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High Altitude Tastes: The 2009 Telluride Arts Festival – Feature


Telluride is a hidden vision within the different auspices of the Rocky Mountains. Located two and half hours from Grand Junction Airport, the essence of hidden away gives breathe to a plethora of festivals throughout the summer months.


The Telluride Arts Festival combining culinary and spirits into the soaring heights above Telluride in Mountain Village at nearly 9600 feet in elevation gives one the perspective of moderation but within enjoying high altitude living with all the perks of a sea level resort.

The breakdown of the festival is separated into seminars, luncheons and tastings all situated within an easy to walk township setting. For those coming up from Telluride itself, the free Gondola takes about 13 minutes from the base with some breathtaking views but likewise gradual sloping to keep the head level.

The first luncheon pairing was held at The Peaks Resort which also served as HQ of sorts from which everything could flow. The restaurant Appaloosa uses fresh organic ingredients mixed with regional flavor.

Entering in, to breeze the palette, a dark Black Butte porter out of Oregon flittered with hops. Water, in perspective, is necessity at these height levels for such a festival both to clean the taste buds but also to maintain solvency in terms of stamina. The appetizers used seafood as a base with certain spices to coax the flavor from the wine.


Served with a 2007 Carlson Vineyards Laughing Cat Riesling with a nice sweet bump to it, a scallop mixed with a simple cheese setting and local mushrooms offered a sense of contentment while a small piece of trout smoked with tomatoes was blessed with a heartier aftertaste.


In terms of a main progression, a tender carving of bison barbecued with a light sauce was paired with a 2007 Cline Cool Syrah whose tart pepper-like intonations balanced the almost over-salty tendencies of meat creating an effective balance.


As small side dishes, a light dollop of salmon salad was uplifting but the 2007 Reisling from Milbrandt Vineyards in Washington State missed the mark because of overemphasis on the sweetness while their merlot fared better with a slightly chewy venison marinated with a dark sauce and light grated cheese.


The seminar of the afternoon was entitled “Dirt To Delicious” highlighting a more basic progression of tastes but with far reaching intent. The first pairing which brought force was a beautiful sauvignon blanc from Grove Mill Vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand served with a slightly dry chicken fricasee marinated in citrus and fresh herbs. By contrast, the Kenwood Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley enraptured in the kiss of its pairing with a seductive coffee chocolate truffle.


Heading over with the structure of the low hanging afternoon, the Little Bar at The Lumiere hosted “High Altitude Cocktails” optimizing Van Gogh Vodka. While the Orange Cosmopolitan (tart but light) and the Pomegranate Cocktail (sweet and frisky) set the stage, it was the two latter concoctions that soothed the soul.


The Acai Lemonade used a blueberry infused form of the vodka mixed with cranberry and lemonade juice. Stepping behind the bar to shake the coldness free, the Milkshake Martini was loved by all, if not awakened by mixing Dutch Caramel and Double Expresso vodka with Coole Swan Irish Cream unlocking a sweetness that was not overwhelmed by the alcohol content.


As the rain teased, the crowd began gathering at the stage in anticipation. Bringing a decided soul to almost ambient jazz vibe in paradox to some of her more folk representations, Joan Osborne had the swaying crowd enveloped in her spell. Even as the water kissed the crowd, her gentle motions perfectly complimented the sometimes blues instrumentation. Her energy pierced the crowd with the knowing “Trying To Get It” before hitting the ironies with “I Can’t Stand The Rain”.

With the thunder rumbling as a faint glimpse of sun shined down in the valley below, Osborne moved into “(What If God Was) One Of Us” as the light began to escape. Heading towards the heart of the village, the echoes of “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” reverberated succinctly.


Hidden within Heritage Square, Capella opens like a snake revealing only those who wish to see it. As the black curtain swings back to reveal flutes of Taittinger champagne, waiters flutter around serving finger spoons of luscious shrimp and salmon serenaded in a creamy cyrill sauce.

