Three days at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic with master sommelier Richard Betts.

June 2008

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It's 12:40 on an early-summer afternoon in Aspen, and I've just shared a shot of tequila—no lime, no salt—with Richard Betts, the 37-year-old master sommelier of the Little Nell, the swank-without-overdoing-it resort that has earned enough gold awards to plate a church dome. This is not the first drink I've shared with Richard Betts today. The first was the elderflower champagne cocktail he handed me about 10 minutes ago. That was quickly followed by a short pour of Tocai Friulano, his own Italian white table wine, which arrived in the country an hour earlier. Over the next couple hours, I'll sample a French rosé, a Betts & Scholl Australian Grenache (he also makes this one), and a 2005 Marenco Brachetto d'Acqui from Piedmont, Italy, which Betts describes as the most cheerful wine on Planet Earth.

Betts is pouring these wines at a kickoff luncheon for the 2007 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, the high-altitude hobnob for people who believe in fine dining. (This year's Classic runs June 13-15.) The Classic, which costs $1,075 to attend, brings celebrity chefs and wine experts together with hard-core foodies for three days of wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, and unabashed self-indulgence. Seated around tables on an outdoor patio at the base of Aspen Mountain are men in cool sunglasses and women with strappy sandals, and people who work in publishing or finance or film or professional football, and everyone, it seems, is scheduling parties into their BlackBerries. There's the Magnum party and the Celebrity Chef party and the party at Sky Bar. Betts is hosting a party tonight as well—a caviar-and-champagne blowout named by a local paper as the best party you won't get into.

The luncheon is lovely under the warm mountain sun, and it unfolds slowly over the next two hours. When it ends, when the wine glasses have been emptied and the guests have air-kissed their good-byes to one another, Betts walks up to me and exhales dramatically. "How about a drink?"