Friday, December 31, 2010

Free wine!

Most things that sound too good to be true usually are. However, if you know where to look, free isn't so hard to come by. One such opportunity that most people have is to attend free in-store wine tastings (though not all states allow this activity). These events are a good way to get to know a wide variety of wines and perhaps wines that you might not normally drink. Educating your palate is a good way for wine shops to help you buy more and more expensive wines in the future! The best way to find out about these tastings is to sign up for your local wine shop's newsletter or visit LocalWineEvents.com to see a calendar of events near you.

With today being the last day of 2010 and many people celebrating with bottles of bubbly, Incredible Wine and Spirits in Denver offered a special tasting of sparkling wines. As if free wine needs a hook, the headline for today's tasting was Free Dom Pérignon! Who can pass up free Dom? So, while I was out running errands today, I stopped by to have a few tastes.

On the counter at the tasting bar, four bottles looked at the customers with a sparkle in their eyes hoping to be a part of someone's New Year's Eve celebration; two from California and two from France. I tasted a Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé, Domaine Chandon Extra Dry Riche, Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label and a 2002 Dom Pérignon. While all were tasty, I left without bringing any of the suitors home. Tonight, I am bringing two Cavas to ring in the New Year.

Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé
This bright pink sparkler provides fruity flavors of strawberry and watermelon; almost like a not-so-sweet strawberry cupcake. Sample $22. Good (tasted 12/31/10)

Domaine Chandon Extra Dry Riche
The extra sugar is apparent in this bottle. Honey and stone fruit aromas entice my nose. This one tastes just like an apricot cupcake with vanilla cream cheese frosting. Sample $22. Very Good (tasted 12/31/10)

Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label
Much toastier than the previous two, this wine is nice while being nothing special at the same time. Stick with Grower Champagne for this price. Sample $43. Good (tasted 12/31/10)

2002 Dom Pérignon
This is the biggest and most yet the most precise of the bunch. Biscuits, lemon, and crisp pear filled my mouth. While this wine is eight years old already, it will need another ten years to begin showing what it really can do. It is very nice, but there are many other sparkling wines I would rather have for what this one costs. Sample $150. Very Good (tasted 12/31/10)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Drink Indigenous

One of the problems with drinking locally is the distribution system in the U.S. Our three-tier distribution system requires producers to sell to distributors and these distributors to sell alcoholic beverages to retail stores and restaurants. This system is supposed to promote competition and provide a professional to find the best beverages for the consumer. What this really does is add costs and limit choices for the consumer. Some states allow self distribution by producers (like Colorado) but often times producers do not have the resources to fully distribute to meet demand.

On the other hand, some producers choose to not be widely distributed. A brewer from my home state of Wisconsin supports this system. New Glarus Brewing Company is a small brewery run by Dan and Deb Carey in the little Swiss hamlet of New Glarus, WI. New Glarus is a cult producer in the beer industry. I've had the pleasure of touring the new brewing facilities in Wisconsin, but even more exciting was pouring beer with Dan at the Great American Beer Festival two years ago. New Glarus is the one brewery that all the other brewers line up to taste before the doors are open to the general public. The entire 4-hour session consisted of a line of people vying for a taste of Dan's brews.

Apart from the quality, people line up to taste these beers because they can be had nowhere else besides Wisconsin. Beer lovers in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota all have to drive across the border into Wisconsin just to be able to buy these sought-after beers. If you don't live near the Wisconsin border, good luck finding yourself some! During the holidays, I am lucky enough to usually travel back to Wisconsin and indulge in my New Glarus fix. This year, however, my family drove to Colorado from Wisconsin and were kind enough to bring some recent New Glarus brews with them. For the past week I have been enjoying (and will be enjoying for a some time in the future) a sampling of what is taken for granted in the Land of Cheeseheads (Go Pack Go!). Just as it says on the side of their cases, Drink Indigenous!

New Glarus Brewing Company, Fat Squirrel Nut Brown Ale

This Nut Brown Ale pours a reddish copper color with little to no head. It has a nutty and roasted malt aroma. Not reminiscent of squirrel, but it does have flavors of nuts, sweet hops and maple syrup. 5.8% abv Purchased $8.49/6-pack. Very Good

New Glarus Brewing Company, Back Forty Wisconsin Bock

This strong lager is a hazy amber color with a medium off-white head. Aromas of caramel and malts are dominant. Unfortunately, the flavor is mostly watery with a hint of caramel and roasted malts. 5.5% abv Purchased $8.49/6-pack. Good

New Glarus Brewing Company, Coffee Stout

This hearty stout is dark brown/black with a tan head. It smells like well-roasted coffee beans with a hint of smoke. Creamy dark chocolate and coffee go a long way on the palate. It is not as strong as most coffee stouts, but it is a tasty brew. 6.3% abv Purchased $8.49/6-pack. Very Good

*Images from www.newglarusbrewing.com*

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grade inflation

In addition to my wildly successful wine writing career (ha!), I am an adjunct environmental science/geography instructor at area universities. One thing that my students often complain to me about is that I am tough grader.  I am a firm believer that most people are average (myself included). A smaller percentage are above average and a select few are exceptional. Much to the chagrin of my students, this philosophy is reflected in my grading. In a way, I am glad that our American society has taught us to think that we are the best of the best, but only when we strive to achieve excellence instead of simply expecting it. So many students expect to receive "A" grades. It is sad when a "B" is now considered a subpar grade. When did above average become a bad thing? A "C" is the kiss of death to one's GPA.

