It’s Day One of the 2014 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, the start of the annual Summer Camp for Foodies.
Just like the summer camp you remember, this weekend is the time you greet friends from years past and make new friends for the future years. You won’t spend much time at this camp doing arts and crafts, unless trying new wines and sampling the best of the F&W’s Best New Chefs will count.
Everyone rolled into town yesterday (Thursday), and it seemed as if all 5,000 of the expected attendees spent the evening at Casa Jose Andres,where the renowned Spanish chef holds his annual barbecue and wine tasting.
But to call it a ‘barbecue’ isn’t quite enough, since there are whole pigs roasting over open fires, wines red and white from every region of Spain and seemingly every chef in Andres’ international chain of restaurants serving such delights as Tacos Jose, a deceptive name for tapas which are nothing less than thin-sliced Fermin jamon wrapped around Beluga caviar.
The setting alone, an immense, stone-and-wood private home just off Brush Creek near Snowmass Ski Resort, was enough to wow the guests, and by the time the limousines were lined up for the ride home, there was a giddiness in the air even the finest Spanish wines couldn’t match.
The seminars, Grand Tastings and cooking demos begin today, with another round of invite-only events tonight and well into the morning.
It’s a hilarious, invigorating and body- and soul-inspiring weekend. All that and the chance of hangover or two.
Let’s get started.
ASPEN – The second day of the Food & Wine Magazine Classic is a day to catch up with some of the seminars missed on Day One.
Although there never is enough time to see everyone, the weekend schedule is flexible and offers repeat performances of most seminars, allowing me the chance to slip into Marnie Old’s presentation on “Unknown Wines from Spain’s Iconic Regions.”
Marnie Old is very popular, in part because she has a sparkling and engaging personality and also because she’s the best-prepared of the presenters I usually see at the Classic. While some of the presenters may offer difficult-to-see maps and some offer hand-outs listing the wines in their talk and others leave you guessing, Marnie has great maps and visual aids, as we called them in school, and she says it’s because talking to people is how she makes her living.
“A lot of (the speakers) are in the wine business, or own restaurants or aren’t around people a lot,” she said. “I’m the only one who makes her living as an author and speaker, so I know what it takes to capture an audience.”
And communicate she does. Lively, entertaining, not shy about dancing around the stage to make a point, Marnie engages the audience in her topic, which this time was about “breaking the mold” when it come to exploring Spanish wines.
In her quest, she had us tasting Tempranillo Blanco from Rioja; a dry Moscatel from Málaga; barrel-fermented Xarel-lo (one of the three grapes more commonly found in cava): a Caiño dominated red blend from Rías Baixas; “Niti,” a garnache/carineña blend from Priorat; and finally a Gran Reserva tempranillo from Bodegas Protos in Ribera del Duero.
The Tempranillo Blanco, from the five-generation Bodegas Valdemar, was especially interesting because the scarcity of these white-mutation Tempranillo grapes makes this a rarely seen varietal wine.
“Only a few bodegas have enough vines to make an unblended wine,” Marnie said. “But the family behind Valdemar has helped to discover and propagate the grape. We had only two of these wine shipped to us” for the Classic.
Marnie has published two books and is working on her third and also offers an iPad/iPhone app called “Wine Simplified.” She described it as an “interactive crash course for the wine curious.”
It’s available on her web site.
Now, it’s off to the day’s first Grand Tasting, where a world of wine is waiting.
ASPEN – It’s late on Day One of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and it was a lovely day, thank you.
This is the 31st annual F&W Classic here in Glitter Gulch and this town puts on a terrific hoedown.
The $1,300 general admission tickets sold out early this year, a sign the economy has recovered a bit, although some cynics might point out that most of the better-heeled fans of the Classic weren’t much bothered by the R(recession)-word.
While many events are very-exclusive, with some of the top chefs doing private meals and wine- and food-related companies tossing invite-only parties, there are plenty of opps for everyone to enjoy great food and sample some of the world’s best wines, which can make for the “Gee, now where do I go?” dilemma so dear to all of our hearts.
As usual, my weekend began with listening to Chief Terroirist Paul Grieco of Hearth Restaurant in NYC disseminate on riesling, one of his (and mine) favorite topics.
It’s Grieco, you remember, who three years ago founded the Summer of Riesling, a movement to sway bars and restaurants to pour more riesling.
This year the focus is on German riesling and Grieco spoke at length (he pleaded, to no avail, to be allowed to go beyond the 45 minutes allotted him) about the transparency of riesling, of the grape’s ability to reflect it’s place of origin.
“The beauty of riesling is it’s transparency,” Grieco said, “while the greatest drawback to riesling is it’s transparency.”
Then it was off to the first of three Grand Tastings held Friday under the immense white tents now symbolic of the Classic.
A quick stroll up and down the line of wineries got me a sip of Henriot Champagne, a splash of Torre Muga 2006 Rioja and then a stop to chat with Ben Parsons, the talented winemaker and owner of The Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery in Denver.
And soon also to be in Texas, he said.
“I’m going to open another (urban) winery in Austin,” said Parsons. “It will be the same sort of urban winery and I’ll be getting some grapes from the Texas Hill Country.”
His immensely popular line of wines includes some lightly carbonated reds (syrah) and whites (rosé, moscato) in 6-ounce cans (serious wines in a not-so-serious presentation) as well as a series in glass.
Parsons’ 100th Monkey, a blend of cabernet franc, syrah, petite syrah and malbec, was especially smooth, luscious and well-balanced.
And then it was time for author and out-sized (in a good way) wine personality Mark Oldman, who each year adopts an alternate personality (at least he claims it’s an alternate personality) for the weekend of the Classic and this year he’s wearing bolero hat, white shirt and black scarf with a new (really new, like fresh from the gag store), caterpillar-sized handlebar mustache.
Yes, he’s channeling “Gaucho Marks” and talking about Argentina malbec.
His take-home message, he said, is “Malbec isn’t for curmudgeons. But if you are the type who into sensual pleasures, a good malbec is almost everything you need.”
And that’s only part of the day. Whew.
Saturday it all starts over. What a weekend, what a Classic.