Friday, June 26, 2009

A timeless Classic in Aspen

A Timeless Classic In Aspen
I flew into beautiful Aspen on a gloriously sunny day. The snow capped peaks and lush green of the Rockies below were spread out before me in bas relief like a Robert Wood landscape.
Cole, my affable driver from Lincolnshire, Illinois (looks just like Aspen! he joked) whisked the courtesy van to my two bedroom luxury condo at The Gant, a stunning resort snuggled into the base of Aspen mountain. Settling in, I had Cole light a crackling fire and cracked open a bottle of the Jacob's Creek Chardonnay from last week's trip to the Barossa that I'd brought along for the ride. Sitting on the balcony in the advancing afternoon sun, I watched as tennis players half-heartedly lobbed shots across the net under the watchful presence of Aspen mountain. As I sipped the lemony, silky Chardonnay, I watched as the gondolas inched their way to the top of the mountain. In less than 24 hours, more than 6,000 foodies and wine enthusiasts from across the country and around the globe would descend upon this quiet, mountain retreat, a number nearly equal to the entire population of Aspen, for the 27th Annual Aspen Wine Classic sponsored by Food & Wine Magazine and American Express.

Arriving at Aspen's puddle jump of an airport, I was fortunate to hook up with John Terlato Vice Chairman of Terlato Wine Group and Terlato Wines International of Lake Bluff, Illinois, north of Chicago, one of the presenters at the Grand Tasting tents of the Classic. He will also be hosting a pair of hospitality events at The Grand Hyatt for industry leaders and the media, pairing dishes prepared by Terlato Wines Executive Chef Colin Crowley with a portfolio presentation of Champagne Bollinger on Friday and Santa Margherita wines on Saturday.

"My father started doing this kind of thing 25 years ago, " Terlato confided in me as we waited by the baggage carousel. "He's always had a strong belief that the only way to truly present the wines was in a setting where the consumer would have an 'aha!' moment. The best way to experience our wines is with food. So often we're asked to host wine dinners with the restaurants that carry our wines. Invariably, the best chefs are open to collaborating with us to come up with the best combinations of flavors and cuisine to showcase the wines. It's interesting, for example, to have a single Pinot Noir paired with four very different preparations of salmon. You might cover one with a sharp-tasting mustard sauce, another with a soy sesame glaze, still another with a drizzle of balsamic. Conversely, its also a challenge to see how four very different pinots will stand up against a single preparation of a delicately flavored dish. The combinations are endless, but the goal is always the same. Wine belongs with food and its our mission at Terlato wines to make consumers aware of the many splendid options that are out there."

Later in the day, I spoke with Bartholomew Broadbent, son of Michael Broadbent, the founder of the rare wine collection at London's famed auction house, Christie's. I made friends with the senior Broadbent when he presided over the Napa Valley Wine Auction some years ago and was even hosted by him in London for a fabulous session of afternoon tea at his private club in St. James.
I crossed paths with Bartholomew at an exclusive tasting of his portfolio of vintage Ports at Chicago's Ritz Carlton last Spring and promised to catch up with him for a more lengthy interview at the first opportunity. Here we are together in Aspen. We've scheduled to meet at The Little Nell for cocktails after his Reserve Wine Tastings, one of the featured events at the Classic. I'll be attending the early morning tastings, Four Decades of Veuve Clicquot Champagnes and later, Greatness Continued: Remoissenet Clos Vougeot Since 1952, which are sold out. If there's time, Michael promised to sneak me into the tasting of Masi's Historical Amarone Campolongo di Torbe and Mazzano. What a nightcap! I'm scheduled to attend the Aspen Jazz Festival with Smokey Robinson celebrating 50 Years of Motown later that evening. With such rare and heady libations swirling in my head, I may not need Smokey's silky sounds to dance far into the night!

