Tasting with the Greats


by Bernard Sun 

[Bernie is an engaging and experienced sommelier in Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s group of New York restaurants. After he’d turned me on to great bargains at Matsugen, ABC Kitchen, and Jean-Georges, I asked him if there was anything he wanted to blog about. Turned out he was leaving town for a couple of events … and here’s his report. – mb] 

The Food and Wine Classic in Aspen sees several thousand attendees descend onto the tiny (and tony) town (altitude, 8,000 ft.) to hobnob with a legion of familiar names and faces from worlds of food and wine. There are 30-plus seminars on cooking over the course of four days, and no fewer than 26 different seminars about wine, beer, and spirits, including a few “reserved” tastings.  

Some of the best events, however, were not on the official program listing.  I was invited to – actually I stumbled upon – one of these, simply by being at the right place at the right time (this happened to be 2 a.m., while I was still adjusting not only to the drinking but to the altitude).  This was an impromptu brown bag blind tasting challenge in the basement with about a dozen people including my friends Aldo Sohm, Paul Greco, Brett Zimmerman, Paolo Domeneghetti, Brad Groper, Allison Domeneghetti, and Jose Andres, who had just finished carving a leg of Iberico ham for the crowd.  This is a pretty serious group of tasters in broad daylight, but how good are you long after midnight after working all day and drinking for hours? 

The format was simple; there were 5 categories: country, varietal(s), region, producer/wine, and vintage. You were given 3 rounds to guess. It wasn’t easy.  

The first wine was a red. I smelled French oak, although it was very light in body with some bottle age. A Right Bank Bordeaux perhaps, or a Loire Valley red?  It turned out to be a ’97 Bandol. Great, I thought: It’s going to be a long night, but then again – it already is a long night! To me, this is felt like the equivalent of studying Einstein’s theory of relativity for 10 years and then being asked, “What was Einstein’s second grade teacher’s name?” 

The second wine was a Bierzo red.  I got as far as Spain but darn if I can tell the difference between Bierzo and Toro, especially at 3 am. Jose Andres brought out the next wrapped bottle; the moment I nosed the wine there was a familiar scent, and I blurted out, “California Cabernet?”  But, I thought, no one would bring that to a tasting like this, so I changed my mind… Australia? Spain? Of course, it was a California Cabernet, reminding me to trust my first instincts and don’t overthink it. Sometimes you cannot win no matter how hard you try but… this was a lot of fun. 

The following weekend I went down to 6,500 ft., to the Jackson Hole Wine Auction which takes place every two years. It’s one of the best of the smaller wine events, with proceeds benefiting the Grand Teton Music Festival.  

It’s a much smaller event, about one tenth the size of Aspen, but it also attracts a who’s who of the food and wine worlds, in particular wine collectors, renowned chefs, and winemakers. The weekend began with a series of signature private dinners on Thursday night at ten different homes located throughout town, each playing host to a famous winery/vintner and restaurant chef.   

On Friday, the featured wine seminar took place, a ten year retrospective with each participating winery showing two vintages of the same wine 10 years apart. Wines included: 

Antinori Solaia 2007 and 1997         

Chapoutier Hermitage “Le Meal” Rouge 2006 and 1996  

Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and 1995 

Chateau Lynch Bages 2000 and 1990

Peter Michael Cuvee Indigene 2007 and 1997

Pingus Hacienda de Monasterio 2005 and 1995  

Vérité La Muse 2007 and 1998

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2006 and 1996

Torbreck Run Rig 2007 (not yet released) and 1997          

Louis Jadot Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Ursules  2006 and 1996                

Pretty impressive. The flight of wines generally showed very well. With such high quality producers, the older vintages with the bottles coming directly from their respective wineries showed remarkable youth (this is to be expected). To me, the highlights were both vintages of the Sassicaia, the 2006 Clos des Ursules and the 2000 Lynch Bages. The only disappointment was the 1997 Peter Michael, which showed a lot of bottle variation – upon reflection, this shouldn’t be surprising, as American chardonnays have yet to show consistency in their aging potential. Which means: drink them while they are young.  

Both of these events were memorable and a ton of fun, once I got adjusted to altitude sickness. My solution was to drink a glass of water along with each glass of Lynch Bages.

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