Inside as a secluded corner was selected offering place between two barely separated generations of young women, the stage was set for diversity and thought, especially with wine at 9500 feet.


The first course jumped with effective taste topping a little too tender halibut with an absolutely gorgeous smoked bacon surrounded by wonderfully scented chanterelle mushrooms. The wine was a simple but very rich rose from Valley Of The Moon out of Sonoma, which didnt overcome the bacon’s rich texture.


The second course by comparison took on more experimental overtones blending the setting of a consomme but submerging a goat cheese ravioli beneath a small but hearty infusion of pork while slices of baby tomatoes and arugula blended in with the flavor. The wine (the Grove Hills New Zealand sauvignon blanc from earlier) complimented the lightness but did not make the meal its own.


The third course brought the thought home with a crispy but manageable duck confit resting on a bed of herby polenta, thick but not overwhelming. What really popped the taste though was a dance of blackberries around the dish which when mixed with a 2005 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Rhone in France really envisioned and brought to mind a deepness of flavor.

As the Nivole Miscato champange from Piedmont, Italy closed out the evening with the sparkling laughter and devilish humor of the ladies present along with a brisk crème brulee, the night reveled in the smooth.


As the luncheon insinuated the brightness the following day, the art of pairing began again at Onyx at Capella. Sitting with a small family of well traveled and athletically induced people (including a young and vibrant swim coach, a Pinot Gris from Milbrandt Vineyards again failed to bring the energy from an apple and cucumber puree salad despite some vibrant poignant slices.

By comparison the chilled sweet potato soup in terms of presentation teased the taste buds with a small whip of chipotle oil mixed with a slight cheddar whiskey sauce. While the chardonnay didnt really enhance the course because of mild underpinings, the next wine did.


The petite pulled duck slider was simple but almost ultra modern in its vision as beneath its razor thin slices hid bullets of shitake mushrooms glazed with a tantalizing boursin cheese which when heightened with the Morgan Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands, north of San Fransisco, brought the table to utter agreement.

Leading to the essence of the afternoon towards the Grand Tasting, a layer passion fruit parfait viscerally dissected with a coconut lime highlight gave a mild but satisfying conclusion with a Taittinger Brut Rose tickling with its bubbles.


Peaches swirled within the memory as Chef Hosea Rosenberg, influential as a Boulder restauranteur turned Top Chef contestant, as ginger and vanilla bean collided to make a panna cotta surrounded by a vision of soft fruit. Pre-enriched by the enhancement of peach wine from Carlson Vineyards, the cotta peppered with crunchy brown sugar glazed almond brittles gave a balance of sweet and sour as the mountain wind glided through the tent.


Cocktails always become the traveler. With a grand amount of artisan spirits intruding an already intense marketplace, differences of distilling make all the difference. The mixology of Colorado blends well simply because with high altitude distilling benefits from the need of a shorter barrel life. Montanya Distillers, highlighting an Platino and Oro, clear and dark in their demeanor, create a distinctive nature of taste buoyed by the aspect of intense muddling and fresh chunks of fruit that don’t overwhelm the cocktail. Two drinks, specifically the Thai Boxer and The Apollo (shown above), set the stage with the blueberry richness of the Boxer being the popular favorite because of its front end punch but the minituae of the peach bits within the Apollo provided a subtle genius.

As the Grand Tasting began, the entire main village square began to fill with various wisps of different possibilities looming. The essential bearing that both began and ended the night was the Powder Night Expresso Porter from the lauded and local favorite Smugglers Brewpub just steps away from the bottom of the gondola. Rich and steeped with flavor, the Powder started off the festivities.


Barely 10 feet away, the Chicken Noodle Cafe provided substance with a chicken breast wrap lightly topped in raspberry sauce along with a piping hot cut of soup and actual potato cut chips, which one can tell the ultimate difference upon tasting.


