Aspen/Snowmass Hosts Inaugural ‘Après Ski Cocktail Classic,’ March 14-17

cocktail shakerWhat’s more fun than drinking an après ski beer at altitude? Attending a post-slopes cocktail festival at altitude. The first-annual Après Ski Cocktail Classic debuts in Aspen/Snowmass March 14-17, and will feature superstar mixologists and boozy experts such as Tony Abou-Ganim and Steve “Wine Geek” Olson, as well as chefs, sommeliers, spirit aficionados and “professional tipplers.”

Events at the Westin and Wildwood Resorts include a Grand Tasting “Village”; a private reserve room of top-shelf spirits; craft cocktails; seminars; snow parties; pop-up bars; demos; “fireside chats”; special on-mountain events; and “The Great Irish Whisky Pub Crawl.”

Pace yourselves. And get your tickets here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user RLHyde]

Cochon 555 Pork Competition Turns Five, Kicks Off February 17 In Atlanta

baconMuch ado about pork products is made on Gadling, with good reason. Even if you’re sick to death of pork-centric eateries, and lardo this and sausage that, it’s hard to deny the allure of the other white meat (I can’t tell you how many vegetarians and vegans I know who still have a jones for bacon).

For those of you wanting to attend the ultimate porkapalooza, get your tickets for Cochon 555, a traveling, “National Culinary Competition & Tasting Event Dedicated to Heritage Pigs, Family Wineries & Sustainable Farming.”

The 10-city tour kicks off February 17 in Atlanta, and will include stops in New York; Boston; Chicago; Washington, DC; Miami; Vail; Seattle; San Francisco; and Los Angeles, before culminating in the dramatic Grand Cochon at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen on June 16. Notice that Colorado gets two Cochon visits? The South isn’t the only place that appreciates pork.

Cochon was created by Taste Network’s Brady Lowe to raise awareness about, and encourage the sustainable farming of heritage-breed pigs. At each destination, five celebrated local chefs must prepare a nose-to-tail menu using one, 200-pound, family-raised heritage breed of pig. Twenty judges and 400 guests help decide the winning chef. The 10 finalists will then compete at the Grand Cochon for the ultimate title of “King or Queen of Porc.”

Depending upon venue, attendees can also expect tasty treats like Heritage BBQ; butchery demonstrations; mezcal, bourbon, whiskey and rye tastings; specialty cheese sampling, cocktail competitions; a Perfect Manhattan Bar, raffles, and killer after-parties.

For additional details and tickets, click here. Partial proceeds benefit charities and family farms nationwide.

[Photo credit: Flickr user out of ideas]

The Price Of Wine Is Too Damn High

wino bum drinking wineIf you were given a blind taste test, could you tell the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $20 bottle or even a $50 bottle? Last year, I listened to a Freakonomics podcast, in which Steve Levitt set out to determine if his friends and colleagues could tell the difference between good wine and swill and the results of the experiment confirmed what I’ve always suspected about many wine snobs: they’re full of crap.

Leavitt held a dinner party and invited fellow wine enthusiasts to taste a variety of wines without letting them see the labels. But he threw them a curveball by telling them that inexpensive wines were $50 bottles, and, predictably, everyone in the group scored the bogus $50 wines higher than the authentically pricey ones, which Leavitt introduced as cheap or mid-price range.

In the podcast, the authors also cite Robin Goldstein, who published a study detailing research from 6,000 blind wine tests that concluded that when people don’t know the price of the wine, they do not derive any additional enjoyment from expensive wines compared to cheaper ones. So while many people need to know they’re drinking an expensive wine to enjoy it, I’m the opposite – I really enjoy a wine if I get a good deal on it.I’m not claiming that all wines are created equal, but my point here is that you shouldn’t have to spend a lot of money for decent wine. I spent three months in Europe this year, mostly in the Mediterranean, and now that I’m back in the U.S., it’s depressing how wine is valued as a treat or a luxury item in most restaurants Stateside. Even a glass of crap or mediocre wine in most restaurants is going to set you back at least $5. But in Spain, Italy, Greece and in many other parts of the world, you can drink basic table wine for next to nothing.

In Praise of Cheap Wine

bar major wine bar palma mallorcaIn Palma de Mallorca, I had a very nice glass of Spanish wine, with a generous pour, at the Bar Major (see right) in an indoor market for all of 1€. At the Osteria Da Anguilinu, a very nice little restaurant in Lecce, Italy, a quarter liter of the house wine also costs, you guessed it, 1€ (See video below). In the south of France, you can walk into a supermarket and fill your own jug with table wine for, again, 1€. And on the Greek island of Samos, we bought some delicious bottles of sweet local wine from a vintner named Manolis, right off the back of his truck for 4€ and were later told that we got ripped off. (See video below)

In Italy and Greece, even if you’re eating on a beach or in another place with a great view, you can still usually order an inexpensive carafe of table wine. And to be clear, when I refer to cheap wine here, I’m talking about drinkable stuff, not the jug wine you see alcoholics throwing back in bus terminals and alleyways.

