, black “Riesling” tattoo.
Grieco (rhymes with echo) offered a seminar called “Riesling: A World Tour,” and after three days of the Classic, a Sunday morning seminar is unlikely to be very crowded, as he noted.
“People are either too hungover to get up or are over at the St. Regis watching the show,” Grieco offered. “So that means you (in the audience) are either lost or in love with Riesling.
“I’ll be bold enough to presume it’s the latter.”
“Finesse, harmony, complexity, longevity, all these add up,” he said, running his hand through his unruly mane of black hair, flashing the big, bold “Riesling” printed on his forearm.
But it’s terroir, and the ability to communicate terroir, that makes a wine truly great, he said.
“What do I mean by terroir?” he asked. “It’s more than just the soil or the landscape or the weather. It’s a sense of place, it’s what you grow and where you grow it and even the history of the land.”
Riesling, said Grieco, speaks of place like no other grape.
“Riesling is the greatest grape and produces the greatest wines on the planet,” he said. “Riesling is totally transparent, it gives absolute voice to the place it’s grown.”
He was also wearing a T-shirt announcing “The Summer of Riesling,” a Riesling-phile program offered at his wine bar, Terroir. Thirty wines, all Rieslings and all by the glass, comprise the bar’s white-wine menu.
“No chardonnay, no pinot gris, no sauvignon blanc, just Riesling,” Grieco explained. “We want people to experience and get to know Riesling.”
The six Rieslings he had us sample during his 45-minute included the 2007 Von Kesselstatt Riesling Trocken Josephshofer from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany.
“The measure of greatness in a Riesling isn’t the level of sugar, it’s the acidity to give it balance,” Grieco said. “The area along the Mosel is the perfect place to create wines with that balance.”
He laughed about the tattoo on his forearm, and noted we, too, could have one.
“If you love Riesling as much as I do, you’d do this, too,” he said, lifting the arm for all to see. “And so I’ve given you all the opportunity to have a Riesling tattoo.”
It’s not a real tattoo, of course, but rather a temporary water-based mark, and there at our seats were similar wet-and-press-on tattoo kits.
In spite of the hour, and any remaining hangovers, very few of the audience left without their Riesling tattoo.
Other Rieslings in Paul Grieco’s “Riesling: A World Tour:”
– 2008 Johannes Hirsch Zobinger Heiligenstein Riesling, Kamptal, Austria
– 2005 Josmeyer Les Pierrets Riesling, Alsace, France
– 2007 Herman J. Wiemer Magdalena Vineyard Riesling, Finger Lakes, N.Y.
– 2006 Cave Spring Cellars CSV Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Can.
– 2009 Craggy Range Fletcher Family Vineyard Riesling, Marlborough, N.Z.
The last full day of the Aspen Food & Classic means being adventurous, going a bit more out of the comfort zone to try something new.
The day began with superstar chef Mario Batali and family cruising the expanded and entertaining Aspen Farmers Market. It’s Batali’s morning off, a few hours with his family before back into the hubbub.
But he loves visiting these local markets.
“This all impresses me,” he said. “Anything that’s homemade and local impresses me.”
Then it was off to listen to Paul Grieco of Hearth Restaurant in NYC on “Wines from the Edge.”
“Drop all your preconceptions, all your ideas of what wines should be, you might not like any of these,” he warned as he took us on a jouney of wines from such iconoclastic wine makers as Ales Kristancic of Movia (Slovenia, writer Ray Isle has a profile here), Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project in California and Josko Gravner of Friuli, who ages his wines in clay amphora, just as the Greeks once did.
Shoener’s project once was described by New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov as “No winery in California is more unconventional, experimental or even radical than Scholium.”
Grieco says wines such as these, with minimal intervention (Kristancic puts his in barrels, caps them and leaves them alone to make wine with natural yeasts) reflect perfectly the “place of the grape.”