9545′s offering down the way was two pronged with a duck chili pastry covered in a green tangy mole verde sauce and enhanced with a jalapeno jack cheese filling which was accompanied by a franchaise of mahi mahi which was seared in butter with the visions of an optimum veal piccata.


After intermingling to Heritage Square, Full Sail Brewery optimized a Session Dark Lager in a Red Stripe presentation by way of Bend Oregon. The line in front of the ultra trendy Onyx & Seude bistro/eateries inside Capella stretched extensively as Onyx served a brisket ultimately so scrumptious that its almost rivaled the short rib trevailed from Suede which added a salmon marinade on a crisp that brought visions of a beautiful tuna tartare with an extra zest.

Changing sights, the Tinto Rey vintage from Matchbook Vineyards, combined the spice of syrah with a tempranillo, which paradoxically paired quite well with the Telluride Pizza Kitchen who in its cuisine mixed distinctly South American flavors with Italian elements. The mix of parpadelle with pulled pork and mini taquitos jumped with the element of spice in the Tinto, an unexpected but welcome coincidence.

As the darkness commences and the red glow of the setting sun disappears, the gondola flies overhead as Excelsior Cafe serves its luscious ravioli topped with a dollop of mozzarella as a shrimp sauteed in aioli sauces becomes the smoothness. Before heading into the Center Stage for a heavenly ice cream treat enveloped in peach and caramel, the Ska Beer introduction of the hoppy IPAA “Hopus Hoparandi” swims through the mouth like the nectar.


As the late night proceeded, the Colorado Distillery booths became the point of meeting. After tasting the silkiness of the 1792 Kentucky Bourbon, the grail of bourbons was unveiled with its brooding aftertaste in the form of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon replete with proper number and bottle date.

Watching the Tasting conclude with a bit of the popular Fish IPA (also from Smugglers Brewpub) which the girls and boys alike drank in droves in addition to personal favorite Powder Night, the party continued to the Capella Lounge.

Hanging with Smugglers’ brewmaster Chris Fish, who created a special brew for C’s chef Kenny Wright, a taste of the peppercorn fused Constellation in a tall glass (only available at Capella) kept the sight afloat as the distillers and patrons alike chilled into the night.


As the clear sky illuminates the 14,000 Wilson Peak which has become synonomous with the image of the Coors Brewing Company, the view from the terrace of the Legends Restaurant at The Peaks Resort captures this wonder as a Bloody Mary replete in Goat vodka, blue cheese stuffed olives and shrimp burns the lips with relish.


The Festival Brunch finalized the essence of the festival with tomato and cheese mixed scrambles, apple sausage and fresh strawberries and blackberries as a guitar duo strummed “Coming Home Again”.


As the sun reached its apex, Capella Executive Chef Kenny Wright showed the essence of the fungi with the beauty that is mushrooms. Having prepared the pairing lunch at Onyx and collaborated with Smuggler’s Brewpub, the chef has a wonderful sense of symbiosis which he says is essential in his kitchen in creating different styles for similar foods to create a fusion of sorts. His potato espuma (seen above) which was similar in essence to the soup we had the day before allowed for a thickness of taste with the heaviness of feeling as the chantelles mixed softly in while the bison frite lightened with a cactus alioli was rich with mushroom as a light sauteed brought forth the flavor.


The Peaks Resort, which served as the focal community point within the festival, was essential with its wonderful essence and vibe. The laid back cool style with beautiful views of the mountains enhanced the stay. The Golden Door Spa, whose basic amenities are included with the resort fee, allows access to the multi level pool area replete with whirpools, heated pool and a fun side bar. In the spa proper, a Mountain Relaxation massage takes into account the differences the altitude creates especially to the active but also specific tissue areas that need mending.


Sitting at the edge of the pool overlooking the Rockies with the summer sun ablaze, a Mountain Village punch and the requisite Coors make the comfort of stuffed mushrooms and a stacked reuben sandwich right. As the Rolling Stones pulsate, the bartender belies that the mountains are the place to be.

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