I am seeing the same grade inflation when it comes to wine scores. Maybe I'm just a grade inflation curmudgeon but I can't stand how many 90+ scores are out there! Now, I am not a believer in points, though I will admit I am intrigued and perhaps easily departed with my money when I see a high (94+) score. For this reason, amongst others, I prefer the terms flawed, average, good, very good, exceptional (and perhaps if ever review a transcendental wine I will have to add a new term) instead of numerical ratings. Saying that a wine is good sounds so much better than giving a wine 83 points. I know most people only publish the highest scores so as to not bruise the delicate winery ego by saying, "I'm 74 points on that" (there is nothing wrong with being average, unless you think that you are making amazing wines or you're a salesperson!). I think more lower scores need to be published because you can find a 90+ score for almost any wine (ahem, J. Newman). Perhaps if the public sees lots of low 80s scores for XYZ Winery and only one 93 by Joe Schmoe they might actually be better informed consumers. You don't see school teachers only count and return A-worthy assignments to students! Unfortunately, giving A grades is easier than dealing with the consequences (such as only 77% of students pass the military's enlistment exam).

I think that a big part of the score/James Suckling debate that has picked up in recent weeks (e.g., here, here and here) goes hand in hand with the grade inflation epidemic that has swept through the industry. Such is the power that democratic sites like CellarTracker/GrapeStories offer against the reigning wine dictators. So many people are peeved when Jay Bob Pucklingchuk gives a wine 96 points, but it doesn't match their palate. Perhaps if people read the prose that accompanied the score they might have determined that they in fact don't like blackberry liqueur and vanilla cherry cola in their Riedel. Also, comments on why a grade was earned is much better feedback than just a simple numerical grade. In school, you can figure out which teachers are easy graders and which are the tough ones. While it is nice to get a good grade without working hard, do you actually improve yourself (or I have I been misinformed that is the purpose of education)? I argue that we should seek out those tough graders so that we can actually improve our wine education.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What to pair with Thai food?

Pairing wine with food is probably one of the most vexing issues that consumers face when deciding what to drink. Unless it is steak, people often worry about pairing the wrong wine with their meal. Red wine with meat and white wine with fish are popularly held parings. However, this steadfast rule often falls apart; Chardonnay can complement pork and Pinot Noir often goes well with tuna. When the food selections starts to get complex, the perfect wine becomes less clear. Thai food often has a plethora of flavors that seem to present problems when planning what to pour. Jalapeno, coconut, cilantro, peanuts, shrimp and fish sauce were all ingredients in a tasty Thai curry that we made. A variety of different wines could be able to complement all of those flavors. A good choice when eating Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc.) is one of the aromatic Germanic varietals: Riesling or Gewürztraminer. The high acidity and moderate residual sugar that these wines are often made with balance the sweetness and spiciness of these foods.

The best pairing advice, however, is to drink what you like. If you happen to like a big brooding Cabernet Sauvignon with a salad and a biting Sauvignon Blanc with barbecue beef, then by all means go for it. Don't ever let anyone tell you that what you enjoy drinking is the wrong thing to drink. There are some classic pairings, but if they aren't your cup tea don't sweat it. The best pairing is matching your palate to the wines and food rather than simply matching the wine to the food.

2009 Guy Drew Vineyards Gewürztraminer, Colorado

In a slightly unusual twist, this Gewürztraminer soaked on its skins for two days. While it is common for Gewürztraminers to see more skin contact than any other white wines, most winemakers only allow 4-24 hours before pressing. This skin contact allows for extracting the typical spicy flavors for which Gewürztraminer is known. This Colorado Gewürztraminer is a pale pink-tinted golden color. The pink tint is so slight that you might think you are seeing things, but I assure you that it is there. This wine is very aromatic with lychees, peaches, pie spices and floral notes emanating from the glass. It is fun to just swirl and smell without even taking a sip. Lemon peel, nutmeg and allspice dominate the palate. The 1.2% sugar is barely noticeable and complements the spiciness nicely. The wine could use a bit more acidity and is a bit woody (probably from the extended skin contact). Overall, this is a nice varietally correct Gewürztraminer that went well with the hot and sweet Thai curry. 13% abv Purchased $16. Good (tasted 12/17/10)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lesser-known grape varieties

When most people think of wine they think of the the noble grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are the grapes traditionally associated with fine wine. Slowly, varieties such as Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Malbec, Viognier, Torrontes, and Semillon are slowly entering the everyday wine lexicon. With hundreds of grape varieties, the wine world has a diverse range of flavors and stories. All wine-producing countries have lesser-known grape varieties that receive little recognition due to unfair preconceptions or a simple lack of lack of knowledge. The U.S. has Norton and Vidal Blanc, Spain has Godello and Mencia, Greece has Assyrtiko and Xinomavro and Italy has hundreds of indigenous grapes of which most people outside of Italy have never heard. This list could continue ad infinitum.

Much of the problem with these little-known varieties is the public's ability to pronounce their names. One such variety probably comes as a surprise to most people. Austria and Germany are known for world-class white wines, and few people realize that they also produce high-quality red wines. One one of these lesser-known varieties is Blaufränkisch, also known as Lemberger. Blaufränkisch is a cold-hardy grape that is naturally high in tannin and acidity. If you haven't had the chance to experience a Blaufränkisch or Lemberger I recommend finding some!

2004 Weingut Hans Igler, Vulcano, Burgenland, Austria

This red wine is dominated by Blaufrankish (55%) with Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Zweigelt (15%) and Merlot (10%) completing the blend. It is a beautiful garnet color. Cherries, wood and spices are the first aromas present but as the wine opens up in the glass after a few hours it becomes more aromatic and reminiscent of a Pinot Noir. Tart cherry, cedar, toasted oak, spices and pomegranate flavors fill your mouth along with tart acidity and smooth tannins. This is a well-balanced wine that only gets better in the glass. 13.5% abv Purchased ($19). Very Good (tasted 12/4/10)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Another Jefferson Cup win for Colorado!

A Colorado winery took home a coveted Jefferson Cup award only one year after the state won its first at the Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition. Doug Frost, one of only three people in the world to earn both the titles Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, hosts the competition in Missouri. The competition honors "the best of the best among wineries from all of America’s wine regions." Over six hundred wines, from twenty-one states, were invited to take part in the 11th annual competition. Seventy of these award-winning wines were nominated for the top honors of which only twenty were finally awarded.