“Grapes give voice to the sense of place,” he said. “A winemaker’s role is to step back and let that voice ring.”
These are intense, multi layered wines, wines that come alive, but only if you let them guide you, not the other way around.
Before selling you one of these wines in his restaurant, Grieco will converse with you, making sure you understand just what you’re getting.
“They aren’t for everyone,” he warns.
The next adventure was listening to author and chef Jennifer McLagan and charcutier Michael Sullivan of Blackberry Farm in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee regale us with the importance of fat, specifically animal fat, for flavors in our food and health in our diet.
“Fat is what makes things taste good,” Jennifer said. “A little fat goes a long ways.”
Too many people mistakenly shun animal fats, especially butter, and lose the flavors it delivers, Sullivan said.
“Fat carries flavor,” he said.
Good fat, meaning from animals raised on natural feeds, not the grain-fed mass produced hogs and beef commonly seen in our stores and restaurants.
“Fat can be an expression of the terroir, with subtle flavors and nuances,” said Sullivan. “We have to demand better animals, better husbandry.”
And on it went into the night, where at the New Chefs Dinner the crowd was served such intricate delicacies as Sepia Noodles (Michael Sheerin of Blackbird, Chicago), Chego Meatball wrapped in Sesame Leaf (Roy Choi of Kogi, Los Angeles), Hearts of Walla Walla Onion (Matt Lightner o Castagne, Portland,) and the crowd’s favorite (determined by tweets), Fromage Blanc Raviolini by Jonathon Sawyer of the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland.
A day full of exciting flavors and fascinating lessons in winemaking and food.
The video has clips of Claudine as Julia Childs; Paul and Ales talking about his wines and the disgorging of Ales’ unfiltered sparkling wine; and the opening of the New Chefs Dinner.
Day 2 at the Food & Wine Classic always is a test. It’s the first day of seminars and Grand Tastings plus whatever private or reserve events you’ve arranged, all of which makes it a long day. And then there’s the parties and media events set for tonight, many of which run until WAY past my bedtime, anyway.
I’ll post another video, this one with shots of winemakers and chefs from Chile, Spain and the Pacific Northwest, talking of everything from Oscar Salas of Terra Andina on the influence of the ocean to Matt Lightner of the restaurant Castagna in Portland and one of this year’s Food & Wine 10 Best New Chefs, on foraging for local wild edibles.
Also some shots of how the event changes when the gates open and the crowds pour in.
Had some delicious wines at 10 a.m. while Laura Werlin, the Cheese Lady and author of “Great Grilled Cheese”and other award-winning cheese books, talked up grilled cheese sandwiches.
An entertaining and authorative speaker, Laura told the crowd the bigger the wine, the smaller the window of cheese that will pair with it.
“Big wines go better with cheddar-style cheeses,”she said.
She paired a grilled Silver Mountain Clothbound Cheddar from Bravo Farms, on sourdough with butter, parmesan and garlic, with Madeira, the fortified Portuguese wine. She recounted the story of Madeira and how it was exposed to heat, high humidity and lots of rolling ship action, and she drew a great laugh when she called it the “S&M of wines.”
“Did I really say that?” she laughed to a delighted audience.
Good stuff, too, from winemaker Howard Rossbach of Firesteed, the winery he started in 92 because “no one was making an affordable, fruit-forward, low alchohol Pinot Noir.”
Firesteed still produces affordable pinot noirs, its value-priced and delicious Willamette Valley pinot noirs under $15.
And for a lesson in pronouncing “Willamette,’ we leave you with these words from Eric Mclaughlin of Willamette Valley Vineyards.
It’s getting late in Aspen but there’s always something to write about.
The first night crowds at the 28th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen were begging for more from Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio (The Dining Room, Pasadena, Cal.) and from José Andrés (famed for, among so many other things, cafe atlantico and bringing the Spanish concept of small plate dining) but for such different reasons.
