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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Tasting Room

Age-Your-Own Whiskey: Week 1

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Woodinville Whiskey Co.'s Age-Your-Own Whiskey Kit

© Tomi Omololu-Lange
Woodinville Whiskey Co.'s Age-Your-Own Whiskey Kit

Whenever I tell people that I’m from Kentucky, the response is always, “Whiskey or horses?”—not altogether an unfair question. (It’s horses, by the way.) Generally, American whiskey doesn’t stray too far from the Kentucky-Tennessee border. That’s why, when I opened a package from Woodinville Whiskey Company, I was doubly mystified. Not only had they sent a Washington State whiskey, but a Washington State age-your-own whiskey kit, complete with two bottles of unaged whiskey, an adorable miniature barrel and a funnel. Curious, I decided to give it a go and I’ll be reporting on any changes over the next few weeks.

Whiskey can be made from various grains—corn, wheat, rye and barley. Blenders come up with their own personal recipes and whip up a grain cocktail, called the mash bill, that’s distilled, resulting in a clear, high-proof spirit. This is then aged in charred wood barrels for a varying amount of time—typically eight years or more. The mini-barrel in Woodinville’s kit, however, is said to speed-age whiskey—10 times faster than the great big barrels used in distilleries.

So after soaking the little barrel in water (per the instructions), last week I funneled the bottles of white whiskey into it. Over time, it should deepen in color and pick up lovely hints of vanilla, smoke and nuts. Allegedly, in just a few weeks, I should see significant changes in both the color and the flavor of the whiskey. I’ve set aside some of the original white whiskey as a control, so I can see just how quickly the barrel influences our little batch.

The clear, unaged whiskey in the kit is a mash of corn, wheat and malted barley—the traditional bourbon whiskey mash bill used in Kentucky. For now, all I have is this raw white whiskey (a.k.a. moonshine, white dog, white lightning, albino, whatever), which, in recent years, has become quite popular on its own. And I don’t mean the old bathtub version. Three to try:

Woodinville Whiskey Company Unaged Whiskey (the one we’re aging): Sweet butterscotch on the nose and powerful at 110 proof.

Death's Door White Whiskey: Wisconsin’s Death’s Door debuted one of the first white whiskeys on the market in 2008. Since then, their version has become extremely popular with mixologists. It has a grape-lollipop note that makes it perfectly fun for cocktails.

Bully Boy White Whiskey: Spearminty and twiggy, with notes of basil, this is a great palate-cleanser.

I should add that in the process of feeding our baby barrel the unaltered whiskey, I had a little accident that resulted in shattered glass, spilled whiskey and a crack down the center of Food & Wine’s tasting table. Looks like I’ve got the devil’s luck just in time for Halloween. Then again, I’m not convinced that the devil’s luck is such a bad thing to have when you’re in the business of aging whiskey.

Wine

Food & Wine Remembers Joe Dressner

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Joe Dressner sought out genius winemakers like Thierry Puzelat.

© Antonis Achilleos
Joe Dressner sought out genius winemakers like Thierry Puzelat.

The pioneering, super-influential, widely admired wine importer Joe Dressner died of cancer last weekend, and the wine world has been bursting with remembrances. Dressner was famously (or infamously) blunt and opinionated, and though he championed a style of winemaking that could appear to edge on dogma (traditional methods, wild yeasts, low sulfur), he was no ideologue. Dressner's bottom line was that these wines tasted better—so, as our tribute, F&W editors salute the Louis/Dressner wines they've loved.
 


Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor
Marco de Bartoli Vecchio Samperi Marsala
It's hard to land on one specific wine from Joe Dressner's portfolio to write about—there are so many that are so good. But if I have a sentimental favorite, it's Marco de Bartoli's Vecchio Samperi Marsala. De Bartoli, who also passed away this year, was occasionally known as the wizard of Marsala—a nondescript mass-produced dessert wine that in his hands (and in this particular bottling) could become a kind of exotically aromatic, layered liquid, all hazelnut and dried orange peel and wisps of smoky tea, and, contrary to expectation, not sweet at all but dry. The nickname was deserved, in other words. I also love this wine because when I was in Sicily for my honeymoon twelve years ago, I visited the winery with my wife and chatted for an hour with de Bartoli, who was unexpectedly friendly despite his obvious surprise that two Americans would turn up unannounced at the doors of his (rather difficult to find) winery. For years it was essentially impossible to find his wines here; why am I not surprised that in the end they wound up with Joe Dressner?
 
Megan Krigbaum, Associate Wine Editor
Agnès and René Mosse Moussamoussettes
I can't claim responsibility for discovering Agnès and René Mosse’s Moussamoussettes, but I will fully accept responsibility for buying most of the cases allotted to New York City. A few years ago, myboyfriend picked up a bottle of this sparkling rosé on the way to dinner at our neighborhood BYOB Middle Eastern place on a whim. We popped open its soda cap top and were entirely delighted. Now we beg our local wine shop for more. It’s a happy wine, a wine that makes it easy to drink the whole bottle. The Mosses are one of my favorite organic producers of top-notch Chenin Blanc in the Loire—they bottle Chenins from several different AOCs, essentially a study of that grape grown in different terroirs. But Moussamoussettes is not this sort of thinker's wine; it’s a pure pleasure wine. And it’s completely different every vintage. The first year, it was quite dry with juicy strawberry fruit. Last year, it was more earthy than fruity, and more bubbly. And this year it was shockingly sweet—better for dessert than with spinach pie, admittedly. There probably aren’t any more bottles of this year’s Moussamoussettes on shelves, but I’m already waiting for next year.  
 
Lawrence Marcus, Associate Digital Editor
2006 Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais L'Ancien
Odd as it might sound, this lowly non-cru Beaujolais was, for me, a bit of a revelation. I bought it expecting a simple Gamay to go with roasted chicken, but that's not what it turned out to be. This wine had none of the wild, edgy flavors that are sometimes associated with the "natural" approach favored by Dressner's producers. Instead, it had real polish. The tannins and deep berry flavors were perfectly balanced in a way that was striking; few wines have quite that much finesse. Basically, this Beaujolais was insanely good. I went out and bought six more bottles, and drank them over the next few years. That a $15 Gamay could age gracefully amazed me, and proved that price and prestige don't have everything to do with great wine.
 
Kristin Donnelly, Senior Food Editor
2004 Clos du Tue-Boeuf Le Buisson Pouilleux
I was indoctrinated into the “real wine” movement while working at Chambers Street Wines in 2004. During a dinner with some wine business people, I brought out this bottle, made by rock-star natural winemakers Thierry and Jean-Marie Puzelat. It was nothing like other Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley, which were typically almost clear and very minerally. This was deep golden and cloudy. “Orange wines” were still a fringe phenomenon, so people assumed the wine was flawed. By then, I had learned not to judge a wine by its appearance so I convinced everyone to try it. It was rich, floral and exotic smelling and almost honeyed on the palate—a truly gorgeous wine that was a big hit at the dinner. When I told Joe how much I loved the “Tue-Boeuf Sauvignon Blanc,” he chided me: “You mean Le Buisson Pouilleux,” he said in his Queens-accented French. Typical Joe. He was never a fan of referring to wines the American way, by grape variety, and often made fun of the habit on his blog. Just one of the many reasons people loved him.

Wine

Chilling with Chilled Red Wine

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Beaujolais is very nice with a light chill.

It’s one of the big mysteries—up there with crop circles, the second gunman in Dallas, and why anyone on earth eats Marmite. Why don’t people drink red wine cold? It’s hot, you love red wine, so what’s the answer? A big warm glass of Zinfandel? Body-temperature Cabernet? The thing is, there are a number of red wines out there that chill down just fine. The main consideration is this: If you have a big, tannic red, serving it cold will accentuate those tannins and make it astringent and harsh. But a lighter red, not so heavy on the tannins and bright with fruit, well, chuck it in the cooler and go. Here are a few possibilities. Or you can just go on drinking that steaming glass of Syrah while you sweat in the blazing sun. Along with a big schmear of Marmite on toast.
 