Breakfast of (wine) Champions

Dwight the Wine Doctor

Breakfast of (wine) Champions

“My father has champagne every morning, because he finds orange juice boring!” That revelation from Bartholomew Broadbent, head of Broadbent Selections and son of Michael Broadbent, founder of Christie’s Wine Auctions in London, brought a gasp from the packed house of participants in the first session of Reserve Wine Tastings at the Aspen Wine Classic.It was nine a.m. and facing each of us, bleary-eyed from a night of hospitality suite hopping the night before, was a daunting row of rare champagnes from the house of Veuve Clicquot, Reims, France. Seated at Broadbent’s left was Samantha Barnes , U.S Business Director, Veuve Clicquot at Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy.“Madame Clicquot was widowed and a rarity at the time, a woman running a business in France in the 1800’s. She innovated champagne as we know it today,” Barnes said. “She invented riddling to make champagne clear. Prior to that, it was cloudy. The original riddling table was her kitchen table. She cut slanted holes in the legs in order to test the riddling process,”­­­­­­We tasted through ten vintages, including Veuve Clicquot NV Yellow Label, Vintage Rose 2002, Vintage Rose 1985, among others. The stars of the morning were Veuve Clicquot Rare Vintage 1988, Vintage Rose 1978, La Grande Dame 1998 and La Grande Dame 1990. A surprise addition was 1983 aged Non Vintage Yellow Label which Bartholomew brought from his private cellars. “That means the grapes would have been vinified in the ‘70s!”“Unlike most non-vintage champagne, Barnes emphasized, Veuve Clicquot is aged 3 years in our cellars and 18 months more in the bottle. Vueve Clicquot is proof positive that you can ‘have your cake and eat it too.’ Its rich and creamy with a length of finish. It also has good apple and great orange notes!”The NV Rose and Vintage Rose 2002 were revelations. “2002 was Five Star vintage, Broadbent declared. “There’s been a real renaissance in sparkling rose of late. It has a layer of structure that’s almost dry and tannic. There’s also a real lengthening on the finish. This is truly a champagne that can go with anything in terms of food.”Samantha Barnes chimed in with a brief history of rose champagne. “Vueve Clicquot was the first house, in 1775, to make Rose Champagne. It is the sister of Yellow Label and comes from the same basic blend with a little red wine added at the end.”Bartholomew Broadbent added the final grace note, saying “It’s wide, juicy and vibrant. It certainly makes a sensible morning drink!” As the old saying goes, ‘The apple does not fall far from the tree.’

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Liquid gold in the Napa Valley

Dwight the Wine Doctor
Napa Valley gold beneath the fog

A thin layer of fog lay between me and my excellent view of the Golden Gate Bridge as my Frontier jet landed over San Francisco Bay. I was on my way to Mill Valley, outside San Francisco, and then to Napa Valley, where I would meet with Chris Hall, winemaker and son of the owner of Long Meadow Ranch. The 650 acre ranch and winery, nestled his atop the Mayacamas Mountains above Napa Valley is an anomaly. In addition to being an award-winning winery, the ranch produces handcrafted extra virgin olive oils, grass-fed beef from rare Scotch Highlands cattle, eggs, heirlooms fruits and vegetables, all using sustainable, organic farming methods.
“We try to remain true to the land,” Chris Hall told me, while standing atop a stone fence, overlooking a pair of Appaloosa horses that roam freely on the property. “Everything we do here is sustainable and somehow a product of the land, from our wine, to our olive oils to our meats and vegetables that we sell in the markets in Rutherford and Oakville and that we supply to restaurants in the area. It’s all true to the land and true to the sustainable and organic philosophy that we live by.”
The wines at Long Meadow are nothing short of extraordinary. I first encountered them at a winemaker dinner in Coral Gables Florida, near Miami, while attending a series of wine conferences at the Biltmore Hotel. Chris Hall presided over a dinner featuring his wines, grass fed beef and olive oil. It was a showcase that proved to be a tour de force, prompting a promise to visit the winery that has now been fulfilled.
“We’re next going to taste our Prato Lungo olive oil which is an intense, flavorful olive oil that is pressed in our Tuscan stone presses from olives grown on trees right here on the estate. My father and I were riding horses out in the forest when we discovered 15 acres of trees that were ancient olive trees that had been growing here, undisturbed on the property. So, we decided to make olive oil with them. Charlie Trotter uses this olive oil at his restaurant in Chicago as finishing oil. I’m sure you’ve had it there.” Tasting the oil in tiny, demitasse glasses, was like tasting liquid gold.
Just a half hour down the road was the tasting studio and vineyards of Folio Wines, the fine wine laboratory of Michael Mondavi, son of legendary Napa Valley winemaker and tastemaker Robert Mondavi and his spectacular collection of Napa Valley growths and imported wines. Taste Gallery Manager and Partner Michael Abernathy and Director of Public Relations and Partner Susanne Bergstrom hosted a spectacular tasting of Folio’s premium wines, ranging from vineyard selections that spanned the spectrum from $29 dollars a bottle to $199 for the superb Oberon and Medusa labels. Seated in the garden terrace overlooking the beautiful expanse of lush vineyards at sunset was a perfect setting to enjoy a summer solstice evening.
“It’s too bad that Michael is traveling abroad today,” Susanne offered. “He would have loved to have hosted you personally.” Tasting the superb Medusa blend, I could feel his presence and his deft hand with a single sip. I lifted a glass in his honor as the sun began its languid retreat.