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Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Judgment of Denver

At last week's 2016 Colorado Governor's Cup wine competition I, in my capacity with the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, organized a wine tasting I'm calling "The Judgment of Denver." For those that do not know, in 1976 British wine merchant Steve Spurrier organized a blind tasting with French wine judges (wine journalists, critics, sommeliers, merchants or winemakers). The wines were broken into two flights; in the first flight, the judges rated 10 Chardonnay, 6 from California and 4 from Burgundy and in the second flight, they rated 10 Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wines, 6 from California and 4 from Bordeaux, France. In each of these flights a California wine, a then relatively little known wine region, was declared the winner. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was the top red and Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay bested some of France's best – and most expensive – wines. The results were published to the world in TIME magazine and forever changed the American – and global – wine industry.

Each year at the Governor's Cup we do a calibration tasting to have the judges calibrate their palate/scores to benchmark wine (that benchmark isn't always high). This year, I decided to model the calibration portion of the competition after the 1976 "Judgment of Paris" because it was the 40th anniversary of that original blind tasting and Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, was once again one of the judges. These two facts seemed like good enough reason to reenact the tasting once more – multiple retastings of the original wines and a New Jersey vs. French wine tasting have been reported on many times.

At the Denver tasting, 16 wine judges1 (wine journalists, critics, sommeliers, merchants or winemakers) from around the U.S. tasted Colorado wines against French and California wines in a blind setting. The French and California wines selected were from the same producers as in 1976 including the winning producers: Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. Unlike the Judgment of Princeton, no First Growth Bordeaux were in the mix. Hundred dollar French and California wines are worthy enough competition! Prices of the French and California wines were $30–$110/bottle. I selected Colorado wines that would not appear in the Governor's Cup competition later that day. Prices of the Colorado wines were $15–$50/bottle The results were as similarly surprising as the original tasting. Although, the winner in each category was a California wine (Chalone Vineyard for the whites and Ridge Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds) CO wines are at the same level qualitatively.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: Shafer Vineyards and Stone Cottage Cellars

Preface: The Napa Valley and the entire world lost two pillars of the wine community this week. Donn Chappellet and Molly Shafer both passed away recently. Both were instrumental in establishing the Napa Valley as the United States' preeminent wine region over the past half decade. Their family names are now firmly entrenched with American wine history. Their families and the greater wine community will no doubt miss them dearly.

Chardonnay often gets a bad rap. Sure, white Burgundy is said to be some of the finest wine in the world, but some of the Californian examples of the grape has also been labeled Cougar Juice. The cultivar has also given rise to the ABC – Anything But Chardonnay – crowd.

Share 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch
I'm not the world's biggest fan of Chardonnay because I find more pleasure in exploring other varieties – and Chardonnay is too often uninteresting. However, when produced with purpose and care. A few weeks ago, in celebration of Mothers' Day, we celebrated with a prime example of such a Chardonnay. Shafer Vineyards 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay (14.9% abv, Sample $52) is often cited as one of the top Napa Valley Chardonnays. It straddles the line of litheness and voluptuousness like few Chardonnay can. There is no doubt this is a rich wine from the nose. The aromas of baked apples, mango, and shortbread are complemented with flavors of pineapples, vanilla and smoke. The high alcohol comes through, but is not a distraction. Ample acidity balances the richness. This is a great wine for those that like big, rich California Chardonnays, but also enjoy a steely version of the grape.

Stone Cottage 2013 Chardonnay
Still in somewhat of a Chardonnay mood, the following night I decided to open a Colorado rendition of the grape. Stone Cottage Cellars' 2013 Chardonnay (14% abv, Purchased $22) is grown at 6300 feet about sea level in the West Elks AVA overlooking the quaint hamlet of Paonia. When I first opened it, the nose struck me as non-Chardonnay-like. It starts coy with steely aromas of lemon and limes. After being open for a while, the wine just blossoms and I like it more with each sniff and sip. The Chardonnay characteristics start to come to the forefront as the aromas and flavors build with baked apples, pears, brioche and a touch of cinnamon. The flavors and finish kept building all night until the bottle was gone and the wine could evolve no more. The acidity is so lovely and amazingly at about a pH of 3.1! I actually prefer this to the Shafer. At only $22 for a 25 case production, this is a screaming value and I'd suggest this would favorably out-compete with Grand Cru Chablis that cost more than 10 times what this humble little Colorado Chardonnay costs. Simply put: this is an amazing wine.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Beatrice's Blushes: Canyon Wind Cellars "Anemoi Eos"

Anemoi 2015 Eos
Canyon Wind Cellars' 2015 "Anemoi Eos" Syrah Rosé (13% abv, Sample $28) is the first – and last – rosé of Syrah Jay and Jennifer Christianson will produce. Sadly, in March, the second-generation owners  unexpectedly announced they will be closing Canyon Wind Cellars by the end of 2016. I guess it wasn't necessarily unexpected for them, but for everyone in the Colorado wine industry it was a shock. Jay said a variety of reasons contributed to the decision, but he made sure to emphasize that they did not need to close because the winery was in financial trouble. About a decade ago, the younger Christiansons purchased the winery from Jay's parents who founded the winery in 1991. Jay said they decided it was time to begin a new chapter in their lives; which involves traveling around with an Airstream and consulting for wineries around the country.

