A Big Taste of Aspen at The Little Nell

Private jets, wine cellars, private mountain clubs, 5-star dining, international elite, and lots of snow, of course, we’re talking Aspen, Colorado, the top destination for relaxation and adventure in the middle of the mountains. My favorite part of visiting Aspen is the moment I check into The Little Nell. It is an experience I sincerely look forward to all year round. Nestled between the white snow-capped mountains, this quaint, luxurious hotel feels like home the second I walk in. Every time I arrive, the staff greets me and remembers me by name, as if we are long-lost friends reunited at last. After checking in, I like to relax and unwind in the main lobby with the fireplace crackling loudly, the smell of wood burning, and the somber sleeping mountains outside the grand windows. Between the hotel suites, private residences, accommodations, and luxury amenities there is really no place like it. The Little Nell serves as “home away from home” for some of the most sophisticated and wealthy people in the world, especially during peak Ski season from December to March, and festival season in the summertime. Though, even with all it’s accolades, being the only AAA 5-Diamond and Forbes 5-Star hotel in Aspen, The Nell (as regulars call it) still has a warm and cozy ambiance for all their guests. Whether you’re skiing or snowboarding, you’ll appreciate that The Nell is the only hotel with Ski-in, Ski-out access to Aspen Mountain. My choice is snowboarding and after a few treks up and down the mountain; I’m ready to recover at the private Aspen Mountain Club with a shot of whiskey and a cigar. Atop the mountain, I’ve found this is the best place to sit in awe and admire one of the most beautiful views in the United States.

Christopher R. King at the private Aspen Mountain Club / Christopher R. King top of Aspen Mountain
The Seafood Tower at the Ajax Tavern

The newly renovated Ajax Tavern sits at the base of Aspen Mountain and is an excellent place for an apres-ski. The Ajax Tavern debuted their new look on June 7th. Personally, my favorite place to dine is Element 47. I relish the opportunity to throw on a nice dinner jacket and bask in the elegance of this five-star dining experience. The name Element 47 is a clever nod to the heritage of both the hotel and the city of Aspen, representing silver: the 47th element on the periodic table. Considering Aspen’s history is rich from its roots in silver mining, the name is fitting for the soul of Aspen. Between breakfast, brunch, or dinner, there are six different menus to choose from throughout the day. The dinner menu is packed full with impressive, mouthwatering delights, but Executive Sous-Chef Keith Theodore never disappoints with my favorite dish; the Sourdough Rigatoni with wagyu tataki, mustard greens, and shiitake. I would literally fly there, just for this dish! I should also mention that Element 47 has one of the best wine programs in the country and is a longtime recipient of the Wine Spectator Grand Award. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the wine pairings suggested by my good friend Carlton McCoy, Master Sommelier and Wine Director in the past years. I love to catch up, share stories, share laughs, taste different wines, and explore any new wines from their glorious wine cellar of over 24,000 bottles. I look forward to meeting the new wine director Chris Dunaway who will be taking over for Carlton.

Enjoying a bottle of Ornellaia at Element 47
Christopher R. King with Executive Sous-Chef Keith Theodore

Something I genuinely appreciate about The Little Nell is that they extend Aspen experience and culture beyond just your stay at the hotel. With events like the Heitz Cellar Legacy Dinner, Food & Wine Classic, and Mountaintop Yoga, they provide a wide array of activities that invite you to get involved. This past summer they partnered with DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co. to host a cycling trip through Burgundy, France where participants got to cycle through scenic countryside led by cycling legend Christian Vande Velde, with wine tasting arranged by the new wine director from Little Nell, what a treat!

The Sourdough Rigatoni with wagyu tataki, mustard greens, and shiitake

Considering The Little Nell is barely turning 30 years old this year, I am thoroughly impressed with the rich culture and respect it has garnered over the years. I know that when I check into The Little Nell, I am checking into my home. From the top-notch service, divine culinary experience, wine selection, and of course mountain access, this hotel treats their guests like royalty. To celebrate it’s 30th anniversary the hotel will be hosting planned activities spanning from Thanksgiving through Easter so stay tuned for their announcements coming soon, it’s definitely a celebration you won’t want to miss. I will be there, will you?

