Vignettes from the Aspen Food & Wine Classic 2010

I’ve just returned home from the 2010 Aspen Food and Wine Classic. The event was spectacular, not the least of which because Mother Nature saw fit to knock off all the rain and chilly winds and left us with four perfect days of 75 degree sun and blue skies. Friday there was literally not a cloud in the sky all day.

The Classic has served as a wonderful little homecoming for me for the past few years, as I grew up in Aspen and, in fact, worked at the Classic as a grunt when I was about 15 years old, schlepping milk crates of dishes to and fro. I didn’t understand what the fuss was about back then, and can only shake my head now at what I might have been able to learn if I had really paid attention.

As usual the event this year offered some wonderful moments.

Friday night I found myself sitting with a small group of folks that included Jacques Pepin, his daughter Claudine, chef Jose Andres, and a friend from high school, among others. Andres at one point asked Jacques Pepin if he was hungry, and when he got something vaguely resembling a positive answer he leaped up, and said, “Let’s go! Jacques Pepin is hungry!” He then led me, my high school friend, and Claudine Pepin’s husband on a raid of the kitchen as well as the various street food stations that were set up as part of the festivities that evening. I was more than content to conspiratorially carry trays of food in the wake of Andres, who produced laughter and parted the crowds everywhere he went. I was only briefly distracted by the opportunity to taste a glass of 2002 Clos de la Roche Vielles Vignes out of magnum when I crossed paths with sommelier Richard Bohr, so briefly that I didn’t remember the producer (perhaps Ponsot?).

Breakfast the first day consisted of a blueberry muffin followed by a tasting of “two decades of Dom Perignon,” which was a wonderful chance to take the measure of consistency that the house manages to produce vintage after vintage. The star of the tasting, which included 2000, 1999, 1998, 1995, 1993 and 1988, was the 1995 rosé which was sublime in its balance between fruit, and savory, mineral character.

Saturday afternoon I had a chance to taste some of the greatest wines on the planet, the current and a few past vintage releases from J.L. Chave. From the Saint Joseph to the Hermitage Blanc and Hermitage, the wines were all exceptional, but the one that nearly made me weep was the 2000 Hermitage Blanc. Pure perfection in the glass, it made me want to weep. Every expletive in the book wouldn’t have been enough to adequately cover the sublime balance of power and delicacy wrapped in utter deliciousness that was this wine. I will sort through my tasting notes and offer a review sometime soon, but for now I’m just savoring the memory.

After an evening spent tasting one dish from each of the Best New Chefs recently annointed by Food & Wine Magazine, the real partying began, and as always I am amazed at the collective liver capacities of those who so rightly merit the label of food and wine professionals, especially at 8000 feet of altitude. Magnums of riesling disappear in a snap, and the mountain of tequila bottles is something to behold.

The capacity for consumption seems equally matched, if not outdone, by a staggering generosity, with simply stunning (and often very, very expensive) wines appearing from nowhere to be showered on a mixed group of friends and strangers alike, with no discrimination. Among other things I was simply handed a glass of 2001 Thierry Allemande “Cuvee Reynard” Cornas poured from a magnum by a total stranger who seemed as utterly delighted to share it with me as I was to drink it.

Finally, I was quite pleased with how my two seminars “South African Gems” and “Secrets of the Napa Valley” were received. When I run these seminars they consist almost entirely of storytelling and I’m endlessly delighted by how people grab little nuggets of personal meaning for themselves out of my ramblings. When people come up afterwards and say how much they liked a wine AND how they love the idea that no one really knows all the different types of grapes that are grown in the ancient vineyard that produced it, I feel like I’ve done my job.

I videotaped (or tried to, with my little Flip camera) my seminars but haven’t had time to review the footage yet. If the audio is good and you can actually see me in frame, I’ll post them, along with my notes on the wines that I served in upcoming posts.

More to come.