But here in the good old U.S.A., glasses and bottles of wine cost a pretty penny. Even at Noodles & Company, a fast food joint, a glass of mediocre wine will cost you nearly $6 with tax. Why?

I think the primary reason is that wine isn’t the deeply ingrained part of our culture that it is in European countries, where babies practically guzzle the stuff from their bottles. Here, wine is still associated with the Grey Poupon country club set, but on the other side of the pond, everyone drinks it, no matter whether they clean sewers or run a multinational company.

U.S. business owners also tend to price their food reasonably to try to entice customers while hoping to make a larger profit margin off the drinks. When customers peruse a restaurant’s menu, either in person or online, they tend to formulate an opinion on how pricey it is based on the food prices, even though the drinks can cost nearly as much.

Also, we don’t consume the same volume of wine that Europeans do, so there is no volume discount. According to the Wine Institute, Americans drink just 9.4 liters of wine per capita annually, compared to 45.7 liters in France, 42.1 in Italy and 27 liters in Greece. Interestingly enough, those party animals in the Vatican top the chart with a whopping 54 liters consumed per person per year.

The same volume discount concept applies to beer in beer-drinking countries. In most parts of Germany, you can buy a half-liter mug of great beer for about €3-4, because bars assume you’ll be drinking several of them. So if we want cheaper wine and beer, we apparently need to drink much more of both.

Perhaps we need a political candidate to draw attention to this problem in the same way Jimmy McMillan did with his The Rent is Too Damn High Party candidacies for governor and senator in New York State. I don’t see a The Wine Is Too Damn Expensive party candidate getting into the White House anytime soon, but it can’t hurt.

Of course, there are other items that are very cheap here and ridiculously expensive in Europe, like car rentals and the price of gas, for example. Given the choice between cheap alcohol and cheap gas, I would be hard pressed to pick between the two. How about you?

(First image by Roger Salz on Flickr, second image and videos by Dave Seminara)

Food & Wine Classic at Aspen celebrates 30 years, tickets going fast

aspen food and wine 2012Who would have guessed that 30 years ago, a high-altitude, fancy-pants gathering of some chefs, winemakers, and hungry and thirsty revelers would have evolved into the nation’s preeminent food and wine festival?

This year, from June 15-17th, Food & Wine magazine will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary Food & Wine Classic at Aspen. Join the nation’s top chefs including Jacques Pépin, Mario Batali, Ming Tsai, Michael Symon, and Tom Colicchio, as well as internationally renowned winemakers, master sommeliers, brewmasters, and mixologists at the most anticipated and prestigious culinary event of the year.

The three-day weekend also features over 80 cooking demos, wine and interactive seminars, panel discussions, tasting events, and classes on food and wine pairing, as well as a bacchanalia involving 300 winemakers, craft brewers, distillers, and food purveyors in the Grand Tasting Pavilion. This year, new seminars and demos include “Game on!” with Andrew Zimmern; Ming Tsai’s “Asian BBQ;” “Undiscovered Grapes of Spain” by Steve “Wine Geek” Olson; “Fried Chicken for the Soul” by Marcus Samuelsson, and “Swill for the Grill” by uber-restaurateur Danny Meyer.

Special anniversary events are also on the menu, including a hands-on knife skills seminar, “Butchering for Beginners,” by acclaimed chef John Besh, a 5K charity run, an anniversary party, and a late-night dessert bash (Fact: your metabolism actually speeds up at 8,000 feet!). Additional special events will be announced over the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen Facebook page over the next few months. Psst…tickets are selling fast, so hop to it.

Tickets are $1,125 before March 15, 2012 and $1,225 thereafter. Food & Wine donates two percent of the net proceeds from all tickets sold to Grow for Good, a national initiative dedicated to supporting local farms and encouraging sustainable agriculture. To purchase tickets, click here.

Need an affordable place to stay after splurging on said tickets? Here’s an insider tip.

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

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Guide to wine tasting in Thailand

thailand While Thailand isn’t typically thought of as a destination for wine-lovers, there are actually various opportunities in the country to experience vineyards, wineries, and tastings. Whether you want to explore a Thai vineyard on the back of an elephant, try a one-of-a-kind local wine, or have a sommelier guide you through a 10-course wine pairing under a candle jungle waterfall, you can use this guide to help you find the best in vino that Thailand has to offer during your next visit.

