Aspen Food & Wine Festival 2010

The flip side of the snob factor:

Aspen Food & Wine is the ultimate who’s who of the wine and culinary world with a splash of travel lust thrown in. Having been before, and never one to be star struck, I thought it would be just another walk in the park for me. Well, it was a wild walk.

The drive over the very winding and narrow Independence Pass is always beautiful and always a bit nerve wracking. Wild flowers were blooming everywhere and the waterfalls were running fast. Pat, my co-worker, tends to drive fast and aggressively. She’s a New Yorker so she talks with her hands. She talks a lot, so that means her hands aren’t necessarily on the wheel. I am never an easy passenger but by the time we got over the pass I was a nervous wreck and ready for a glass of wine. I really don’t enjoy bumper-to-bumper mountain traffic, no matter how beautiful the sights are. But, this is Aspen Food & Wine. There was a steady stream of cars flowing into the Aspen valley and the town was alive with people scurrying from tent to restaurant and back again.

Walking through the streets of Aspen on this beautiful June day, I could feel the energy of excitement swirling around me. It was in some strange way, very calming. Pat had some friends she was meeting for lunch. She was on the hunt for an entrance pass and they had a lead. I really didn’t care one way or another. I certainly didn’t expect a pass. I was just enjoying watching the people. Many of the people I know and work with in the wine business were mulling around Aspen so I had plenty of people to talk to.

As we walked to the Ute Grill to meet Pat’s friends for lunch we passed the actress Allison Janney and a group of lovely women leaving Gucci. The crowd we were meeting was finishing lunch when we arrived. I sipped on a cool Spanish rosé as Pat and her friend Aubrey strategized finding her a pass. She was in.

I ran into my old friend, Karen Clark, the very successful owner of Wine Connections and my suppliers from Majestic Fine Wines, Ashley Rowe and Jeff Redden near the private entrance to the show. Jeff slipped a pass around my next and told me to go have fun. I was quite surprised by his unexpected gesture. As I was walking in Rick Bayless was walking out. I grabbed a glass and went to work. First stop: Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte. Some notable moments included tasting Robert Sinskey wines with Robert Sinskey, sips of Château d’Issan & Château Lagrange, and an unusual Bodegas Valdemar Tempranillo Blanco…

There were gorgeous bowls of strawberries and boards of grapes and cheese propped up around the tasting tables. Chocolove, a local favorite, had one of the longest lines in the tent. I tried a slice of aromatic fig, walnut and hazelnut cake from The Cheese Importers. Blackberry Farms, out of Tennessee, laid out delicious cured meats and various handcrafted cheeses, but the star of their show was a little BLT slider made with deep-fried bacon. I am not sure it is necessary to deep fry bacon but it was truly delicious.

Giada deLaurentiis captivated a crowd as she was speaking in the courtyard. The petite beauty was surrounded by mostly men, and her sparkling smile was entrancing them. I am positive they have no idea what she said, and I am positive they don’t care…

Wine Maker of the Year, Charles Smith, was pouring his wines and chatting up a very different, very attentive crowd in the east pavilion of the big tent. His smoky syrah and lovely blends have always had a special place in my heart and my palate. It is always fantastic to watch the man at work. Have you ever seen vintage clips of John Belushi as Joe Cocker on Saturday Night Live? That’s Charles Smith.

Marnie Old, sommelier du jour and best selling author, relaxed in a chair, under an umbrella, under the Colorado Sunshine.

The Wines of Spain had their own festive tent and the Trade Commission was represented by a beautiful Basque man…what is it about the Basque, this is the second, very exceptional Basque man I have met in recent months. Italian wine expert, Joe Bastianich, was working his way through the representation of Spanish Wines.

My time in side was brief, but it was full of wonderful tastes, splendid sights, and a fantastic opportunity to see everyone in this crazy business under one tent, having fun, working together, and laughing.

Our last stop before returning to Denver was the Little Nell. Pat decided she needed a cup of strong, black tea and a little snack of sweat breads before making the long drive back to Denver. We lounged on the patio watching the sun dipping low in the sky. I sipped on Pellegrino with a sprig of rosemary, still satiated from the festival. Wine legend Richard Betts was holding court by the pool.

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