The Little Nell residence suites

‘85 or ‘88 – Super Tuscan Vintages Are An All-Time Favorite

For most wine connoisseurs, the 1985 Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido is considered the best Italian vintage in history. While I do agree that the 1985 vintage is impressive, I personally prefer the 1988 vintage. 1988 Sassicaia was also the great Italian Oenologist, Giacomo Tachi’s favorite vintage, as he considered it to be better than the 1985. I couldn’t agree more. I genuinely enjoy the concentration and aromas of this wine. It has intense, yet succulent scents of red fruit and is bold with tannins that just linger with sweetness in your mouth. Sassicaia wine is from Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast, which is considered one of Italy’s most prestigious areas for wine. I’ll never forget arriving in Bolgheri for the first time. The crisp air, beautiful lush views of Tenuta San Guido, surrounded by history and passion, it was an energy I will never forget.

As we passed through the lush Cypress trees flickering by, entering onto the Tenuta San Guido grounds, just off the Tyrrhenian coast, I felt the intense aroma of this legendary estate. The vibrant green grass tucked pleasantly between the aged stone buildings, housing hundreds of years of winemaking secrets. Once we arrived, I was greeted by the familiar smile of Priscilla Incisa Della Rochetta, a rare occurrence, as she is the granddaughter of the legendary Marchese Mario Incisa Della Rochetta behind Sassicaia. Mario Incisa, the visionary, created the first Sassicaia wine as a private release over 60 years ago. And now, I was face to face with his granddaughter for a private tour of the grounds. I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and deep appreciation for this opportunity.

Pricilla and Christopher R. King

Once we began the tour, I learned all about the family history and rich culture that makes this family wine so unique. Of course, as you may already know, I’m a huge believer in the power of three and so is the Rochetta family. Their passion for good wines and thoroughbred horses resulted in their trinity today that is Sassicaia wine, the Razza Dormello-Olgiata thoroughbred farm, and the Bird Sanctuary Padule di Bolgheri all within the Tenuta San Guido grounds. They also have three vineyards on the estate; the original Castiglioncello, Sassicaia di Sotto, and Aianova. The grapes from all three vineyards are blended together and aged to obtain the distinctive taste of Sassicaia.

Sassicia wine cellar in Bolgheri Italy

Although the entire experience felt surreal, it wasn’t until we stepped into the cellar that I was overcome with emotion. Surrounded by hundreds of French barriques; the temperate room smelled like an immense concoction of fermenting grapes and French oak. We passed through the aging barrels and as my guide spoke, I started to reflect on the heritage of this family and the wine they’ve created.

Christopher R. King at Sassicia in Bolgheri Italy

Plenty of people can create a wine, but it was only here at Tenuta San Guido, that a wine LEGEND was created. Originally, Mario Incisa wanted to make a wine just to suit his family’s taste, the Cabernet-Franc blend at the time was unheard of in the Tuscany area. His creation marked the beginning of an era for what we now call the “Super Tuscans”, an audacious Bordeaux style wine in the Tuscany for a community that until then, was accustomed to lighter, more rustic wines.

1985 was a phenomenal year for the Tuscan area, especially for winemakers. The “Wine Gods” graced the coastal area with an extended cool season which allowed the grapes to reach full maturity resulting in a non-hectic harvest. The warm Tuscan sun complemented by the coastal breeze created the perfect ambiance for a well-balanced wine. The vintage now, years later, delivers a lush, calm, and rich flavor, allowing the drinker to revisit the cool weather of 1985. It is this vintage specifically, that time and time again appeases the taste buds of sommeliers worldwide, receiving 100 points in tastings from renowned wine critics. But most importantly, it is one of my favorites. Much like it’s older brother, the 1988 vintage is satisfying in taste delivering a full, evolved, but not overly dense flavor. I favor the subtleness of the 1988 vintage over the 1985 though, they’re equally as impressive and will not disappoint.

To me, this wine and vintage exemplifies the culture and heritage of Sassicaia and the heart of Marchese Mario Incisa for what he wanted to create for his family. Going against the grain to create a flavor and culture unique to the region, resulting in a DOC Bolgheri-Sassicaia that we know today (Notably, the only wine from a single estate to have its own DOC). Now I revel in any opportunity to taste this wine and you should as well.

Christopher R. King collection of corks

How to Enjoy Caviar like a King

One of my favorite ways to wind down at the end of a long busy day in the summertime is to sit outside with chilled Champagne, complimented with a tin of fresh, robust caviar. This pairing is a perfect blend of sophistication and refreshing flavor. Whether it’s a congratulatory treat at the end of a long day or the finishing touch to a charcuterie board, I turn to caviar whenever I’m craving a unique taste and texture. An experience with caviar truly ignites all the senses and gives that ultimate feeling of luxury. Naturally, this Russian delicacy that has historically been a favorite of czars and emperors alike is now one of my go-to indulgences.