Both very modern yet so different, and the blend of results amazed the crowds.
It was the Voltaggio duo of brothers, Michael and Bryan, working the crowds at the opening reception Thursday at the St. Regis Hotel. The crowd came fashionably late but grew loud and funny with the fantastic food and the wines from the Trinchero Family.
Meanwhile, east of Aspen at the foot of Independence Pass, Andrés’ mastery of the pit was enough to wow even Jacques Pepin, who couldn’t get over the taste of the well-cooked pork skin served him by Andrés.
“Did you taste that pork skin?” Pepin was asking everyone around him.”I couldn’t believe it, it was marvelous.”
Just another cook-out in Aspen.
It’s the weekend thousands of well-heeled wine and food lovers anticipate all year, the three-day Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. This year is the 28th annual and I’ll be among all the hundreds of wordsmiths and photographers covering this unique event that features who-knows-how-many wines from around the world and dozens of wine seminars, cooking demonstrations and special tastings of wines you probably won’t may never see again.
You’ll find daily updates, photos and videos on this blog, just as soon as I figure out downloading videos and photos.
Here’s a sample of what goes on each day: Thirty-three 45-minute seminars are scheduled on Friday and Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. and going until 4:15 p.m. Eleven of the seminars run simultaneously, so the hardest part is deciding whether you want to learn about caviar from Jacques and Claudine Pepin, take a world tour of Riesling with Paul Grieco, discover Argentina’s best-kept wine secrets or learn about great grilled cheese with Laura Werlin. And that’s only part of the Thursday morning offering!
In addition, there are two two-hour Grand Tastings each day, under the huge white tents where winemakers show off their latest and greatest. Name a country and you’ll probably find something. Well, maybe not Dubai, although there likely will be some Dubai money floating around Aspen this weekend.
It really is a busy weekend, although I’ll miss all the private parties and probably again won’t see the inside of the veddy-exclusive Caribou Club, which is even more exclusive this week. Such is life.
There still is a lot to do, and I’ll share as much as possible.
After graduating No. 1 in her class at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.J., Liken worked at several establishments and eventually turned down a couple of enticing offers and opted to open her eponymous restaurant in Vail, where she builds on Colorado’s abundant resources.
“Colorado has an amazing selection of ingredients you can’t get at the local farmer’s market including bison, elk, wild porcini mushrooms grown on the local hillsides, or turnips and potatoes grown at 8,300 feet above sea level that are truly divine,” Liken said.
It’s 92 in Grand Junction and only 3 p.m., which means it may reach 95 or so before the sun sets.
I was reading posts by Susannah Gold and Charles Scicolone on a PR tasting they attended (n in NYC, of course) for Soave, an under-appreciated white wine from the Veneto region.
And those posts got me to thinking of a cool Italian white to savor after work, which brings me to the Frascati I have in the fridge. Frascati is a blend of Malvasia bianca (50 percent or more), Malvasia del Lazio and several other varietals including Greco, Trebbiano Giallo and other local (local to Rome, that is) white varietals.
But the wine itself doesn’t get much respect, with most reviews I’ve found calling it “serviceable” and “unremarkable.”
It doesn’t sound like much but maybe that’s about all I need on a steamy Friday, something serviceable and unremarkable.
Not sure what to pair it with, all the reviewers suggesting “unremarkable” foods like seafood cocktail. Seafood cocktail? Not sure I even remember what that is.
But maybe it will give me something to ponder other than the disaster in the Gulf, and the memories of the friends and family who make their living on and near the waters of Louisiana.
It’s been a tough spring for them, and there are going to be many tough weeks and months to come.
But as a bumper sticker said during the dark days following the Exxon pull-out in 1982 that left thousands of people jobless in western Colorado: tough times don’t last, tough people do.
My heart goes out to the tough people of Louisiana.
And I’ll get back to you on this here Frascati.
Buon weekend, y’all, as Alfonso would offer.