Beaujolais
The perfect picnic wine, and so, unsurprisingly, nice with a light chill. The gamay grape, from which Beaujolais is made, is unprepossessing, not very tannic at all, and full of lively cherry-raspberry fruit. The 2009 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages ($10) is a fine option. (pictured: 2009 Georges Duboeuf Domaine des Rosiers Moulin-a-Vent ($17) is also great.)

Bardolino
Italy’s answer to Beaujolais (though Frappato from Sicily is another strong contender). Bardolino comes from the hills near Lake Garda, uses the same grape varieties as Amarone (oddly enough, given that Amarone is one of the higher-octane reds around), and has a gentle wild-cherry-ish flavor. The 2010 Corte Giara Bardolino ($11) is a good one to seek out.
 
Pinot Noir
Some Pinots don’t chill well—more robust versions, for instance a good percentage of what California produces. But find a delicate, lighter style, and Pinot tastes great chilled down. Oregon’s a good place to look; among the best choices there is the floral 2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir ($20).
 
Sparkling Shiraz
Freaky stuff: black-purple in color, big and hearty in character, and fizzy. But for a cookout it’s a fun option, and it tastes far better cold than regular, non-sparkling Shiraz. Plus, when your friends see you holding a glass, they’ll say entertaining things like, “What the heck is that?” The best I’ve run into recently is the NV The Chook Sparkling Shiraz ($19).
 
Related Links:
Summer Drinks
More Great Summer Wines

Entertaining

Last Call for Summer's Best Wines

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East Coasters lost the last weekend in August to tropical storm (née hurricane) Irene, so the pressure is on to get outside for Labor Day. If the weather cooperates where you live, enhance the best summer activities with these perfect wines:

Sula's 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is light and cooling.

© Courtesy of Sula Winery
Sula's 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is light and cooling.


Seafood Extravaganzas: For lobsterfests and clam bakes, there are many options beyond the ubiquitous rich Chardonnay, like melony Godello and crisp, citrusy Vermentino.

Sunning Sessions: When the weather is genuinely hot, superlight whites, like Vinho Verde and Albariño, are good bets.

Park Picnics: Awesome portable dishes include shrimp-and-noodle salad in a gingery dressing, which is great with Riesling.

Backyard Cookouts: Grilled foods need assertive wines to stand up to strong flavors. Moderately oaky wines, which can otherwise be tough to pair with food, are often great with smokey meats.

Sunset Toasts: Try wine with some color, too. There are few things more refreshing than Provençal rosé, and low-tannin Beaujolais are among the best reds to serve chilled.

Beach Trips: Pulling corks with no leverage, while sitting in sand, can be troublesome. Try these 10 excellent boxed wines, plus 10 great-value screw-capped wines.

Beer

Wines to Root for the Top US Open Contenders

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During the US Open Tennis tournament in New York, there's one question on the minds of the sport's elegant spectators: What can I drink at home (or smuggle into Flushing Meadows like this guy) to show appreciation for my favorite player? Many of the top contenders come from prolific wine-producing nations (though good luck finding Danish bottles, Wozniaki supporters). When in doubt, there's always beer. Here's what to buy:

Tennis star Kim Clijsters with wine on the sidelines.

© AFP/Getty Images
Tennis star Kim Clijsters with wine on the sidelines.


Rafael Nadal: If it's typical summer weather in Queens, Spain's Rafa would probably go for a bracing, vibrant Albariño. Open a really good one, like the single-vineyard 2010 Saiar from Benito Santos ($16).

 

Serena Williams: A toe injury forced Williams to exit the Cincinnati Open early, but she has reportedly recovered and might actually benefit from the rest. Drink an equally fresh American rosé, like the 2010 Copain Tous Ensemble ($20), to cheer her on.