Enjoying Petrossian caviar, with blinis, and a bottle of Rosè Cristal Champagne

When it comes to quality caviar, I pay attention to the production of the caviar, the region it’s from, and the grade of the caviar. Caviar can only be a good as the fish that it came from. A quality producer of caviar, sources exclusively from the finest quality Sturgeon roe and pays attention to the maturing process to ensure the fish are reaching their peak level of maturity for producing rich flavored caviar.

You may have heard the term “black caviar” or Beluga caviar referred to as the most expensive and desirable caviar. Though historically this may have been true, due to the overfishing of wild beluga to the point of near extinction, Beluga caviar is now illegal in the US, and unfortunately, no longer produces the best quality caviar. Another rarity is the Beluga-albino roe, often referred to as “white caviar” or“almas” which translates to “diamond” in Arabic. Almas Iranian Caviar is considered to be the most expensive caviar in the world and is packaged in 24-karat gold tin. This caviar can cost up to $25,000 for one kilo (2.2 pounds). Albino sturgeon are becoming more and more difficult to come by since the genetic disorder only affects a few members of the species, and since wild sturgeon are in danger of extinction. More brands are turning to farm-raised albino sturgeon. As a matter of fact, nowadays, caviar is mostly produced by farms. Farm-raised sturgeon are raised in clean, pristine waters with restricted diets and allowed to reach peak maturity, resulting in the highest flavor and taste. As a by-product of this shift, top quality caviar will be an Ossetra or Kaluga caviar, depending on your taste preferences. A tin of Ossetra or Kaluga caviar can range anywhere from $65 to $2,000 depending on the quantity and grade.

Tin of Petrossian Special Reserve label Kaluga Huso Hybrid $504 per serving
Tin of Petrossian Special Reserve label Ossetra $394 per serving

The sensory experience of tasting Caviar is like none other. The subtle yet salty taste, rolling over the tongue and popping against the roof of the mouth with a buttery sensation, the subdued sea aroma; it forces you to be fully present within the flavor itself. Fresh, high-quality caviar, the eggs will be sturdy and glistening, ready to pop and separate when you put them in your mouth. For those with a sophisticated palate who enjoy exploring the many different flavors of a fine wine, then you will not be disappointed with a good Ossetra or Kaluga caviar which can consist of up to 15 different flavors from beginning to finish. Ossetra caviar will have a bold nutty but juicy flavor with a clean finish. Whereas the Kaluga, for me is reminiscent of toro, with a smooth buttery sensation and a lasting finish.

A Caviar Risotto with caviar, trout roe, parmesan, crème fraiche, chive oil, and capers from Petrossian Boutique in Los Angeles

When I’m in Los Angeles or New York, I’m sure to stop by the Petrossian Boutique to get my caviar fix. As a world-renowned purveyor of caviar for over 100 years, they are my most trusted source for top-shelf caviar. The boutique itself has a quaint French appeal; you immediately feel like you’ve stepped off an alley in Paris and into their cafe. Petrossian has a rich history in caviar since the 1920’s, when Parisians were deeply infatuated by Russian culture, the Petrossian brothers decided to introduce the delicacy of caviar to the great city of Paris. To this day, the Petrossian name demands respect by the elite worldwide for their reputation to deliver premiere caviar.

Sampling caviar with blinis with Crème Fraiche at Petrossian Café in Los Angeles

When sampling caviar you’ll want to use a Mother of Pearl spoon. Eating caviar with a silver spoon is taboo. The metal is said to have reactive qualities that might spoil the taste of the caviar. Besides just sampling though, you’ll find that caviar can be used to complement many different dishes. In the morning, I will sprinkle some caviar on my poached eggs for extra texture and flavor. In Italy, several restaurants make a fantastic spaghetti with loads of caviar on top; I enjoy recreating this dish in the comfort of my home here in Los Angeles. The authentic Russian delicacy, caviar with toast and butter only, is also a great dish. Of course, there’s always the classic blinis with Crème Fraiche, topped with caviar. I encourage you to indulge and see what you like best. Though for me, a true caviar lover, I enjoy tasting this unique caviar like the kings and emperors of centuries past by eating it straight from the tin with a spoon and no garnish.

A Sensory Experience that Goes Beyond Taste

When I explore and write about success and luxury, I’m always looking for brands, products, and locations that are the best in the world. The Macallan Distillery’s 62 year old and 65 year old single malts in exquisite Lalique crystal decanters are definitely in that category. Without question, they represent the pinnacle of Scotch distilling achievement.