A year after Boulder Creek Winery won Colorado's very first Jefferson Cup, Bookcliff Vineyards took home top honors in 2010 for their 2009 Petite Sirah. In addition to Bookcliff Vineyards, four other Colorado wineries were honored at the competition. The results of Colorado's winners are:

Bookcliff Vineyards
Jefferson Cup Winner, 2009 Petite Sirah
Jefferson Cup Nominee, 2008 Ensemble
Great, 2009 Reserve Syrah
Great, 2008 Reserve Cabernet Franc
Merit, 2009 Tempranillo

Boulder Creek Winery
Great, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

Canyon Wind Cellars
Great, 2007 Petit Verdot
Merit, 2007 IV
Merit, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

Reeder Mesa Vineyards
Merit, 2008 Land's End Red
Merit, 2008 Merlot
Merit, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey
Jefferson Cup Nominee, 2008 Divinity
Jefferson Cup Nominee, 2008 Syrah
Jefferson Cup Nominee, NV Riesling
Great, 2008 Reserve Merlot
Great, 2007 Revelation
Merit, 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
Merit, 2008 Reserve Syrah
Merit, 2008 Merlot
Merit, 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Merit, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
Merit, NV Vineyard Sunset

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé! (two weeks ago)

The third Thursday of November every year is a wine marketer's dream. The brainchild of négociant Georges Duboeuf, this is the day that the new vintage of Beaujolais are released worldwide. Originally designed as simple wine to celebrate the harvest and to hold over locals until the better-quality wines from the region and more famous villages within were ready in the spring, these wines are now distributed global with much fanfare. Whole-berry fermented and not seeing any oak aging, Beaujolais nouveau is intended for consumption within weeks of its release. While I have not bought any the past few years, I couldn't help myself when I went to pick up some beer at a local shop.

2010 Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau, France

As is typical with Beaujolais nouveau, this wine is dark fuschia, yet translucent in color. It has a very floral and fruity bouquet. Violets and roses are matched in intensity by fresh cranberries and red raspberries with the ever-so-slight hint of bananas. On the palate, the fresh fruit gives way to tart cranberries and unripe strawberries. A slight note of chocolate is also present causing an almost banana split-like aftertaste. This is a simple, gulpable wine that I could drink once a year. 13.5% abv Purchased $11. Average (tasted 11/27/10)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The best wine closure in the world?

The variety of wine closures has never been so diverse. While natural cork is the traditional closure method for glass wine bottles, composite cork, synthetic corks, Zorks, glass Vino-Loks and screw caps all can be found safely keeping wine protected until you decide to pop the top and enjoy your wine. This past weekend I found a wine closure that I had never seen or even heard about before. After removing the capsule from a 2007 Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne "Les Sétilles," I was puzzled by white and black concentric rubber rings where the cork should be. Poking it with my fingers a few times did little to remove the unknown device. I decided that a corkscrew was the only way to liberate this Chardonnay. With a slight pull I had a bullet-shaped multi-material synthetic closure in my hand with "Guala Seal" embossed on the bottom.

Perhaps better known as the AS-Elite, produced by Ardea Seal, this interesting contraption is uniquely designed with three distinct components. The AS Elite uses a polypropylene chassis to maintain rigidity inside of the thermoplastic elastomer body. The final, and most unique, component is the inert techno-polymer shield that is the only part in contact with the wine. The makers of this product go as far as claiming that it is "probably the best closure in the world." While they offer no support of this claim, I would be interested in tasting a variety of wines that have been bottled and aged with AS-Elites, cork and screw cap in the future. In addition to the interesting closure, I also was able to enjoy a very nice Chardonnay with dinner!

2007 Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne "Les Sétilles", France

This Chardonnay, imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd., is from a vineyard that straddles Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault. It pours a clear, light-yellow color. On the nose, lemon, tarragon and nuts dominate with a slight hint of grassy notes. This is tart in the mouth! Lemon, pomelo, tart apple and melon lead on the forepalate but yield to a medium-length finish of chalk, nutmeg and smoke. Not overly complex, but a nice, simple entry-level white Burgundy. 13.0% abv Purchased $17. Good (tasted 11/28/10)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The importance of blind tasting

More expensive wines taste better than cheaper wines. Wines from famous wine regions are better than unknown "lesser" wine regions. Of course they do, or why else do some brands become famous and costly? If someone were to hand you two glasses of wine and told you that the wine in one glass cost $100 per bottle and the other cost $10 per bottle, you could certainly tell the difference. Could you? A Ferrari performs better than a Toyota (nothing against Toyota, I have one!). But what happens when you actually prefer the Toyota to the Ferrari? Are you a fool to actually like a cheaper and less prestigious automobile over the highly acclaimed trophy?

Wine critics have come up with an answer to this predicament. Blind tasting is supposed to remove any bias towards the reputation and the price of a bottle of wine and focuses the attention solely on the contents of the bottle. Usually, wines of a similar style or from a certain region are tasted together to judge wines against their peers. Sometimes less-expensive or less-renowned wines show better than their superstar cohorts. This is great news if you are looking for wines with a high quality-to-price ratio.

However, some argue that tasting blind removes important information about the wines. Knowing vintages and origins of wines are important for fully understanding the context of a wine that you drink. But drinking and tasting are different animals. When you are enjoying a wine over dinner or for a few hours with friends, you want to be able to discuss the characteristics and merits of the wine that you are consuming. When critics taste wine they only want to consider the aromas and flavors that are currently present in the bottle and describe this information to consumers to aid them in making purchase decisions.