Novak Djokovic: For more than a millennium, Serbians have been making wine—and consuming most of it within their borders. Look for a lush, Zinfandel-like Plavac Mali from nearby Croatia, such as the 2007 Lirica ($20).

Li Na: Though China produces wine, its high-end consumers are now famous for buying up tremendous amounts of top-dollar Bordeaux. Avoid sticker shock with a bottle from the overlooked 2006 vintage, like Chateau Gloria St-Julien ($40). 

Roger Federer: Swiss wines can be excellent. Robert Gilliard's 2009 Les Murettes Fendent ($26), a minerally white, is both delicious and available in the US.
 
Francesca Schiavone: Choose an in-vogue grape—Moscato, whose US popularity is skyrocketing—to represent the player who hails from Italy's fashion capital, Milan. Tintero's 2010 Sori Gramela ($12) is a light, limey Moscato d'Asti.
 
Andy Murray: UK wine made news recently when outspoken French winemaker Michel Chapoutier declared that he was looking to buy vineyard land in England. Try one of Chapoutier's existing bottles, like the dependable, berry-rich 2009 Belleruche Côtes du Rhône ($10).

Andrea Petkovic: Leitz's Dragonstone ($16) is one of the best Riesling values out there. Drink the crisp, peach-scented 2010 to support Germany's Petkovic.
 
Richard Gasquet: Food & Wine's October issue calls out an incredible number of brilliant new French wines. Until the issue arrives, plan to acknowledge Gasquet's hometown in the Languedoc region by drinking the exceptional 2007 Leon Barral Cuvee Jadis Faugeres ($40).
 
Kim Clijsters: Salute the reigning women's Open champ, who is sitting out due to a stomach muscle injury, with a Belgian beer. A caramelly Quadrupel, like the 10 percent-alcohol St. Bernardus ($8), is a delicious painkiller.

Related: Sports Star Wines

Summer Wines

Summer Party Foods

Wine

Wine Pairing Guide to Shrimp, Scallops, Crab and Mussels

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New York City is a sweat-slick, hideously hot, concrete-covered steambath right now, something that actually doesn’t make me think of wine so much as igloos. So maybe it’s the idea of summer—cool breezes off the water, sunlight on white sand, nothing to do but lounge around—that always gets me thinking about shellfish. Lobster rolls…crab rolls…shrimp on the grill…a big bowl of mussels in some sort of white wine sauce with a little garlic and parsley…scallop ceviche with cilantro and a zap of lime juice…anyway, you get the idea. Here are five suggestions for great summer whites to go with all those tasty, shell-covered denizens of the sea.
 
2010 Aveleda Vinho Verde Casal Garcia ($8) Vinho Verde really ought to be described with comic-book words: ZAP! POW! KA-ZING! It’s thrillingly tart, with a happy touch of fizz and a kind of cracked-oyster-shell mineral note that makes it incredibly refreshing. Casal Garcia is a classic: Chill the heck out of it, then serve with something messy like shell-on cold boiled shrimp.
 
2010 Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling ($9) Washington’s Chateau Ste Michelle makes more Riesling than anyone else in the world—close to a million cases a year. Most of that is off-dry (lightly sweet), but I prefer the winery’s crisp, peachy, dry bottling. It’s a great crab wine—cracked crab, crab rolls, crab salad, crab-on-a-stick, you name it.
 
2010 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc ($9) Chile tends to be known for inexpensive reds, but the real secret is the country’s terrific Sauvignon Blancs. The cold winds off the Pacific give Sauvignon Blancs like this one a finely-tuned citrus zestiness, perfect for ceviche (something else they do extremely well in Chile).
 
2010 Domaine Lafage Cote d’Est ($10) This floral southern French white tastes like it costs twice the price. It’s sealed with a screwcap, handy for picnics when you realize you forgot the corkscrew. It’s also cheap enough that you could use half the bottle for steaming mussels, and still have two glasses left to drink.
 