Like the finest wines or most desirable cigars, the best single malt Scotch whiskies are a sensory experience that goes far beyond taste to smell, touch, and even sight. Scotch connoisseurs the world over know and respect The Macallan, and for good reason. Its 62 year old and 65 year old single malts are some of the oldest bottlings you’ll find.

Known and loved for its sherry influence, The Macallan uses the finest Spanish Oloroso sherry casks made from European oak and some American oak. While they now offer Fine Oak and Double Cask expressions, their traditional sherry-cask-aged bottlings remain the most popular.

To say The Macallan is iconic is an understatement. Agent 007 sipped 50 year old Macallan with his nemesis in the 2012 film, Skyfall. Macallan stills adorn the Bank of Scotland’s £10 banknote. The Macallan 64 in 2010 sold at Sotheby’s New York for a record-breaking $460,000, and four years later, a bottle of The Macallan M fetched $628,205 at a Hong Kong auction. This isn’t just a major player in the world of extraordinary single malts—The Macallan is the player.

Founded in 1824 as one of Scotland’s first legally licensed distilleries, The Macallan was born when farmer Alexander Reid leased eight acres from the Earl of Seafield, and set on the path of world-class distilling when it was bought seven decades later by Roderick Kemp. Today, The Macallan Distillery has surpassed Glenfiddich to become the world’s largest single malt Scotch producer, second only to Glenlivet.

The Macallan Distillery’s reputation has been helped by the collaboration with Lalique to release six of its oldest and rarest whiskies in custom decanters. Each decanter was designed and created to capture the essence of one of the distillery’s Six Pillars. The first was a 50 year old, followed by expressions aged for 55, 57, 60, 62 and 65 years.

The decanter for the 62 pays tribute to the centuries-old Easter Elchies House, known as Macallan’s spiritual home. The 65’s decanter, capturing Macallan’s Peerless Spirit, reminds me of a brilliant tiger’s eye.

When nosing the 62, I’m always struck by how gentle it is for 53-percent alcohol—smooth on both the nose and palate. The sherry cask imparts a sweetness that carries notes of rich toffee and raisins. As I inhale deeper, I find apple and blood orange followed by cinnamon, ginger, and dark chocolate. The finish is long and heavy, which I love, given the amazing aromas and flavors it imparts. This is an incredibly complex whisky that pairs beautifully with a fine cigar.

The 65 is an intense and true walnut color. I say “true” as the distillery adds no caramel coloring, something Scotch whisky purists relish. On the nose, balanced yet powerful aromas of honey, cinnamon and dates come forward. I catch the cinnamon and Madagascan vanilla swirling in the glass as I breathe in—and I’m not even halfway through this experience.

The Macallan 62 & Macallan 65

The smoothness is no surprise from a Macallan of this age. What is a surprise is the hint of peat, which was once used for drying on the malting floor. Resting for decades in a sherry cask softens the peat, so I only pick up a slightly smoky taste. The finish is rich and long, ending with notes of dark chocolate and, again, delicious honey.

There really are no other whiskies in the world that compare to The Macallan 62 or The Macallan 65. I revel in these amazing, rare single malts after a long day of going over designs. I have them at £10 in Beverly Hills, where they’re served in Lalique glasses. I especially enjoy my Macallan 65 while having a Partagas Habana No. 2—it’s a perfect pairing.

Some say whiskies aged beyond 25 years lose flavor from too much time in the cask. I believe this misses the reality of the cask aging process. Each year, day, hour, minute, and moment in the cask changes the whisky. Some changes are powerful, others subtle. These two fine single malts rested in casks for more than six decades, so you’ll see, smell, taste, and feel every one of those changes.

Distilling, aging, and bottling fine single malt Scotch whisky is a true art. Take my word as a connoisseur: the experience of these expressions goes far beyond the liquid itself.

Christopher R. King enjoying the Macallan 62 & Macallan 65

For the Love of Summer Truffles

Christopher R. King sampling summer truffles

Flavor, experience, exclusivity. Few culinary delights come together in such a divine combination as truffles. But nature’s perfect fusion of sensory experiences isn’t always easy to obtain.