Blind tastings are also useful for regular wine drinkers who want to learn more about wine and train their palates on what certain wines taste like and which wines they prefer. I recently attended a small gathering of such individuals. Six wine enthusiasts, including myself, blind tasted 10 Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. We knew the contents of the bottles before hand, but then wrapped the bottles in foil, mixed up the order and labeled the mystery wines 1-10. We split a few steaks, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus while we sipped our way through the lineup. We each took notes and talked about the wines and some of us ranked the wines before we unveiled the bottles. No official results were tabulated, but a few general opinions were described and I will mention them, along with my tasting notes and ranking below.

The wines ranged in price from $20-$100, in vintage from 1986 to 2007 and were from Bordeaux, Colorado, Napa Valley and Tuscany. In the order of tasting, here are my notes:

Wine 1: Dark purples that lightens at the rim. Aromas of brown sugar, leather, juniper and a hint of dill emanate from the glass. On the palate it is almost meaty, with slight floral flavors complementing blackberries and molasses. Good.

Wine 2: Deep brown sherry like color. Mushrooms, forest floor aromas are present but secondary to the dominant soy sauce scents. It tastes like tofu and bamboo shoots soaked in soy sauce. Definitely a wine past its prime. Average.

Wine 3: Dark garnet. This wine is very aromatic. Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, figs and dried orange peel tease the nose. Unfortunately, this one fails to deliver on the palate. Slightly spicy with old leather flavors fade quickly and this one does not hold up to the steak. Average/Good.

Wine 4: This black/purple inky wine smells of cedar and black fruits. This one is a big, tannic wine that needs more air. It is tight but gives rich blackberry and currant flavors. Good potential, but needs more time to open up. Good.

Wine 5: This is probably the wine with the most finesse of the night. It is a light, clear ruby color. Brown sugar, caramel aromas are complemented by hints of spice and violets. It is very smooth with well-integrated tannins. Red and black raspberry, plums, toffee, a slight spiciness and a hint of sweetness all combine to create complex and interesting flavors on the palate. Very Good/Excellent. It is also my WOTN.

Wine 6: A contrast the previous wine, but almost as good, this wine is an inky dark purple color. The nose is spicy and shows a bit of heat. It tastes big and jammy, though not overly tannic. This is a smooth and simple wine but it is tasty. Good/Very Good.

Wine 7: Another black/purple colored wine. You can smell the oak influence on the nose along with gobs of dark fruit and glycerol. It takes of blackberry jam, black cherry and oak. A nice wine that needs a few more years. Good/Very Good.

Wine 8: This dark red wine smells of dark fruits, cigar and soy sauce. This big, powerful wine is straightforward on the palate and dominated by tar, tobacco and tannin. A bit big/young. Good.

Wine 9: Another complex wine. Dark ruby red color. At first sniff, I got toast with blackberry preserves. Subsequent smells yield pencil shavings and vanilla. A very complex palate shows off black currant, vanilla, bacon fat and soy. Most Bordeaux-like of the night. Very Good.

Wine 10: Dark purplish brown wine that looks like balsamic vinegar. It smells like balsamic (not in a bad way), blackberry maple syrup and spices. It tastes a bit hot with simple spices and a touch of sweetness along with subtle tobacco flavors. Good.

Top wines of the night:
#1: Wine 5
#2: Wine 9
#3: Wine 6 (followed very closely by 7)

Wines unveiled:
Wine 1: = 2007 Reeder Mesa, Land’s End Red, Meritage, Grand Valley, Colorado
Wine 2: = 1986 Chateau Montelena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Wine 3: = 1998 Heitz, Bella Oaks, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Wine 4: = 2001 Casanova di Neri, Pietradonice, Sant ‘Antimo DOC, Italy
Wine 5: = 2006 Plum Creek Winery, Grand Mesa, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Grand Valley, Colorado
Wine 6: = 2001 Trefethen, Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District
Wine 7: = 2006 StellaGrey, Napa Valley Red Wine
Wine 8: = 2001 St. Clement, Orropas, Napa Valley
Wine 9: = 2003 Chateau Lascombes, Margaux, France
Wine 10: = 1997 Cuvaison, Howell Mountain

This just goes to show you that big name wines from the famous Napa Valley or expensive super-Tuscan wines don't necessarily taste better than wines from Colorado! I will note that all of the wines were good and I would enjoy drinking any of them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

With a little help from my friends

The wine industry can be a pretty cutthroat business. Just as new wineries open up on a weekly basis, others close due to competition. A winery's bottom line depends on selling wine; If consumers are buying a competitor's wine they're not buying your wine. Wineries naturally compete against each other, however, they can also work together. This is especially important in emerging wine regions such as Colorado.

In Colorado, a leader in cooperation is Two Rivers Chateau and Winery. Owner Bob Witham, is the first Colorado winery proprietor to utilize a recently enacted state law that allows two or more wineries to operate at an alternating proprietor licensed premise. This means that a portion of a host winery’s licensed premises can be shared with alternating proprietors for winemaking activities. Offered as an employee incentive for Two Rivers' winemaker Tyrel Lawson, Witham agreed to let Lawson start his own winery, Kahil Winery, using Two Rivers' infrastructure. One condition with this arrangement is that Kahil must not produce any wines that directly compete against any Two Rivers labels. For its first release, Kahil produced a Malbec, a variety which Two Rivers does not produce.

In addition to sharing premises with Kahil Winery, Two Rivers also produced and bottled a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Colterris, for High Country Orchards and Vineyards owner Theresa High. Not surprisingly, Ty Lawson was also the winemaker for this debut endeavor. With the cooperation and foresight of Two Rivers Winery, two new wine brands have been emerged by taking baby steps while holding the hand of one the leaders of Colorado's wine industry. To celebrate and participate in the First Ever World Wide Colorado Wine Virtual Tasting, I opened a bottle of Colterris.

