Aspen Food & Wine Classic: The Fantasy Island of Gastronomy

Aspen Food & Wine Classic: The Fantasy Island of Gastronomy – The small plane swoops over a carpet of verdant hillocks, touches down, and deposits its passengers into a land of sun, magic, and enchantment.  A return to Fantasy Island?  Not unless Mr. Roarke is the debonair Jacques Pépin, the canopy-topped island wagon has been replaced by roving Lexus sedans, and Tattoo’s bell tower has morphed into white event tents.

This year’s Aspen Food & Wine Classic – the closest there is to a Fantasy Island of Gastronomy – lived up to this billing, offering a fantastical array of celebrity chef demonstrations, haute sips, and unexpected indulgences. Where else do you find the country’s newly-named Best New Chefs ladling up their signature treats (Stephanie Izard’s sublime goat stew among them), José Andrés merrily presiding over a spit-roasted pig at his party, or cowboy chef Tim Love serving up steak for a late-morning breakfast?

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This year marked my fifth Aspen and, appropriately enough, found me doing five appearances.  Two of them were as a contestant in the first-ever Iron Sommelier challenge, a light-hearted food-and-wine pairing competition dreamed up by wine czar and Best Cellars founder Joshua Wesson.  Josh asked us to dress as a superhero, so I packed a loaded ‘stache and reprised my alter-ego, “Mark Diggler,” whose first appearance was in this Drink Bravely video about Valentine’s Day wine.  Along with Josh, my fellow contestants, master sommelier Laura Pasquale of importer Palm Bay International and the Little Nell’s Vilma Mazaite, were formidable competition; Vilma emerged victorious, as detailed in this cover story in the Aspen Times.

Then it was on to teach my other seminars, “Beat the Heat: Wine with Spicy Food” and “How to Drink Wine Like a Pro,” both packed to the rafters with spirited grape nuts.  Always looking to give my audiences a special experience, I ended each seminar with a taste from bottles I won at the auction of Bernie Madoff’s wine collection, which Morrell & Co. had conducted in May, the proceeds going to Madoff’s victims.  Despite news reports that Madoff’s collection was third-rate and overpriced, I had discovered a few enticing and relatively affordable lots: 2005 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc and 1997 Antinori Guado al Tasso, both affixed with nifty seizure tags from the U.S Marshall’s Office.  And, anyway, when else do you get to drink the historical equivalent of Al Capone’s gun – and share it with 150 of your closest drinking buddies?  Knowing that every good experience needs a t-shirt, or some sort keepsake to flaunt, I had special cards made that certified that the card holder “actually tasted Bernie Madoff’s wine” and that they “now, unequivocally and forevermore, drink bravely.”

I also attempted the wine educator’s equivalent of walking a high-wire and sabered a bottle of Champagne at each seminar.  As demonstrated in this video, the art of saberage shouldn’t be attempted at home, or perhaps anywhere, if one is interested in preserving life and limb.  Thankfully, the bottles sheared open as intended, a few unsuccessful attempts notwithstanding, and one of the Classic’s ace volunteers, Grafton Smith, happened be a pro photographer and was there to capture the knifework you see at the top.

For me there’s no better feeling than leaving audiences educated, entertained, and – if the stars align — exhilarated.  I’m grateful for the generous media reviews in the Aspen Business Journal, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, in Kelly Hayes’ column in the Aspen Times, NBC’s The Feast, and the Denver Westward.

The following is a run-down of the wines I presented at Aspen Food & Wine, all chosen for their ability to achieve the kind of fulfillment for which even Mr. Roarke would noddingly approve:

IRON SOMMELIER

2010 Flora Springs “Soliloquy” Sauvignon Blanc
2008 BenMarco “Espresivio” Malbec Blend

BEAT THE HEAT: WINE WITH SPICY FOOD

NV Bollinger Champagne Brut Speciale
2010 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes
2010 Hogue Cellars Columbia Valley Riesling
2009 J. Hofstatter Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof
2009 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir Cheviot Hills
2007 Terra Andina Carmenère Central Valley
Bonus: 2005 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc (from Bernie Madoff’s collection)

HOW TO DRINK LIKE A PRO

NV Brut Rosé Nature Champagne Zero
2009 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko
2010 Scholium Project Rhododactylos
2008 Faiveley Mercurey “Clos des Myglands”
1995 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino (in magnum)
NV The Chook Sparkling Shiraz
Bonus: 1997 Antinori’s Guado al Tasso (from Bernie Madoff’s collection)

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Mustachioed at Aspen Food & Wine Classic

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