For those new to truffles, let me give you a quick rundown. Truffles are a type of fungus generally found near tree roots. Since the truffle is found subterranean between a few inches to as deep as 30 inches, specially trained hogs and hounds have been used to help hunt down their locations. Their difficulty to farm lies in the fact that they only flourish under certain kinds of soil and trees that cannot be cultivated or controlled. Their rarity makes them highly sought after, and the deepness of the flavor and aroma adds to their soaring prices, as much as $900 a pound for summer black truffles and as much as $9,000 a pound for winter white truffles, likening them to caviar and fine wine.

My fondest memories of consuming truffles would be at the Georges V in Paris. Years later, I’m still haunted by breakfasts of toasted, butter-coated baguettes used to scoop up scrambled eggs cooked with truffles. Here in Los Angeles, I’ve attempted to re-create the experience at Cecconi’s, and just about any restaurant with a robust truffle inventory can whip up a plate of tagliatelle with cream sauce and shaved truffles—even if it’s not on the menu.

Black summer truffles from the “Truffle Brothers”

As we round out the summer season, I plan on enjoying as much as I can of the black summer truffles, which you can still find at top restaurants and suppliers into early fall when the season has had a good run. Black truffles are milder than white and have a woodsy, almost hazelnut flavor. Some consider it to have a sweet, chocolate-type flavor that is generally less potent than the winter variety and pairs incredibly well with the lighter spring and summer dishes. There are many different options in the world from Australian to Chinese black truffles and of course, the Middle-Eastern Terfez. But just like a fine-tailored suit, Italian truffles have their strong—and much deserved—cult following. When it comes to finding them in California, I’m continuously blown away by Michael and Marco Pietroiacovo, otherwise known as the “Truffle Brothers.” Born and raised in Italy and now the premier supplier to restaurants like Spago, Providence, Bestia, Melisse, and Wally’s, earning them some serious street cred. Their family has been in the truffle business for two generations now, and their love for the truffle date back to childhood. It’s definitely worth stopping by their new retail location to experiment with the different products like truffle oil, salt, or honey truffle. I plan to try the truffle honey over some crostini with a soft cheese like a Brillat-Savarin. It’s a lovely late-summer treat to indulge in as hints of fall’s cool breezes start to arrive.

The Warmth of Italy in The Heart of Beverly Hills

If you want to get away for a romantic dinner in Beverly Hills, Il Cielo is the place. Since it opened its doors in 1986, this has been the getaway within the city that makes you feel like you are back in Italy. When you are sitting on their patio with the soft lights, surrounded by the beautiful garden and old-world style of décor, you feel like you have been transported to a little country restaurant in Tuscany. All of the noise and distractions of the city fade away, and you will find yourself completely relaxed and focused only on your present experience.

The restaurant is still owned by Pasquale & Pattie Vericella, who bought it as a home with the vision to design it into a charming restaurant. They created an ambiance that had the intimacy of an Italian country cottage paired with the authentic experience of Italian dining. Pulling from their own upbringing and experiences, they designed an escape in the city that takes you to another time and place. Paying attention to every detail, their Italian wait staff are all well versed in fine wines and cuisine, and their menu boasts the same freshly made pasta that I enjoy every time I visit Italy.

Perfect filet mignon carpaccio
Il Manzo at Il Cielo

I had just come back from working on my new designs for CCCXXXIII and was still craving the Italian cuisine, so I found myself back here again. This evening I started with the Il Manzo, a filet mignon carpaccio with the perfect amount of lemon dressing and shaved black truffle and parmigiano reggiano. At the same moment, the wine arrived, creating the perfect pairing. Usually, when I have Italian fare, I will pair a pasta dish in between the appetizer and main entrée. My favorite pasta dish here is the Pappardelle al Cinghiale, which is Roasted Wild Boar in Au Jus with Barolo wine. This has been a long -time favorite of mine and suggest to anyone coming here for the first time.

Gaja Wine at Il Cielo
Christopher R. King at Il Cielo

My main entrée for this evening was the special they offered that night, the Grilled Veal Chop with sautéed rapini and mashed potato in porcini mushroom sauce. For those of you who want something a little lighter, I highly recommend this fish entrée. It is a grilled whole Mediterranean sea bass with the eggplant puree and sautéed spinach and cherry tomatoes. They present this and then delicately filet it tableside, which is a nice touch.