2008 Colterris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

This deep purple/red Cabernet has a little bit of Malbec and Merlot thrown in for good measure. Rather than open more than one bottle for the tasting, I decided to try the Colterris three different ways. I popped and poured some wine into my glass before pouring some more into a decanter and left the bottle half full. I sipped on the first glass for an hour or so before going back to the wine that had been sitting in the bottle. After about two hours and some vigorous swirling for aeration, I poured a glass from the decanter. The wine straight from the bottle, both with the initial pour and an hour later, was brooding with dark fruit. Relatively smooth tannins melded with black currant and blackberries along with a hints of mint and smoke. After 15 minutes of swirling in the glass, the wine opened up and presented more complexity. Earthiness, tobacco and smoke moved to the forefront while still maintaining a core of black fruits. The wine from the decanter bypassed the jammyness of the initial pour and yielded the most satisfying glass of the night. A touch of minerality began to show with the final few sips of the night. To enjoy the Colterris at its best, I recommend decanting for two to three hours. However, if you prefer that bold Napa-like jammyness pop and pour and experience how the wine changes over the course of a few hours. 14.3% abv Purchased $20. Very Good (tasted 11/10/10)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Use of Various Winemaking Terms on Labels

Last week, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published a solicitation for public comments on proposed rule changes in the Federal Register. The majority of the rule changes focus on the use of the term "Estate" on labels and in advertisements. Currently, only the term "Estate Bottled" is defined. Right now, "Estate Bottled" may be used by a winery only if the wine is labeled with an AVA and the bottling winery is located in the labeled AVA, grew all of the grapes used to make the wine on land owned or controlled by the winery within the boundaries of the labeled AVA and crushed the grapes, fermented the resulting must, and finished, aged, and bottled the wine in a continuous process. Any other use of the word "Estate" on wine labels is not regulated. Wineries with the word "Estate" in their name, or that use it in any other way may be affected by any subsequent rules changes.

Other terms that the TTB requested comment on include: "Vintner Grown," "Proprietor Grown," "Vineyard," "Orchard," "Ranch," "Proprietors Blend," "Old Vine," "Barrel Fermented," "Old Clone," "Reserve," "Select Harvest," "Bottle Aged," and "Barrel Select." Perhaps the most used of these terms is "Reserve." This term is meant to indicate a wine that is special but it has no universally-accepted definition. The state of Washington is the only U.S. wine region to define "Reserve." In 1999, Washington defined "Reserve" wines as being no more than 10% (up to 3000 cases) of a winery's production and indicating that the winemaker believes this wine has a higher quality than most wines from the winery. "Reserve" has been defined in Spanish, Italian and other European wine regions.

While no changes are currently proposed, the idea is certainly out there and should create quite a wave in the wine industry. Wineries that use the terms listed above could have a lot at stake if the TTB decides that further regulation is necessary. How should "Reserve" be defined? What other terms do you think need to be defined and regulated?

Monday, November 8, 2010

A not so local local wine

One of the major wine movements that I support and firmly believe in is the local wine movement. For most of the U.S., this pretty much means drinking wine from wine regions outside of California. What is the goal of the local/regional wine movement? Does it make environmental sense for people in Oregon to drink wines from Virginia or New York rather than wines from the west coast? Probably not. However, rather than promoting geographically local wines I, along with many other proponents, suggest that the main goal is to promote little known, yet respectable wine regions that the so-called wine "experts" all too often ignore.

So where is the "local" line drawn in the sand? Are we only to promote wines from the states other than California and perhaps Washington and Oregon? What about the unfamiliar regions of Europe? I am all for drinking and support regional wines of the world. One fine example of a cornucopia of local wines is found in Italy. With over 550 different appellations (120+ IGT and 330+ DOC and DOCG) there are surely more than a few most people have never heard of. Many of these are made with indigenous grape cultivars. One such wine is Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato. This tiny Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is found in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy near the famous appellations of Barolo and Barbaresco. Only about 100 acres belong to this exceptionally local wine region. Made from the indigenous (this is up to debate) Ruché grape, wines such as these are perhaps the epitome of the local wine movement. To toast to our European regional wine counterparts I opened up a Ruché made by La Mondianese.

2005 La Mondianese, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, Italy

This wine is a beautiful medium/light ruby red color. Aromatic, this Ruché smells fruity, almost reminiscent of Hawaiian Punch, with a hint of roses. Supple in the mouth, this wine has extremely soft tannins with moderate-plus acidity. It tastes of red currants, bitter, yet rich, cranberries and sour cherries. Overall, a nice wine but I probably should not sit on my remaining bottles for much longer. 13.5% abv Purchased $18. Good (tasted 10/07/10)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

United Slurps of America: Colorado edition

Happy Halloween! I hope that you are enjoying vinous treats tonight! A friend of mine in Boston is starting a new Halloween tradition by offering beer for parents chaperoning their little monsters. I hope that this tradition is mainstream, and with wine, by the time my little one is making the Halloween rounds. If anyone is looking for wines to offer as Halloween treats next year, I have a few ideas for you!

Colorado wines do quite well for themselves at wine competitions throughout the country. Gold medals and best-in-shows are abundant. However, few other wineries can proclaim the hardware and recognition that Boulder Creek Winery has accumulated over the past few years. Founded in January of 2003 by Mike and Jackie Thompson of Boulder, CO, Boulder Creek Winery has really made a name for itself recently. Winners of 3 Best of Shows at the since 2004, including the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon in 2010, a First Lady’s Choice in the first annual Celebration of Premier Colorado Wines for the 2009 Gen Y Riesling and most impressive of all, Colorado’s first ever Jefferson Cup for their almost sold out 2006 VIP Reserve in 2009. While I am not a huge fan of wine competitions, this is some impressive commendation for Boulder Creek’s wine.

