Wine Ink: A journey through Element 47’s wine list

Kelly J. Hayes


Domaine Marcel Lapierre, 2013 Morgon

Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, the wines of Lapierre represent the best of the Beaujolais region and the gamay grape. Located just south of Burgundy, Beaujolais is perhaps best known for the young fresh wines that are released each year with much fanfare and designed to be consumed instantly. But M. Lapierre produces age worthy wines from organic and biodynamic vineyards that retain freshness and become increasingly complex. This ruby red, medium-bodied bottle showed fruit, cherries in particular, earth and floral notes in one beautiful wine.

A find.

It was a modest choice from a list of pure opulence. But I must say it was delicious.

On a recent evening at Element 47 in Aspen’s Little Nell hotel, I was presented with the “bible,” as some refer to the 100-page wine list, which features many of the most coveted wines in the world. A Wine Spectator Grand Award honoree since 1997, The Nell, as it is known both locally and globally, is a bucket list wine destination for those who appreciate (and can afford) the finest wines.

Would you like a ’49 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Grands Échezeaux with your salmon? They will happily decant it for you, as it is on the list for a mere $12,232. And there are other gems (Burgundies in particular) that are even pricier. Remember, if you order a bottle of this stature in the rarefied air of the Rockies you will not be just pairing a wine, you’ll be experiencing history.

But on this night, dining casually on the patio at sunset with another couple, I was looking for a bargain to sip with our $47 three-course, off-season dinner specials. Which, by the way, was the steal of the season. I wanted something light and fresh that would go well with the fish and chicken dishes we all had ordered. I wanted something that was, well, unique. And I wanted it for less than $100.

And therein lies another admirable feature of the Element 47 list. Yes, there are treasures beyond the means of all but the top .00001% on this list of more than 2,000 different offerings. But the list also includes many bottles of fine, well-selected wines that are under three figures. Now I know that $100 is still an expensive entry point for a bottle of wine at a casual dinner, but when you consider a dining experience at a top restaurant in a resort community circa 2019, that, my friends, seems to be pretty reasonable.

As I sat and perused the list, something that could take hours for a lover of wines, I divided my attention in two. First, looking longingly at the magnificent and, for me, unattainable bottles from Bordeaux (Château La Mission Haut-Brion, 1989), Barolo (Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Riserva, 1999, in magnum), Priorat (Alvaro Palacios L’Ermita, 2003), and Sonoma (a SIMI 1935 Zinfandel — are you kidding me!?). And then, more appropriately, at the wines in the price range I had designated.

“You should know all the bargains,” said my dinner companion, who maintains a cellar in Aspen. “Find us something interesting.” His wife pitched in, “We like pinot noir.” So at least I had direction. I began by looking at domestic pinot and found that I could meet the objective easily. A Flowers, 2016 and a Patz & Hall, 2015 — both from the wind blown Sonoma Coast — were just under a Benjamin. Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills AVA offered some values as well, including Raj Parr’s Sandhi Sta. Rita Hills, 2010 and cult winemaker Matt Dees’ The Pairing 2014, which came in at around $80.

I thought perhaps the Southern Hemisphere would show well in the category, but surprisingly, there was just one pinot noir from New Zealand’s Central Otago region, a Burn Cottage Vineyard, 2015 at $108. From Argentina’s Rio Negro region in Patagonia came two different pinot bottlings from Bodegas Chacra, both of which were under the limit.

But I wanted something … different. Staying in America, I found a number of interesting wines from unique grapes, other than pinot, that had stories to tell and were well within my price range. Heitz Cellars Grignolino, 2014 features an obscure Italian varietal that grows on a patch of Napa soil. For just $62 it could have been the story and steal of the night. Then there was a 2012 Trousseau from Arnot-Roberts, darlings of the natural wine movement, and a Cinsault from Colorado’s Sutcliffe Vineyards and a Gamay from RPM, in California’s Sierra Nevada Foothills, all of which were also in the $60 range.

And then it hit me. Gamay? Natural wine? Under $100? Let’s go back to Beaujolais! Flipping to 40 pages earlier, there on page 58 (I told you it was big book), was a bottle of Domaine Marcel Lapierre, 2013 Morgon. It played all the right notes. It was in the price range at $86. It was made by a pioneer maker of the natural wine movement from the original “Gang of Four” (more on that in a future column) so there was a story to tell. It would be enjoyed by those who desired a light-style red, and as I said at the top, it was uniquely delicious.

While the meal, the company and the wine were all a joy, the opportunity to take a journey through the wine list was, well, an experience.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at

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