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.
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.