In addition to awards, Boulder Creek Winery was one of two Colorado wineries to travel to Paris, France to pour their VIP Reserve at the Tasting of American Wines at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to France. About 500 members of the French wine industry gathered to sample wines from throughout the United States. Mike and Jackie reported that their 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot blend was well received by the French. Boulder Creek Winery was also featured the January 2010 issue of Wines & Vines because of Jackie’s extraordinary attention to detail. Jackie laboriously removes seeds during délestage for her red wines. She credits seed removal with improving the quality. This level of craftsmanship is also reflected by the medals and plaques on display in the winery.

For a fitting follow-up to DrinkLocalWine.com’s Regional Wine Week, Colorado Wine Press has teamed up with the award-winning blog Swirl, Smell, Slurp and arranged to slurp a couple of Boulder Creek wines for their United Slurps of America. Every state produces wine, so why not taste at least one from each? Thus, the United Slurps of America was born. I am honored to be along on this journey as we cruise the Diagonal Highway north of Boulder, CO to slurp some local wine. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Gen Y Riesling were graciously provided as samples by the winery.

2009 Gen Y Riesling, Boulder Creek Winery, Colorado

This wine was actually made by Will Thompson, Mike and Jackie’s 20-year old son. Will has been instrumental in winery operations since its inception in 2003. Last year, winemaker and mother, Jackie, decided to give Will a bit more authority in the winery’s operation and allowed him to choose one wine to make from start to finish by himself (with mom closely watching, of course). Will chose Riesling, the winemaking tradition was passed down to the next generation and the 2009 Gen Y was born. This pale yellow Riesling is very aromatic. Citrus, pineapple and ever-so-slight petrol aromas emanate from the glass. The Gen Y is medium sweet with honey and Asian pear on the forepalate. This sweetness is followed by good acidity of citrus and piña colada flavors briefly on the midpalate. Minerality and Riesling’s characteristic petrol rounds out the finish. This first wine by a first-time winemaker provides a good balance of sweetness and acidity. The nose is just fantastic. It is a touch too sweet for my preference, but overall it is a very good wine. 12% abv Sample ($16). Very good (tasted 10/16/10)

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Boulder Creek Winery, Colorado

This award winner is Colorado’s rebuttal to anyone who says good Cabernet Sauvignon cannot be made in the Centennial state. This wine is almost black throughout but with a dark red rim. It smells dark and brooding. The complex nose provides aromas of characteristic black currants, herbs, pencil shavings and black pepper. A hint of tobacco and smokiness is evidence of its time in oak barrels. After just smelling this wine for a few minutes, it fills my mouth with a good amount of smooth yet strong tannins that don’t dry out my mouth like so many over-extracted Cabernets and is balanced by a healthy amount of acidity. Currants and dark plums come to the front of the palate but are quickly replaced by a long finish of mesquite and pepper. Another aromatic wine by Boulder Creek, but I would like the fruit flavors to linger around for a while longer. This wine definitely deserves to be paired with a proper meal. 14.2% abv Sample ($24). Very Good (tasted 10/17/10)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's really in that bottle?

Buzz words are all the rage. During this political season, "extreme" seems to be the buzz word here in Colorado. Apparently every candidate running for public office is extreme, doesn't like America and wants to take my money to spend it on worthless projects. Maybe I've just seen too many political ads! A different buzz word made the rounds this past year in the wine world. From Eric Asimov's June piece in The New York Times, Jon Bonné's San Francisco Chronicle article last month to Rémy Charest's Palate Press tome this month, many in the industry have been debating the merits and perils of using the extreme term, "natural." Perhaps the queen bee of this debate is Alice Feiring.

Natural wine has many different definitions depending with whom you are speaking. Most definitions include no chaptalization, no acidification, no added sulphites and no filtration or fining. Most recently, this debate reared its head via a series of comments between Adam Lee of Siduri Wines and Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator after Kramer's article on wine authenticity. Does the authenticity of a wine or the use of additives affect the quality of a wine? Alice Feiring would definitely argue that anything but the most natural and unadulterated wine is a compromised expression of potential terroir. Others, most notably Robert Parker, would probably argue that if a wine tastes good then it doesn't matter how the winemaker created the elixir.

Not to avoid the controversy, nor to join it (though I doubt enough people will read this post to make my point anything but moot), I actually take both sides in this argument but lean more towards the terroirist/natural wine contingent. In general, I would prefer that my wines be the purest expression of the geography (cultural and physical) from which they are produced. However, if you believe that terroir has a cultural component as I do, winemakers do play an important role in wine production. This intervention can be just as influential as the soil and climate that the vines use to nurture their precious fruit to maturation. Thus, I am able to thoroughly enjoy a tasty, yet engineered, wine and accept it for what it is. However, all too often, the hand of the winemaker is too unsteady with his manipulation of what the vine provides and the resulting wines are watered down or over-acidified farces.

I do enjoy experiencing "natural" wines to see how the non-interventionist approach produces wine with soul. One such winery in Colorado is Woody Creek Cellars. Owner and winemaker Kevin Doyle's self-proclaimed slogan is "making fine natural wines with Old-World methods using only Colorado's finest natural ingredients." Doyle started his winery in 2000 after leaving the Aspen restaurant industry in 1998. His no-frills winery is located in an old apple packing shed in Austin, CO along the North Fork of the Gunnison River just outside the boundaries of the West Elks AVA. Doyle makes his wines using hand-picked grapes without the addition of chemicals or sulphites, stainless steel tanks or filtration and fining in conditions and with equipment reminiscent of an old-world rustic vigneron. All of the wine is transferred from bin to barrel to bottle via gravity. While this approach can lead to unruly wine, it also can give the wine a soul that is often filtered or acidified away. Woody Creek actually accounts for the second most bottles from a single winery in my modest 150ish-bottle "cellar." While not my favorite from my collection, I grabbed a 2008 Merlot the other evening and have been drinking it over the last three nights.

