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Aspen Food & Wine à la Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey

Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey

World-class hiking, biking, running, and climbing are all reason enough to charter an XOJET flight into Aspen, Colorado during the early stages of summer.

But for food and wine connoisseurs like Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey—himself an avid outdoorsman—these are just appetizers for what most consider the country’s pre-eminent culinary event: the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, running June 16th-18th.

“I’ve been coming to Aspen Food & Wine for the past 22 years and I still get wide-eyed in anticipation,” says Stuckey, a mainstay on the Classic’s yearly speaker list. “For four straight days every year, Aspen is the center of the wine universe.”

While that’s high praise coming from virtually any oenophile, it’s especially telling from a man with the international acclaim of Bobby Stuckey. One of just 236 people across the world to have earned the prestigious distinction of Master Sommelier, Bobby gained notoriety as the Wine Director of The Little Nell right here in Aspen between 1995 and 2000. He then moved to Napa Valley to lead Thomas Keller’s wine program at The French Laundry. Now he’s back in Colorado, where he co-owns Boulder’s Frasca Food & Wine (winner of the 2013 James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service), owns a winery using grapes from Friuli, Italy (Scarpetta Wine), and is preparing to open a new restaurant, Tavernetta, in Denver’s vibrant Union Station development (slated to debut the week following Aspen Food & Wine).

“What makes Aspen Food & Wine so special is that there’s virtually no dilution,” he says. “So many people have tried to emulate it, from Miami to Telluride to New York. But at the end of the day, Aspen is the place to be and everyone still shows up for it.”

Aspen Food and Wine Classic

Photo: Ann Larie Valentine

For first-time visitors of the Classic, this insider truth helps explain why Aspen Food & Wine doesn’t just attract some of the brightest talents in the industry, but compels them to pull out all the stops. “For me, I just prepare so intensely for Aspen in order to—cross my fingers—get invited to the next one,” explains Bobby. “That’s the name of the game and everyone else is doing the exact same thing. Everyone is bringing their A game.”

This year’s lineup is no different, welcoming a star-studded array of culinary cognoscenti—about 60% returning, 40% new, according to Stuckey—for exclusive cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, panel discussions, and more. Not to be missed is world-renowned chef Daniel Boulud, back for a personal seminar (title to be announced) on Friday morning. Food + Wine’s Editor in Chief Nilou Motamed also tops the charts, leading a panel called “Ample Hills Creamery: Every Story Has a Flavor” with Food Network star Anne Burrell and Los Angeles heavyweight Curtis Stone.

On a year with special personal significance—this is the 20th anniversary of his Wine Spectator Grand Award at The Little Nell—Stuckey himself is hosting three different events spanning all three days of the festival. The first, officially opening the Classic on Friday morning, is arguably the most anticipated event of the entire weekend: an American Express trade panel—“Meet the Masters: Cultivating Culture”—featuring Stuckey, his business partner Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson, Union Square Hospitality Group’s Chief Restaurant Officer Sabato Sagaria, and Danny Meyer, Union Square’s CEO and culinary icon with 28 James Beard awards to his name. “He’s a role model and mentor for virtually all of us,” says Bobby.

Next is Stuckey’s own seminar—“Northern Italy’s Greatest Wines”—which highlights seven great wines from northern Italy’s Friuli region, including guest appearances by Andrea Felluga of Livio Felluga and Giampaolo Venica of Venica & Venica. And lastly, “Quel Frommage” is a cheese-and-wine-pairing seminar with cheese expert and James Beard award-winning author, Laura Werlin.

Elsewhere at the Classic, Stuckey looks forward to seeing “Around the World with Bubbles” and “Green Wines and Ham” by David Chang Group’s Wine Director, Jordan Salcito—whose Rosé seminar was one of his favorite events from last year. Shayn Bjornholm, Examination Director for the Court of Master Sommelier-Americas, also stands out, returning for two solo seminars entitled “The Rare World of Vintage Champagne” and “Red Burgundy: The Village Voice.”

Aspen Downtown

Photo: Phil Darnell

But it’s not just the event calendar that makes Aspen Food & Wine such a special experience for visitors and participants alike. Gathering the crème de la crème of food and wine professionals in one idyllic mountain setting creates a magical, small-town atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else. Stroll through downtown during Classic weekend and virtually every eatery is bustling with the sights and sounds of devoted foodies appreciating one another’s artistry. At The Little Nell, Stuckey gushes, “It seems like every winemaker and every sommelier shows up to see [Wine Director and fellow Master Sommelier] Carlton McCoy open all sorts of great bottles.”

To experience this one-of-a-kind environment first-hand, Stuckey recommends staying at one of the world-class resorts in the core of Aspen, allowing you quick access to the Classic plus the ability to walk around and take in the occasion. “The new remodel of Hotel Jerome is beautiful,” he explains, “The Little Nell is always a classic, and don’t forget the St. Regis, which always does a really nice job as well.”

As for the question on everyone’s mind—where to eat—Stuckey recommends a three-day routine that he has personally perfected over the years. “The first night I’ll be eating at The Little Nell with Carlton,” he says. “Then I’ll visit Jodi Lardner at Cache Cache, and finish the weekend with Todd Clark at Matsuhisa.” Simply put: three nights, three first-rate restaurants, and hundreds of like-minded foodies to share it with.

Matsuhisa Aspen Food & Wine Meet and Greet

Photo: Fortune Live Media

Last but not least, any recommendations for visitors who want to take advantage of those famed Aspen outdoors (and burn off some of those gourmet dinners)?

“Absolutely,” he says. “One of my favorite routes is running up Smuggler through the Hunter Creek trail and back into town. And for cyclists, a ride up to Ashcroft is really beautiful. I will try to squeeze both of those in.”

Coming from a seasoned athlete who runs marathons almost as well as he picks wine—this year Stuckey, age 47, is hoping for a mid 2:50s time at the New York Marathon, where his personal best is 2:46—it’s a recommendation you’ll want to approach much like you would when he welcomes you to Aspen and pours a glass of exquisite Ronco del Gnemiz 2008 Friulano.

Try it, savor it, and habitually come back for more.

Fly into Aspen with XOJET, offering direct charter flights into Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, less than 15 minutes from the center of downtown Aspen. If you haven’t yet purchased tickets to the 2017 Aspen Food & Wine Classic, call 877-900-WINE to speak with a vacation planner or to be placed on the waitlist. Or, book a special package at Aspen Meadows Resort, offering 3-day consumer passes when reserving a guest suite.