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Some Wine Notes from the Aspen Food & Wine Festival

The Aspen Food & Wine Festival takes place every year in June. It’s a weekend full of much wine and food (sometimes too much) with seminars by celebrity chefs and wine folks, grand tastings with wineries from around the world and all around imbibing by all. As one chef put it this year, this is the place where people use the term ‘altitude sickness’ instead of hangover. Luckily, after doing this a bit, I’ve learned that the key is pacing yourself. By doing this, I made it to the early seminars, enjoyed some morning runs and hit every grand tasting, where I discovered some cool producers and some even cooler packaging (which I’ll report to you in a future post).

Champagne – One of those early 10am seminars covered Prestige Champagne. Prestige Champagne is the top cuvee of a Champagne house – often the best of the best. As expected, my favorite was Krug. Always said that if Champagne houses were sorority houses, I’d pledge Krug. I was also very impressed with the 1996 Pommery Cuvee Louise. The 1996 vintage was one of the best of the decade and the wine is still extremely fresh and bright, indicating the potential to age further. But the wine that most impressed me came from producer Alfred Gratien. The NV Alfred Gratien Cuvee Paradis Rose Brut was delicious! This brut rose is aged in bottle six years before release and production is under 20,000 cases/year. The nose showed raspberries & strawberries and the palate was full of bright fruit and crisp acidity. Yet the wine is medium to full bodied. This is definitely a food Champagne – would be perfect with salmon, roast chicken, or, as the panel recommended, BBQ! This prestige Champagne retails for about $130, one of the lower prices of the tasting. Later that evening, we tasted the Alfred Gratien Brut Rose NV. This was a lovely wine as well – not as complex as the Cuvee Paradis, but another great food wine and summer sipper (but not out of a plastic cup).

Grand Tastings – Four Grand Tastings, each only an hour and 45 minutes long, hundreds of booths = too little time to do it all! But I was able to do enough to find a couple of gems.

Hall Winery – I’ve long been a fan of Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon. While so many Cali Cabs are charging upwards of $150 a bottle, the Kathryn Hall sits at $70. It’s a mix of sweet spice, black fruits and super smooth tannins. Very approachable now, this is a wine for those who like big, fruit-driven California Cabs. Plus, Kathryn Hall herself is gracious and lovely. The discovery wine at the table for me was the Hall 2005 Bergfeld Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh yeah, this was big & smooth. It looks like it’s only available at the winery right now (though I’m looking into that) and retails for $100. I’d still pick the Kathryn Hall Cab, though, as it’s got that great price tag and those sweet fruits & sweet spices – warms the soul…

Benziger – Yes, I’ve tasted Benziger before, and really enjoyed it. But I had not yet tasted the Signaterra brand… WOW. All these wines were really amazing. Benziger is 100% biodynamic, and while some practices may be slightly wacky, the wines are  pretty incredible. The Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River is probably my new favorite SB from California. It’s intense but elegant and so well balanced. The Pinot Noir is also delicious. But the Three Blocks, the Cabernet/Merlot blend, blew me away… This was fantastic. Big with great structure and layers of flavor. Complex. Love this line of wine. Stay tuned as these wines will be in stock shortly!

These are just some of my newer discoveries. A few consistent favorites:

Penley Estates – the Chertsey is a great Bordeaux blend, and the Hyland & Phoenix are excellent as usual – also great values!

Innocent Bystander – Great label, great wine, great value. Cool climate wines (from Yarra Valley) are some of my favorites.

d’Arenberg – I really do love just about every wine they make. Had a chance to taste the Dead Arm. Lives up to the standard – delicious.

Mulderbosch – Yes, love the Sauvignon Blanc, Rose &  the whole line up.

Rhone Valley Wines – the trade organization was pouring quite a few, including D’Aqueria Tavel, Guigal Condrieu and Perrin Vinsobres.

Look forward to hearing your favorites!

Gift Tips for Wedding Season

It’s wedding season. We’re travelling coast-to-coast, from destination wedding to hometown celebration, watching friends and family tie the knot. Sometimes we have more invitations that we can get to, but wedding season does mean one thing – gifts for the couple. If you’re like me, you’ve already been to a few weddings this year, but have not yet gotten the gift. This always puts me in a pickle because when I check the registry, it seems completely picked over and I can’t imagine my friends REALLY want yet another set of crystal glassware. I mean, it’s crystal. When do we ever drink out of crystal?

I wanted to share a few ideas for you, wedding friends, that are sure to make any wine-loving couple happy.

Two words – WINE CLUB. Such an easy, perfect gift. You can do anything from three months to a year, with an entry-level club or a high-end club. The gift that keeps giving… and while you can have too much glassware, you can never have enough wine to drink out of them! We’ve also got a great list of wedding gift ideas from our wine and gift selection.

Wine Registry – encourage friends to join our community & create a registry wine list with all the wines they love! Again, you don’t have to worry about someone else buying that same wine, as you can never have enough of your favorite! To join our community, just go to www.wine.com/v6/community, create a profile page and then create a list. You can add any wine you want to that list and share the link with your friends.

And… we’ve just launched our wedding services, which include free wine consultation for your wedding wines – just e-mail weddings@wine.com with your theme, budget and state and any other pertinent information – we’ll get back to you with some answers!