Hua Hin Hills Vineyard

Located on a former elephant corral, the fertile sand, slate, and cool ocean breeze make this a prime area for grape-harvesting. Huan Hin Hills Vineyard rests peacefully in a hill and jungle setting, close to the Myanmar border and a convenient stop on the way to the Huay Monkol temple and the Pala U waterfall. In you are staying in downtown Hua Hin, the vineyard operates a daily shuttle that leaves from Market Village at 10:30AM and 3PM (about $9-$10 round-trip).

The vineyard takes up over 560 acres, and produces an array of Monsoon Valley vino varieties, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Muscat, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. In fact, Hua Hin Hills is the only vineyard in Thailand to harvest the Sangiovese grape, which has hints of red berries. There are a few different ways visitors can sample the wines. First of all, there is the The Sala Wine Bar & Bistro, which features wine and food pairings as well as educational opportunities to learn more about winemaking. The other option is to sign up for a wine tasting experience, which starts at about $9 to sample 3 wines, and goes to about $41 to try 5 wines and pair them with tapas. Other unique and fun vineyard experiences offered include painting wine bottles, playing Pétanque, or exploring the vineyards via elephant, mountain bike, or jeep.siam winery Siam Winery

Siam Winery, which is affiliated with Hua Hin Hills Vineyards, is the largest winery in South East Asia and has a staff of over 1,000 that includes diverse and knowledgeable people from German winemakers to farmers to oenologists. They operate under a New Latitudes Wine perspective, which is basically a new way of looking at wine. The ideology looks at past beliefs about wine creation and combines them with innovation, new technology, and modern discoveries. Winemaker Kathrin Puff explains, “The New Latitude wines teach the right to be wrong. They turn the wine world up-side down. Whilst most wine books refer to the 30th to the 50th latitude as the wine growing country belt, countries like Thailand and India now prove this to be wrong.”

The winery is located about 45 minutes west of central Bangkok and offers 2-hour tours that include a guided tour of the facility, 3 tastings with cheese and crackers, homemade grape juice, and a souvenir to take home. Tours cost about $16 ($6 if you’re under 20 years of age and cannot drink the wine) and must be booked in advance by emailing winerytour@siamwinery.com.

thailand Floating Vineyards

Also owned by Siam Winery, the floating vineyards are a unique way to experience wine tasting in Thailand. While they’re not actually floating, as you can see in the photo on the right, the 1,000 acres of vineyards are situated on islands along canals. What’s really interesting here is that the vineyard kind of acts as an optical illusion. From an arial point of view, the vineyards actually appear to be bouyant, while a closer look will show what’s really going on. The unique landscape makes for an unusual harvest and production process, which you can learn more about through a visit. Make sure to sample white wine from the Malaga Blanc grapes and red wine from the plum-tasting Pokdum grapes, which are what the vineyard is known for. The vineyards are located about an hour southwest of Bangkok in the Chao Phraya Delta near the the Gulf of Siam.

kao yai PB Valley Khao Yai Winery

The PB Valley Khao Yai Winery produces 600,000 bottles of wine per year and the Founder, Dr. Piya Bhirombhakdi, recently received a South East Asia Wine Pioneer Award for his work in wine culture in Asia. Their vineyard is located in the northeastern part of Thailand, in the hillsides near Khaoyai National Park. The chilly temperatures, surrounding mountains that protect the vines, and little rainfall help make the area perfect for grape cultivation. PB produces three ranges of wine, including the Sawasdee Range, PB Reserve Range, and the Pirom Khao Yai Reserve Range. Visitors can sample these varieties through educational tasting tours of their vineyard and winery. Click here to view the various package options.

thailand The Sarojin

While The Sarojin isn’t a winery or vineyard, it definitely caters to the wine enthusiast. This boutique 5-star resort is located in Khao Lak near Phuket and features many unique opportunities to sample the region’s best wines. For the past 4 years, the resort’s wine cellar, which boasts over 160 old and new world wines, has been given the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Sam Bonifant, the Wine Director at The Sarojin, explains, “The old principles of what went with what were really quite limited and thus the challenge is to find what is best for the myriad of flavors which modern cuisine has to offer.” To help guests experience these unique varieties, the resort offers degustation dinners with up to 10 courses each paired with wines by the resident sommelier, Dawid Koegelenberg. What’s really unique about these dinners is that they don’t just take place in an upscale restaurant, but literally anywhere you desire, whether it be under a jungle waterlit illuminated by candles, on a beach with the ocean’s waves creating natural background music, or on your own private island. If you want to expand your wine knowledge, The Sarojin offers wine lectures both privately and as a scheduled weekly activity for a group environment. There are also cooking classes to help you enhance the culinary side of your vino pairings.

[photos via sherrattsam, Siam Winery, Rivard, PB Valley Kao Yai Winery, The Sarojin]