Gaja Barbaresco pairs perfectly with the grilled Italian veal chop
Christopher R. King enjoying the Grilled Veal Chop at Il Cielo

My choice for wine on this occasion was an easy one to make. I have enjoyed every bottle of Gaja Barbaresco from the 70’s, and 80’s that I have opened over the years. Personally, I prefer wine to be more aged to have the perfect flavor, which is why I don’t drink much of the current vintages. In my opinion, 1971 is not an exceptional wine as an investment, but most of the Barbaresco wines during this period have incredible flavors that pair well with the right cuisine and should be enjoyed. This 1971 is very silky with a light ruby color and is delicate enough for fish, but still, has the rich flavor of layers of dried red fruit that pairs beautifully with Veal and Wild Boar.

So, the next time you want to get away for an evening in Beverly Hills, with a date or even on your own to experience a piece of Italy, I recommend this landmark destination. You will be back, again and again.

A Cigar That Ages Like a Fine Wine

I love a great cigar, but it wasn’t until last week that I had the opportunity to experience something so special. I had met up with one of the founders of PuroTrader, to catch up and enjoy a smoke. I love talking with him about cigars, as he is a true aficionado and has such a vast knowledge about the market.

We had sat down at 10£ in Beverly Hills and had been talking about our recent travels when he that he announced that had a surprise for me. He laid down a box of 1982 Cuban-made Davidoff No. 2 cigars on the table.

Considered a “must have” for anyone interested in the best handmade Havanas, the 1982 Cuban-made Davidoff cigar weighs about 8.5 grams and is considerably thinner than most cigars I smoke. As you would expect, this is a rare find since they stopped making the Cuban version in 1991. It is still considered one of the most highly sought-after smokes among serious cigar aficionados, not just coveted for its quality, but also for its rarity. It is an excellent mild day-time smoke for those who want consistency and quality. Considering how well aged the cigar is, the ammonia created during the fermentation has completely disappeared leaving just a cigar that is full of flavor, without any harshness. This reveals all the subtleties and subtext found in a perfectly crafted cigar.

Very rare Davidoff No. 2 cuban cigar

For many cigar smokers, that white oval band bearing the scripted “Davidoff” logo with “Cuba” printed on its side is a real mark of excellence.

Davidoff No. 2 cigars in box

This rare cigar costs around $1,300 per box of 5, and over $9,000 for a box of 25 that is if you can find them. But if you are lucky enough to purchase a box, know that it is worth every dollar.

Immediately upon opening the box, I could see the Clara wrapper was delicate, and the band was just starting to show a yellow tint from the oils of the different tobacco leaves aging as it escapes the cigar. As I removed it from the packaging, I could smell the warm flavors of the nutmeg and cinnamon mixed with the suede. I was surprised by how much flavor this petite cigar had for its size. Upon my first puff, I could taste the suede and black tea notes on my lips as the aroma of citrus peel, cinnamon and nutmeg started to develop and then change slightly, weaving in notes of the classic Cuban flavors of grass, hay, and leather with each puff. As it progressed, I could taste the natural honey start to come through as the stronger flavors start to fade and make way for more of the subtle notes. This was truly a cigar experience, that topped any I have ever had.

Although many cigars do improve with age, I believe Davidoff cigars are the top of that mark, aging like some of my favorite red wine. The Davidoff Chateaux series was named after some of the finest red wines in France by one of the founders, Zino Davidoff, who often compared his cigars to Bordeaux wines. A cigar from this series will be my next smoke, paired with a first growth Bordeaux to mark the occasion.

I have had many cigars that are aged a few years, but having my first 1985 Cuban-made Davidoff No. 2 cigar was a first for me. To me, this was the equivalent of opening a 1961 Petrus or 1947 Cheval Blanc. This was special. Just like a fine wine that ages in your cellar, this cigar will never come to pass again, once they are gone they are gone forever. So, savor the moment.

1985 Cuban-made Davidoff No. 2 cigar

Designing Your Own Wine Experience

Most people that know me, understand my appreciation for wine. This also includes pairing it with the perfect dish and environment based on my mood. What is your favorite wine experience for a day like today?

I think going through the process of creating my own wine gave me such an elevated perspective into the methodical and meticulous steps involved in creating an experience for a consumer. Enjoying wine should be an experience and to create this, you take risks and make choices with that goal in mind. It doesn’t happen overnight and it isn’t easy, but to create this kind of excellence is worth it.

When I released King of Clubs, the only retailer where I wanted the brand was Wally’s Beverly Hills. I loved the concept of a fine wine & spirits retail store & cheese shop within a casual, stylish restaurant in the heart of the city. The ambiance brought back memories of my travels and I loved the idea of being surrounded by conversations about wine. Of course, like most restaurants I frequent, I have become friends with the sommelier and wine director because of some of those conversations. Mathew Turner, the wine director at Wally’s has great insight into the history of different wines and we have often spoke about the best food to pair with our favorite wines.