2008 Merlot, Woody Creek Cellars, Colorado

This bronze medal winner at the inaugural Celebration of Premier Colorado Wines competition was at the top of the Woody Creek stack so it has graced my glass each of the last three nights. This dark ruby Merlot offers fruity yet spicy aromas. Plum, cherry cola, mocha and anise tempt my nose. On the tongue, cherry cola, blueberry compote and blackberries are complemented with hints of mulling spices. The subtle tannins don't help to balance the alcohol. Overall, while not my favorite offering from Woody Creek of those that I've previously tried, it is a good wine but out of balance on the palate. 14.1% abv Purchased $17. Good (tasted 10/25/10)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who says you can't drink while expecting?

The French know it. The Italians know it. Americans still don't seem to get it. A glass or two of wine per week will not adversely affect the development of a fetus. Last week, Wine Spectator summarized a new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health on the subject of alcohol consumption and pregnancy. The study investigated the cognitive abilities of over 11,500 British three-year old children and compared the alcohol consumption of the mothers while they were pregnant. While most (94%) of the mothers reported drinking while not pregnant, only half drank during their pregnancy. The researchers found that children born to light drinkers (1-2 drinks per week) were were not any more likely to have developmental difficulties and 30% less likely to have behavioral problems than teetotalers. Meanwhile, children of heavy drinkers (more than 7 drinks per week) were more likely to have developmental and behavioral problems.

Because my wife is pregnant (16 weeks now!), my wine consumption has dramatically decreased from a glass or two per night to a glass or two per week. Not only do we drink less frequently now, my wife's wine glass has shrunk. On the occasions she does drink a glass of wine, she sips from our little dessert glasses and has about half a glass per serving with dinner.

Here's to a healthy pregnancy and still being able to enjoy wine!

Friday, October 15, 2010

You're the expert on what you like...

All too often consumers depend on scores given by The Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator or The Wine Enthusiast for choosing which wines they purchase. How often do these consumers know if their palates match those of the reviewers? How often do high scores and even higher prices create an unconscious (or even conscious) bias in the consumers' evaluation of wine? Many people, including myself, often fall to the peer pressure of thinking a wine that is more expensive or from a more highly-regarded region is better than the wine they actually like best. Critics often argue that this bias is removed when tasting wines blind. In some ways this is true. But the palate of Robert Parker is quite different from that of John Doe. Wine critics are experts at tasting the potential of what wines may achieve in 20 years time. They too have excellent memories and can pick out certain wines in tastings that they know ought to receive high scores solely based on their geography and price point. Well, how do "regular" wine consumers compare to the experts? Which wines do normal people prefer?

To investigate this question, I assembled 13 friends, family and colleagues to taste two flights of wine. Each flight consisted of a few local Colorado Wines and two top international wines. I joined in on the tasting, but offered minimal input and did not score or formally review the wines. The first flight consisted of two Colorado Rieslings plus one from Germany and one from Australia. The second flight consisted of three Colorado Cabernet Francs, one from Italy and a Cabernet Franc-dominated blend from Bordeaux. Participants were each asked to taste, compare, discuss and rank individual preferences for each flight. Each person was asked to rank the wines (1-4 for Riesling and 1-5 for Cabernet Franc) and the rankings were summed. The wine with the lowest total score (highest average ranking) was determined the best in category.

In the Riesling flight, the tasters clearly preferred a little sweetness in their Rieslings. This is not surprising as most everyday drinkers of Riesling expect to find some residual sugar. The results for the Riesling flight are as follows:

1. Loosen Bros., Dr. L Riesling 2008, Mosel, Germany
2. Boulder Creek Winery, Gen Y Rielsing 2009, Grand Valley, Colorado
3. Settembre Cellars, Riesling 2009, Grand Valley, Colorado
4. Grosset, Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia

The participants identified the balance of the sweetness and acidity as positives and the marked acidity and petrol characteristics as negatives. In a what many wine enthusiasts would consider a surprise, the Grosset, one of Australia's finest Rieslings, came in last and was only deemed the favorite Riesling by one taster.

On to the Cabernet Francs, the "judges" had their choice of four 100% Cabernet Francs and one 58% Cabernet Franc/42% Merlot blend. As a varietal that most participants were not used to drinking, the earthy flavors were new to a few drinkers. The results for the Cabernet Franc flight are as follow:

1. Creekside Cellars, 2007 Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado
2. Canyon Wind Cellars, 2007 Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado
3. Dithyramb Winery, 2008 Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado
4. Château Angélus, 2003, Saint-Émilion Premier grand cru classé B, France
5. Blason, 2008 Cabernet Franc, Friuli Isonzo DOC, Italy

In an exceptional surprise, the Colorado offerings took the top three places and beat out one of the top Right Bank Bordeaux from a very good year! Perhaps the Angélus and the Grosset need a few more years before their potential is met. But the average consumer is not going to buy a bottle and let it sit for 10 years before drinking. With the wines that are on the shelf and ready to drink right now, Colorado holds its own with some of the best wines and wine regions in the world. Let this be a lesson to the casual wine drinker; price and region may not be as important as you thought. Follow your palate and you might be pleasantly surprised at where you end up! You are the expert on what you like. Drink what you like and give Colorado Wine a try!

For what it is worth, my own favorites of the night were Boulder Creek's Gen Y (followed by the Polish Hill) and the Château Angélus (followed closely by the Creekside Cellars and Canyon Wind Cellars).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The uniqueness of local wines

A great tasting local product. A small carbon footprint. Supporting a local business and investing in the local economy. These are all good enough reasons by themselves to become a locapour (drinkers of local and regional wines). However, local wines all too often get stuck with a stigma being of poor quality, too expensive or not being salient in the wine world. While quality is an issue with local wines, established wine regions are not immune. I've had plenty of terrible wines from California and France. However, all too often wines produced in the better known regions lack personality. Another great reason to drink local wine, which is often overlooked by wine consumers and media, is the unique characteristics that make local wines pertinent in this global industry. Sure, most European wine regions have distinct attributes that make them special but they've had hundreds, if not thousands, of years to tease out their identities.

