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!