Charcuterie from Wally's Wine Beverly Hills
Charcuterie from Wally’s Beverly Hills

The chef, David Féau’s love for creating the perfect cuisine to complement wine come from his early days of growing up in France. He learned his first lessons in cooking from his mother and his insight into wine and food is remarkable. This evening I was in the mood for an Abruzzo, to pair with my Wagyu Steak Tartare. The Wagyu is as an appetizer that can be shared with the whole table or could work as an entree. It is served with truffle-tarragon mayonnaise, garnished with white mushrooms and blossoms and topped to perfection with shaved foie gras, all served on a toasted baguette.  I chose the 1997 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Italy to balance my meal with the flavors of black olives and traces of mushrooms.

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Wine
1997 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Wine paired with Wagyu Steak Tartare

This particular wine is part of the movement of artisanal wineries that were bringing both modern and traditional techniques to the art of winemaking. I love that the organic grapes are still crushed by foot, yet they have tried new innovations to create their own version of a well rounded red wine.

Just like in creating a fine wine, you create your own experiences. You just have to decide what that experience will be for you.

A5 Wagyu paired with the finest bottle of Burgundy

A5 Wagyu paired with the finest bottle of Burgundy.

The first time I tried an A5 Wagyu steak, I was blown away at the mouthwatering rich flavor and the soft, tender texture. The experience was like warm butter melting in my mouth. I had never had a cut of meat quite like it. Now it is one of my favorite meals at Spago in Beverly Hills, paired (in this picture) with one of my favorite Burgundies, La Romanée Liger-Belair.

For those of you who want to know a little more about it, I wanted to share my own thoughts and insight.

Christopher R. King and Spago's Head Checf, Tetsu Yahagi
Christopher R. King and Spago’s Head Checf, Tetsu Yahagi

Why I love Wagyu.

I love the entire experience, the way it makes me feel with every bite. It is the incredible flavor, the texture, and the way it pairs with my favorite wine. But I am so impressed with the entire story. Just like anything, when you understand the history, the process and the painstaking details that were put into creating something on this level, you have such an elevated appreciation for it. When you are sitting down to enjoy that first bite, you realize all of the passion, discipline and work that took place before the experience could happen.

It starts with the slow and thoughtful process of breeding the Wagyu cattle, serving them only the best feed accompanied with clean water to drink. Then they allow it to mature to up to 32 months, (much longer than normal cattle) for the ideal quality & texture. Then finally the restaurant, where a passionate chef has created the perfect preparation, cooking environment and presentation. Pairing it with accompaniments and wine to bring out the flavor of the entrée.

A5 Wagyu at Spago in Beverly Hills
A5 Wagyu at Spago in Beverly Hills

What is Wagyu?

Wagyu beef comes from cattle that are bred just for the purpose of creating the best flavor possible. The cattle live a sedentary life and eat frequently and are bred up to 30 months to create more of an evenly distributed, marbling effect in the beef. The result is a high-quality beef with unsurpassed taste.

What does A5 mean?

This references the score from Japan’s Meat Grading Association that provides a score from 1-5 based on marbling, firmness, color and quality and an A-C score based on the ratio of meat to weight of cow’s carcass. I even read that the National Livestock Breeding Center maintains the records of the cattle tracing back to their ancestry and history and can actually trace a steak from a restaurant back to its origins. Now that impressive history and details. Most Wagyu beef is either A4 or A5, due to its superior standards.

How Should It Be Cooked?

I have had the luxury of experiencing the A5 Wagyu all over the world, at some of the best restaurants. But for me, Spago is still my favorite because of the way it is served. They offer the A5 Kuroge Wagyu from Miyazaki in a New York cut. But it isn’t just the cut or the grade, it also is about the way it is cooked. Tetsu Yahagi, the chef at Spago is originally from Japan and is very familiar with this Japanese beef. He believes Wagyu should be cooked over an open fire charcoal grill at a higher temperature to give it the crisper, well done exterior that almost melts the fat inside, while keeping the interior meat rare. You can have the best grade of Wagyu, but if it isn’t cooked properly, you won’t get the real experience.

Christopher R King enjoying A5 Wagyu and Romanée-Conti Burgundy
Christopher R. King enjoying the A5 Wagyu paired with the finest bottle of Romanée-Conti Burgundy

How It Should Be Paired with Wine.

