Wine Ink: Dining for a good cause |

Wine Ink: Dining for a good cause

if you go...

Seats are limited

Element 47 at The Little Nell Hotel

Friday February 7, 2019

$125++/person. For more information or to book your reservation, visit


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under the influence

Torbreck 2001 “The Struie” Shiraz (Barossa Valley)

Yes, that is an empty bottle. A gift from an Australian friend, this 19-year-old shiraz from the Barossa Valley may be my favorite wine of the young year. Plums and dark berries, an earthy aroma and the stick of aged tannins made this relatively old wine from the New World a treat with a grilled rib eye on a cold winter’s night. And what is a Struie? Well, ironically it is a mountain ... in Scotland! Obviously, Pete Kight, Torbreck’s proprietor, has an affinity for high places.

No doubt you have heard about and seen video footage of the devastating brush fires that are still ravaging parts of Australia. If you read this column, you know the damage done to the wine industry, particularly in South Australia and the Adelaide Hills.

On Friday, Feb. 7, at Element 47 in The Little Nell hotel, Australian winemaker Michael Hill Smith will be hosting a special wine dinner celebrating the top drops from down under. All of the proceeds from the event will be donated to Aspen Skiing Co.’s Australia Wildlife Relief Fund, which has already raised over $60,000 to send to the Red Cross in Australia. It is a great way to dine on a four-course Aussie-inspired menu, learn about the abundance of the Australian wine world and support a worthy cause.

“I am truly touched by this gesture from the Aspen Skiing Co.,” Hill Smith said about the dinner donations and a matching grant of $12,500 that the Aspen Skiing Co. Family Foundation made to the fund. “Aspen is a favored destination for many Aussies, so this support from the Aspen community is really appreciated.”

Indeed, not only is Aspen chock-a-block with Aussie tourists each winter, but we are also home away from home for many Australians who contribute to the community. These include the likes of wineman John Beatty of Victoria’s, Amanda Boxtel with her Bridging Bionics Foundation and Ramona Bruland, whose Aspen Cares Theatrical Fashion Show takes place Feb. 6 at Belly Up.

While a good cause, the focus of the four-course dinner will be on the food, fun and fine wines of Australia. Chef Keith Theodore of Element 47 is opening the meal with “Strich Tartare Yolk Jam, and Parmesan, Vegemite” and ending it with “Pavlova Vanilla, Basil, Watermelon Granita.” If that doesn’t take you to a culinary summer’s day in February at Bells or Bondi Beaches you’re going to need to buy a ticket on Qantas.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

But it is the wines that are of special interest to me. Hill Smith and Chris Dunaway, wine director at the Nell, have collaborated on a selection that includes some of the most prestigious names from around the vast continent. Along with offerings from Hill Smith’s own Shaw + Smith Winery in the aforementioned Adelaide Hills, there are wines from the Hunter, Yarra, Barossa and Margaret River wine regions.

“It is rare to find a selection of so many outstanding producers at one sitting,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway has close ties to Oz having traveled it, and his girlfriend hails from there. “One of the wines I’m really looking forward to pouring is a Semillon from Brokenwood in the Hunter Valley (near Sydney).” From Western Australia, Vanya Cullen’s Diane Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Margaret River 2016 will be paired with the main course along with a Henschke Henry’s Seven GSMV, Barossa 2016 (Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Viognier). A pair of pinots also will be poured, including a young Mac Forbes from the Yarra Valley near Melbourne and a Tasmanian offering from Tolpuddle, a Hill Smith project that concentrates on single-vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir.

But the star of the evening will inevitably be Hill Smith himself. Often touted as “the first master of wine in Australia,” he not only brings a wealth of information and the charm of a global ambassador, he will also proudly pour the acclaimed wines he produces at Shaw + Smith.

“Adelaide Hills is a cool climate region close to Adelaide (in Southeast Australia) making delicious modern wines that rank amongst Australia’s best,” Hill Smith said about the region where he is centered and partners with his winemaking cousin, Martin Shaw. “Last year was our 30th vintage. We specialize in a handful of varietals that are well-suited to cool growing conditions — sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir and a cooler climate expression of shiraz (aka syrah). Our winemaking ambitions are to make the best and most exciting wines possible from our vineyards.”

In addition to his wines from Tasmania, Hill Smith has brought along an M3 Chardonnay from vineyards near the fire zone and other bottlings.

“It could be a challenging 2020 vintage,” Hill Smith said. “Conditions are calm and cool at the moment, so it will be interesting to see how the balance of the season plays out. We are hopeful that smoke will not be an issue in the 2020 wines, as the fires occurred pre-veraison, or early in the season. Time will tell.”

For his part, Dunaway is just happy to be a part of an important event.

“We have lots of Aussie friends who come here every year and stay at the Nell and join us at Element 47,” he said. “I’m just glad to work for a company that is giving back.”

Good on ya, mate.

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

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