2010 Salneval Albariño ($12) Minerally Albariños like this one are the mainstay of Spain’s Rias Baixas region. The other big industry there? Fishing, and shellfish farming—the locals raise mussels, oysters and scallops on long ropes that stretch down into the water from eucalyptus-wood platforms called bateas.
 
Related Links:
20 Fast Shellfish Recipes
16 Bargain Wines
More Value Wines
Top 10 No-Fail Tips for Picking a Stellar Wine off a Wine List
15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing

Tasting Room

5 Ways to Screw Up a Wine Pairing

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In the August issue, executive wine editor Ray Isle names the best summer value wines. Here, he explains how you can do wrong by those fantastic bottles in a new series called What Not to Do.

© Courtesy of Sean Minor Wines.
2010 Sean Minor Four Bears Vin Gris

1. Artichokes.
Artichokes hate wine. They grow on their little stalks thinking, "I hate wine. Ooh, I hate it. I'm gonna grow here for a while, then I'm gonna go mess up some wine." The reason they do that is that artichokes have a compound called cynarin in them that basically makes wine taste awful. If you're dead set on eating artichokes and drinking wine with them, the best option is a light-bodied, unoaked white wine like a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. But you'd be best off with beer: a nice brown ale ought to work just fine.

2. Serve your wine too warm (if it's red) or too cold (if it's white).
Warm red wine tastes alcoholic and flabby. Serve reds a little below room temperature and they're not only more pleasant to drink, but they taste better with food (throw them in the fridge for 30 minutes before you pour them). Icy cold whites don't taste like anything, so pull them out of the fridge a few minutes before serving.

3. Try to make two stars share the table.
This doesn't work in Hollywood, and it doesn't work at your house, either. If you have a truly extraordinary wine to pour, serve it with a simple dish. If you're spending 15 hours trying to re-create one of Thomas Keller's intricate recipes from The French Laundry Cookbook, pour something good—but not equally spectacular.

4. Serve oily fish with tannic red wine.
Fish oils react harshly with tannins, so don't, for instance, serve mackerel with Cabernet—unless you like the taste you get from licking a roll of pennies. With oily fish, skip the reds entirely and go white. Any of the crisp, minerally seaside wines: Albarino from Spain, Vermentino from Italy, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile's Pacific coast. All of those are good options.

5. Overthink the whole thing.
Really. This is the biggest way to screw up a wine pairing, not because the wine and food will taste bad together, but because you'll turn yourself into a neurotic mess who makes Woody Allen seem like a Zen buddhist. Most wines can happily live alongside most foods, in a kind of neutral you-go-your-way-and-I'll-go-mine state. Just stay away from those artichokes.

Related: Top 10 Buzz Words to Up Your Wine Cred

Wine

A Case for Boxed Wines

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2009 Bota Box Chardonnay.

© Courtesy of DVF Wines
2009 Bota Box Chardonnay.

People have been putting wine in boxes (or rather, in bags within boxes) for years, but it's a relatively new phenomenon that the contents be worth drinking. Last week, New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov covered 10 worthy reds and whites, and for this month's issue of Food & Wine, Ray Isle tasted a slew of boxed Chardonnays and named four winners.

Why look past the cheesy stigma this summer? Boxes are lighter (therefore greener) and easier to close than bottles. That portability makes them great if you're inclined to partake at beach picnics, and researchers in Spain recently suggested that wine could even protect against sunburn (though dehydration is still something to worry about when day-drinking). The biggest advantage is that whites will stay fresh in your fridge for weeks, making it easy to squeeze off a glass whenever a new heat wave rolls into town. Here, surprisingly good boxed wines to drink now.

