If you follow the Aspen restaurant scene, you probably know there’s a new kid in town. The highly anticipated opening of Las Montañas, Aspen’s latest creation from MML Hospitality, based in Austin, Texas, took place last week at the location that once housed and famous Jimmy’s – an American restaurant and bar for nearly a quarter of a century.
While not quite the same as beloved La Cocina, which packed them for enchiladas for 33 years (is it 17 years since the Lebbys left town?), just across from Hopkins Avenue where Las Montañas is now, the Tex-Mex cuisine the Austinites serve up is a welcome addition. Especially if you have the room for pricey but prodigious fajitas made with, say, lobster and/or rib eye, which flirt with triple-digit territory. No, it’s not 1972.
While LaCo, as locals called it for so many years, lacked fine wines, Las Montañas’ predecessor, Jimmy’s, under wine director Greg Van Wagner (now part of the PARC Aspen ), had an amazing wine program. The wines vied for attention alongside Jimmy’s stellar selections of mezcal and tequila, which generated global buzz long before mezcal and tequila were as popular as they are today.
Part of the challenge for Van Wagner, even with the modern, homey American menu served at Jimmy’s, was to make sure wines were as much a part of the draw as Mexican spirits. He succeeded in spades. For many food and wine classics in Aspen, winemakers and wine connoisseurs from around the world have come to talk tequila while sipping on hand-selected Burgundy from Van Wagner’s carefully curated list.
Today, that challenge has become even more difficult as the people of Las Montañas try to put together a wine program for Tex-Mex cuisine, which calls for margaritas, both fresh and frozen, and cerveza.
But as we all know, Aspen is a wine town, and Austin-based Patrick Olds, Director of Wines for the more than 20 restaurants operated by MML Hospitality (including Clark’s Aspen), is proving he’s ready to take on that. challenge. Olds plans to create a unique and exciting program featuring wines that will both capture the attention of well-heeled diners and enhance the wine pairing experience.
“We learned from our time at Clark’s that Aspen has a level of wine sophistication that is at a really high level. It’s kind of a wonderland, with curious wine people who like to take wine trips,” he said.
He’s right, literally and figuratively, as the wine people of Aspen travel in both Bombardier and glass to the world’s wine regions.
“In Austin, we also have an open-minded clientele with people who are very receptive to trying new wines. It’s so much fun finding new wines and new regions for our customers,” Olds enthused as a passionate wine professional.
In his first foray into the ever-evolving wine program at Las Montañas, Olds, an Advanced Sommelier Certified Level III at the Court of Master Sommeliers, has created a fun and tantalizing list that features well-chosen prestige wines from some usual suspects. , combined with trip-worthy wines from Spain, Argentina and, yes, Mexico. And it is this element, the “surprise wines”, that seem to be able to make Las Montañas unique in a city filled with great wine lists.
During last week’s media “soft opening”, I had the opportunity to pair, at Olds’ suggestion, a Palafox “Pionero” Chenin Blanc from Baja California, with a main course of fresh and biting octopus aguachile. The wine was as fresh as the food, and the dry blend of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay could have been an iteration of, say, South Africa, or even the Loire Valley. There are plenty of great palates and educated wine professionals in this valley, but I’d bet no one would have chosen “the heart of Antigua Ruta del Vino, south of Ensenada” as the source for this Chenin Blanc .
I was educated. I had been in Las Montañas for less than an hour (OK, I had a Maudie’s Famous Frozen Margarita with tamarind sangrita and a rim of homemade tajin salt before dinner), and I was already learning a wine lesson from ‘Olds, in a place where I had learned many lessons from both Greg Van Wagner and Jimmy Yeager in the past. It was fun. There were four other wines from Mexico on the list, and I can’t wait to try them all and learn more about the newly emerging region.
“We will try other wines from Mexico and hopefully add them as we move forward,” Olds said.
This corresponds to the old wine proverb according to which to drink the wines of a region with the cuisine of the region.
The next hour was spent perusing the wine list which, as I mentioned, was peppered with familiar wines. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from Heitz Cellar and Mathiason were both under $200, while a 2017 Harlan Estate Red Blend topped the list at $3,400 for mega spenders. The Alden Alli, Hitching Post and Tyler Pinot Noirs all sounded like inspired picks, as did a pair of whites, a Martin Woods Gruner Veltliner from Oregon and a Columbia River Gorge Godello produced by Analemma.
The compact but diverse ‘by the glass’ offerings that Olds has selected are equally impressive, and include 19 wines from six countries.
“One of the things I like the most about this job is that I can select wines by the glass for more than 20 points of sale. We have over 600 selections by the glass across our various restaurants,” Olds noted.
It was good to see and taste the “Barda” pinot noir from Bodegas Chacra in Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina. This is a project with local participation (Aspenite Tony Mazza is a partner) and an outstanding example of the versatility that is possible in global Pinot Noir production.
Olds said the list is just the first step in an evolving process, and while he’ll be coming back regularly, he’s counting on longtime Aspen wine professional Pete Cheroske, who is the director of MML wines in Las Montañas and Clark’s Aspen, to introduce the community to new wines.
“Above all, we want people to drink good wine,” Olds said of building a wine program that works both with the unique high-end Mexican cuisine that is the calling card. of Las Montañas and the expectations of the Aspen wine market. “Trust is key to this, and we want people to be able to choose two or three dishes and then ask our staff to recommend wines that pair well with those dishes.”
Yes, it’s a challenge to find wines that pair perfectly with spicy, complex Mexican dishes that typically include chili peppers, beans, avocados, and cilantro. But by seeking out wines from countries and regions indigenous to this type of cuisine, pairings not only become easier, but also robust and exciting. Las Montañas and Olds are well on their way to bringing a new wine and food experience to Aspen.
Even if it’s not LaCo.