Taste of Vail kicks off this week
VAIL – John Uhley is just waiting for the day Taste of Vail rolls out the festival wheel barrel.”So after each event they can carte you away,” Uhley says.
Taste of Vail, which begins Wednesday, is a four day food and wine festival. It’s a gourmand’s dream come true. The schedule is filled with food tastings, wine seminars, cooking classes, winemaker dinners and celebrity chef showcases. More than three dozen local restaurants participate, and 58 winemakers from around the world fly in to pour their best vintages personally.It was started in 1990 by some longtime locals and restaurateurs in hopes to bring more national recognition to Vail’s dining scene and the mountain lifestyle in general.”I really like the variety of both the restaurants and the wineries that show up,” Uhley says. Vice president of Internet service for VailNet, Uhley has bought a festival pass for the past 10 years. “We have so much good food in the valley, it’s so nice to be able to sample a little bit of this and a little bit of that – and maybe go back for seconds.”Those tasty nibbles all add up. Even for the most experienced culinary enthusiasts, there’s just too much food and too little time to try it all. One has to be decisive.”Stay hydrated and pace yourself,” says Bill Phillips, who has attended the festival for the past 14 years. “Drink lots of water in between and pick the events that you really think you will like, and enjoy yourself.”The big threeThe festival’s three biggest events are the Apres Ski Tasting Thursday, the Mountain Top Picnic Friday and the Grand Tasting Saturday. Like Uhley, Phillips thinks the variety at these events is what makes Taste of Vail stand out as a whole.”It’s not like some festivals, where you go to the same place day after day, in the same atmosphere, doing the same thing over and over,” Phillips says. “You get a variety from the types of food people make – like the little appetizers for the Apres Ski Tasting, or the lunch-style portions at the Mountain Top Picnic, and at the Grand Tasting, the chefs go all out, cooking upscale fine-dining type of stuff.”This year’s Apres Ski Tasting asks revelers to broaden their palates. The theme, “Life Beyond Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot,” has guest vintners pouring pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, reisling, zinfandel, and other more unique varietals.Sun, snow, rain or even lighting, regardless of weather, the Mountain Top Picnic is everyone’s favorite event. Organizers build a snow arena at the top of Eagle’s Nest, at 10,350 feet, and inside, local chefs serve up their signature gourmet picnic fare as winemakers pour red, white, rose and champagne. One can graze from booth to booth, talking with the artisans themselves, as opposed to the wine’s marketers.”At the Mountain Top Picnic, the weather is a little challenging,” Uhley said. “I wore my bank robber ski mask one year, and I would have to lift my mask to take a bite. When it’s cold, it keeps the desert wine rolling.”The Grand Tasting is the big kahuna of the festival. Dressed in their best mountain formal wear, people work the Marriott ballroom, bite by bite. Food, like the dress, is a bit more flashy at the Grand Tasting.Although not officially one of the big three, Taste of Vail’s newest event, The Lamb Cook-Off, starting the festival Wednesday, is quickly securing a spot as a must-attend. Local chefs stoke their creative culinary fires to come up with unique lamb dishes, and the public gets to taste them for $2 a pop on the streets of Vail Village. Chefs from 18 local restaurants are vying for “lamb guru” title and trophies, and all cooks are trying to beat Thomas Newsted of ZaccaZa, two time defending champion.Food for the brainSprinkled throughout the four days are expert-led seminars and cooking classes, bringing a little intellect and instruction to the festival.”Throughout the whole year, we work to come up with ideas for educational seminars that are not the same old stick, so people will enjoy themselves and learn something new,” Taste of Vail Board president Susan Fritz, says.Some highlights include a Cigars and Rum seminar Thursday with Cigar Aficionado, which for the first time is moved outdoors, a chocolate and wine pairing class Friday with Hershey’s and a Vertical Tasting and Seminar with Domaine Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne.”Louis Latour Corton is bringing arguably the best chardonnay in the world,” Fritz says. “If you are into educational seminars, if you want to taste a vertical tasting of extraordinary wine, go to that. I’m going to that one. I never will have another time in my life where I’ll get to try it.”Save room for the chef showcasesStuffed yet? There are still the Chef Showcase dinners to experience. Celebrity chefs Michael Chiarello of the Food Network, Lee Hefter of Spago and Lachian Mackinnon-Patterson of Frasca in Boulder, join forces with local chefs to prepare multi-course dinners. Featured winemakers do their part by thoughtfully pairing each course with wine.”It’s a little challenging to step up to the plate after eating and drinking all day to then go to a huge dinner,” Uhley said. “I usually try to do one of the dinners the first night, before the festival really rolls out and I’m too full.”Post Taste of Vail depressionThe only problem Uhley has with Taste of Vail is Sunday morning. He traditionally goes to brunch, having slept in after a late night at the Grand Tasting.”I sit down to eat and I think something is wrong with my place setting. Oh yeah, I don’t have seven glasses of wine in front of my plate,” Uhley said. “But I am willing to suffer through another year.”Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or firstname.lastname@example.org.