There are so many amazing wines to pair with Wagyu. You could go with a Napa Cabernet, a French Bordeaux or even some of my favorite Italian wines, depending on the climate and the time of day. Today’s shoot was lunchtime and most wine connoisseurs including myself, would go for a Burgundy, like the Romanée-Conti, as it is one of the finest and most expensive Burgundies. I love exploring wine with Philip, the Wine Director at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants. We knew the Romanée-Conti would be a predictable choice, but we wanted to have some fun.

I wanted to pair it with something special for this lunchtime entree, so we decided on the La Romanée Liger-Belair. With only 300 cases produced a year on this historic estate in Burgundy, consider yourself lucky if you have the opportunity to experience this. The main grape variety used for La Romanée is Pinot Noir and when you open the bottle, you immediately get those aromas of black berries and cherries. The perfect complement for enjoying Wagyu at lunchtime.

Now, the next time you at the restaurant for a lunch meeting or out to dinner with friends, you can explore the menu and indulge in something truly remarkable, with an even deeper appreciation for the experience.

Spago's Head Chef, Tetsu Yahagi, Christopher R. King and Wine Director, Phillip Dunn
Spago’s Head Chef, Tetsu Yahagi, Christopher R. King and Wine Director, Phillip Dunn

The King’s Table

The King's Table, Christopher R. King, Phillip Dunn

This picture was shot out of pure fun. Phillip Dunn, the Wine Director for Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants had become a dear friend of mine. Perhaps because of my love and appreciation for wine, or maybe just because we have always had a mutual respect for each other. We were at Spago doing a big photo shoot for a magazine and had just framed the shot when he stepped in and poured the wine. It was a beautiful accident and I played up my part showing off as the hungry entrepreneur businessman. We all laughed so hard as I was trying to catch the right facial expression.

The point of this shot was to capture a visual of the way a founder of a luxury wine lives, eats and breathes. We chose Spago for the shoot because I love dining there and find it to be one of the most relaxing atmospheres with incredible cuisine and fine wines.

My own wine label, King of Clubs ($799/bottle featured in Forbes) is showcased on the table in the picture. This venture was a passion project that I set out to create with a few partners and am so proud of today. The wine starts out with a hint of cherry and chocolate, which gradually changes to a sensuous and luscious full- bodied approach. As the wine develops after opening, you find an intriguing black currant note hidden in the background that adds to the continually expanding levels of complexity. Crafted for the ultimate wine connoisseur, this wine was created with the utmost attention to detail and delivers exceptional smoothness from start to finish.

Of course, I really enjoy exceptional wines from around the world. I tend to drink wine from the 60’s, 70’ and 80’s these days. The 1988 Sassicaia shown in the picture (which happens to be one of my favorite wines in the world) is my choice to drink on all occasions. I know the 1985 Sassicaia is arguably the best Italian vintage in history, however for me, I prefer the 1988 vintage. This was also the Italian Oenologist, Giacomo Tachi’s favorite vintage, as he also considered it to be better than the 1985. I couldn’t agree more. I truly enjoy the concentration and aromas of this wine. It has intense, yet succulent scents of red fruit and is bold with tannins that just linger with sweetness in your mouth. The Sassicaia wine is from Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast, which is considered one of Italy’s most prestigious areas for wine. There are so many stories to tell you just about Sassicaia, but I will save those details for another time.

The other wine at this table is the 1975 Petrus, also a favorite of mine. Petrus is a great investment and the value of it only continues to climb. I seldom drink this wine unless it is a special occasion or celebration. Some of my favorite vintages of Petrus are 1950, 1961 and 1989 all of which I collect and have had the pleasure of enjoying. The 1975 vintage really offers an array of truffles, sweet and earthy spices and has a very smooth finish. Petrus is a French Bordeaux wine that is classified as a Merlot. It is from Pomerol and is one of the most respected and luxurious brands in France. I have personally visited this location while in France and I tell more of this story in my book releasing this year.

We had to have the glass bottle of Acqua Panna water on the table. This is a really important element because the type of water you are drinking can affect and alter your palette. That is why you see this brand and brands like San Pellegrino being served to guests at fine hotels and restaurants around the world. Acqua Panna is actually my water of choice and everyone who knows me knows how much I am obsessed with this brand. I have cases delivered on pallets to my house. And no, I wasn’t paid to say that!

What you drink often tells a lot about your preference on food and your palette. The water, the wine, down to the linen, napkins, and flatware you eat all have an effect on how you feel, tastes and functionality, Spago by far is one of the best in Beverly Hills!