Canyon Wind Cellars had to have been one of the most successful Colorado wineries. The portfolio had grown since Jay and Jennifer took over and the quality of the wines was always very high. In fact, Canyon Wind took home Best of Show in the state's Governor's Cup competition each of the last two years. The prime location of the vineyard at the mouth of DeBeque Canyon most likely has a lot to do with high level of success achieved by the Christianson family. Now it is time for a different producer to step up and claim the crown.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: Friends Fun Wine

While the wine and the beer industries appear quite similar on the surface, they have lots of differences. One major difference is the discrepancy with creative products. Brewers can be some of the most creative beverage producers on Earth. There are almost an infinite number of beer flavors/styles. If you can dream something to put in a beer, a brewer has probably used it as an ingredient. Fruit and coffee seem to be common additions.

Winemakers tend to not be as creative. A long list of approved additives exist, but grapes are the primary ingredient in wine. Sure, oak is often used as a flavoring agent but you don't see other flavors added to the wine. Occasionally producers use different types of barrels to impart different tastes and textures. Recently, I've seen a few producers that use old bourbon barrels to add a bourbon-esque flavors.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Beatrice's Blushes: Bonny Doon Il Ciliegiolo Rosato

Beatrice is now five months old. As I type this, she is playing with her feet and talking up a storm in her crib. I guess a nap is out of the question! She is actually a very good sleeper. She usually sleeps for 10-12 hours at night, with a snack or two thrown in. She'd actually sleep longer if we didn't wake her up to go to school. It can be difficult to disturb her from her slumber with that angelic look on her face, but she usually quite full of smiles when we do. And so are we!

Il Ciliegiolo Rosato
I had a bit more of a perplexing look on my face when I tasted this week's rosé. Randall Grahm has been known to push the envelope once or twice. The Bonny Doon Vineyard 2015 Il Ciliegiolo Rosato (12.4% abv, Sample $24) is another example of that trait. I think I've seen red wines that are lighter than this. It isn't bad, but is just a totally different type of wine than comes to mind when I think of pink wine.

Sourced from the Tracy Hills AVA, a small region in Central Valley due west of Modesto with only 5 vineyards, and made from Ciliegiolo. Ciliegiolo is from Italy, named after the Italian for 'cherry'. It is often a minor component of traditional blends, like Chianti. In Umbria it is made into a light quaffing wine. This rosato is what I could call a light quaffing red instead of a rosé. The grape is related to Sangiovese, but it is not really known if it is the parent or offspring.

This wine follows through on the cherry descriptor. It tastes like a cherry/blackberry pie. It has an odd buttery component that reminds me of a really butter pie crust. There is a touch of spice to it and it is rich and heavy. I don't dislike it, but I would definitely prefer a more traditional rosé – especially for the price.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: Carlisle, Matthiasson and Sandlands

California is the United States' wine country and rightly so. So many good wines come from The Golden State. But in the past few decades many California wine regions are turning into something of a monoculture where one or two cultivars dominate. These "noble" varieties are now what could also be called the international varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. The varieties and styles of yesteryear have been mostly forgotten.

However, there are a few producers looking to break the mold of the big, bold, fruit-forward style of California wine. Last week I wrote about love trying interesting cultivars and they can definitely be found in The Golden State. This past week, I opened three such wines from producers of the so-called "New California" wave. It just so happened that all three were made from unusual (for CA) white grape cultivars.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Beatrice's Blushes: Bedrock Wine Co.

We're approaching a time in our life when we will have two mobile children. Recently, Ms. B has been rolling and scooting around like it is her job. It definitely is fun and exciting to see how she changes each day, but diaper changes have officially entered the octopus-wrestling-match realm. If you're not a parent, you won't really be able to fully appreciate that visualization. Another new trick is yoga. She's been practicing her best downward facing dog by getting her bottom up in the air pretty well. It won't be long now until she trades yoga for track and field and we will be chasing her around. Good thing her older brother doesn't evade us like an escaped convict anymore – we'll actually have to utilize him to help corral our cute little octopus!

Bedrock 2015 Ode to Lulu Rosé
Though not as exciting as watching children change, tasting the year-to-year changes in wine is one of the things I love about it. Seeing how weather affects the final product or how winemaker choices regarding a blend causes the synapses in my brain to fire. I especially enjoy observing these changes in rosé – I think the color lends itself to visualizing changes more than with red or white wines. One year a wine is a deep fuchsia and the next it could be a pale salmon. One of my favorite pink wines is the Bedrock Wine Co. Ode to Lulu Old Vine Rosé (12.3% abv, Purchased $19) from California. The 2015 incarnation is almost 2/3 Mourvèdre (Mataro) and the rest Grenache and Carignan. This is such a festive wine, but this vintage comes across as a touch more serious and feral – but just a bit. It is slightly lighter than the 2014 but darker in color than the 2012 and 2011 vintages. The 2015 is mostly about bright red fruit and citrus. Both the aromas and flavors revolve around strawberries, watermelon and limes. Its almost like Morgan (the winemaker) put all those fruit into a blender with a tequila that was meant for sipping as he was making a margarita and then salted the rim of the glass with some pink Punjabi rock salt that he obtained on a backpacking trip through the Himalayas. It is ready to party, but holds back a bit of mystery...