Wine

A Grape That Could Use Some (Tough) Love: Chenin Blanc

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I have enormous respect for Chenin Blanc, but this is one grape that definitely needs to spend some time in a military academy. Left to its own devices, after a few years Chenin vines sprawl out, get all broad and flabby, and start overproducing like the Octomom. But with a little firm discipline (shoot- and cluster-thinning, which is vineyard-manager-speak for “drop and give me twenty, dogface!”) suddenly they're a source for crisp, complex—and underrated—white wines. Here are five that have been whipped into shape:

2011 Indaba Chenin Blanc ($10) Sales of Indaba’s wines support a fellowship for needy South African students interested in wine-related careers. Like growing more Chenin Blanc, because the place does it so darn well, for instance.

2010 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc ($12) This peachy wine comes from Clarksburg, in California’s Sacramento River delta. No oak here, just zippy stainless-steel-tank freshness.

2010 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc ($13) More peach notes—it’s sort of a Chenin signature—and a nice hint of spice, from one of South Africa’s top wineries. Plus, how can you not love a place that also makes a wine called “Faithful Hound”?

2010 Pine Ridge Vineyards Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($14) The Pine Ridge folks add about 20% Viognier—another grape that tends towards sloth and dissolution unless you give it what-for—to this melony Chenin, giving it a nice floral note.

2009 Domaine Huet Le Haut Lieu Sec Vouvray ($30, more or less) “Sec” means dry, important to know with Vouvray, since many of the Chenins from this French region can be sweet. “Domaine Huet” means “I make the best damn Chenin Blanc on the planet,” basically. It’s a splurge, but once you’ve fallen in love with this grape, it’s one you’ll want to make.

Related Links:
Top 10 No-Fail Tips for Picking a Stellar Wine off a Wine List
15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing

Wine

Wines for Junk Food

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Yes, we all ought to be eating our locally-sourced, free-range, antibiotic-free, Mangalitsa porkchops or whatever, but sometimes, you know, you just want a Frito. Particularly if you’re doing something like watching a ball game on TV, or taking a break from hurling a Frisbee around a park. However, just because your cravings currently extend to chips, chicharrones, or Chung King noodles from a can doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a tasty glass of wine alongside. Here are a few off-the-wall (or off-the-convenience-store-rack) pairing suggestions.
 
Potato Chips
Or French fries, or Tater Tots—basically any kind of fried potato object with lots of salt. Go crazy: drink Champagne. The stuff was made for salty fried foods, whether the Champenoise want to admit it or not. (If real Champagne is too pricey, head to Spain for Cava.)
 
Doughnuts
Look, I don’t drink wine with doughnuts, but that doesn’t mean there’s not some madman out there cruising the streets at midnight, wondering what the heck will go with his bagful of Krispy Kremes. If you’re that person, the answer is sparkling wine that’s sweet. (Note: The same holds true for wedding cake, too.) Sugary pastries and cakes make dry sparkling wine taste like lemon juice. Go for ademi-sec Champagne, or the American equivalent thereof.
 
Slim Jims
Don’t even ask what these things are made from, but if you’re eating them and craving a glass of wine—or really if you’re eating any kind of dry sausage, beef jerky or charcuterie—go red. In fact, go red and Mediterranean. Spicy Sicilian Nero d’Avolas, ripe red blends from France’s Languedoc-Roussillon, and Monstrells from Spain’s southeastern coast are all great possibilities.
 
Spaghetti-Os
Seems like red wine would be the answer, but when’s the last time you had Spaghetti-Os? Those things are sweet. So a crisp white wine is actually going to be the better pairing, for instance a Vermentino or Soavefrom Italy (because, um, Spaghetti-Os are Italian. Er, right?) It’s the same rule-of-pairing-thumb that applies to Asian dishes that have a bit of sweetness, akin to squeezing lime juice on pad thai; match them with a white that has good acidity.
 
Deep-Fried Mars Bar
It’s a Scottish thing. Not really ideal for wine. I’d say if you’re self-destructive enough to eat deep-fried candy bars, go ahead and break out the Johnnie Walker with them. What have you got to lose, really?
 
Related Links:
 
15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing
 

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Run with chefs and wine experts in the Celebrity Chef 5K and dance all night at Gail Simmons’ Last Bite Dessert Party during the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, June 20-22.