While the wine industry in the U.S. did not begin in California, it is certainly centered there now. Most of the Californian wine regions are located in "perfect" viticultural conditions. Undoubtedly, they have distinctive soils, topography and climatic conditions but very few regions provide the unique or extreme conditions that would make them thought-provoking. Across the globe, these types of places give a breath of life to intriguing wines. Sweden offers the most northerly vineyards. Australia has vineyards planted on some of the world's oldest soils. Chile and other wine regions have vines growing on their own roots because of the lack of the devastating louse, Phylloxera (Viteus vitifoliae).

Domestically, grapevines are grown in all 50 states and while some are more interesting than others, each region has a story to tell. Having an established, yet small, wine industry with approximately 100 wineries, Colorado is home to the highest vineyards in North America. In fact, the vineyards of Colorado are second in elevation globally only to a select few locations in South America. The world's highest commercial vineyards are at an extreme 10,206 ft in the Salta region in northern Argentina. Colorado's West Elks AVA extends upwards to about 7,000 ft. In comparison, Europe's highest vineyards are at 4,300 ft in northern Italy. Most of the vineyards in Argentina's famed Mendoza wine region are planted at around 3,000 ft. 2,000 ft is considered high elevation in much of the rest of the wine world!

The West Elks AVA is located in western Colorado along the North Fork of the Gunnison River around the towns of Hotchkiss and Paonia and was approved as an AVA by the Federal government in 2001. The area encompasses approximately 75 square miles of land ranging in elevation from 5,300 ft to just under 7,000 ft. The elevations of the surrounding mesas and mountains help protect the vineyards from severe storms that often injure or destroy grapes. This cool-climate growing region is starting to become known for Alsatian and Burgundian grape varieties. The farm-fresh food, the nearby Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park and the extreme elevation make this local wine region a must visit on wine tourists' lists. At the very least, seek out one of the many great-tasting wines from Colorado and the West Elks AVA to experience a story that can be told nowhere else in the United States!

2004 Chardonnay, Terror Creek Winery, West Elks AVA, Colorado

This aged Chardonnay is not your typical Chardonnay. Unoaked and produced in what the winery calls an Alsatian style. If I had to compare it to any other Chardonnay region Chablis would be the closest in style. Don't get me wrong, this is a uniquely Colorado Chardonnay and is no Chablis. Grown above 6,400 ft on Garvin Mesa in the West Elks AVA, this pale yellow wine smells like applesauce! Hints of green apple and cinnamon (and perhaps a dash of nutmeg) meld perfectly together to be reminiscent of making applesauce with my grandmother when I was a child. The acidity is still fresh in the mouth but much of the fruit has disappeared and left the wine a bit flat. I still tasted apples and spices at the beginning but they quickly washed away to leave the taste of a slightly bitter, yet crisp, cantaloupe (like the flesh nearest the rind) on my tongue. This bottle seems to be fading a bit, so good thing the 2005 vintage is the current release. 13.5% abv Purchased $14. Average/Good (tasted 10/14/10)

Monday, October 11, 2010

A (almost) 100% local meal

With Regional Wine Week upon those in the know, I thought "what better way to contribute than to have a (almost) 100% meal." Settembre Cellars' slogan is, "Colorado Grapes, Boulder Wine. Crafting Old-World Style Wines, Locally." Started in 2007 by Blake and Tracy Eliasson, Settembre has produced less than 400 cases of single-vineyard designated wine. This small sustainably-minded family winery sells its wine via bicycle delivery, local wine festivals and the 63rd Street Farm in Boulder, CO. Settembre really is the epitome of local wine.

In honor of Settembre's extreme localness, I decided to enjoy their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Valley) with a meal from local ingredients. Just as the 63rd Street Farm offers a CSA share, Settembre offers a CSW (community-supported wine share). My wife and I receive most of our fresh fruit and vegetables locally from Door to Door Organics. Also, my wife's school has a large garden from which faculty and staff can take a small bounty. Using a refrigerator full of fresh, locally-grown vegetables, I made a red risotto with beets, chard, spinach, green beans, red onion, zucchini, yellow cherry tomatoes, and broccoli. Only the rice (Spain), olive oil (Italy), Italian cheese blend (generic Kraft blend) and Gorgonzola cheese (Wisconsin) were not sourced locally! Not only did the risotto taste exceptionally fresh, paired with the locally-sourced and locally-produced wine the meal was exceptionally environmentally friendly. Drinking and eating locally doesn't only feel great, it tastes great!

Colorado Cabernet Sauvignon (Valley), Settembre Cellars, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

Only 642 bottles of this Cabernet Sauvignon were made. The fruit for this wine was sourced from the valley of the Grand Valley AVA on the western slope of Colorado. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, aged in French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered and unfined. Much lighter in color than most Cabernets, this wine has a red core bleeding into a purple-red rim. When I put my nose in the glass, I smell aromas of indistinct red fruits combined with cedar, eucalyptus and intense mint. After just smelling this wine for a few minutes, I slowly take a sip. The light tannins are met with a good amount of acidity. Flavors of darker fruit, mainly plum, dark chocolate and tobacco fill my mouth. Flavors of cocoa and mint linger on the palate for quite some time after swallowing the wine. This wine has a smooth yet long finish reminiscent of an old-world style Cabernet without the big jammy flavors of the ever more prevalent modern style. 13.7% abv Purchased $28. Very Good (tasted 10/11/10)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Falling Rock Tap House

Last night, I went to Falling Rock Tap House in Denver with my wife to meet up with some of her friends from professional development program that she took part in two years ago. We had originally planned to eat at Cilantro Fusion and then head to Falling Rock for a few beers but were met by a dark store front with a sign in the window that indicated Cilantro Fusion would be closed the week of September 13. Their website states that they will be closed the week of September 26. I definitely got the feeling that they haven't been open a while. This is unfortunate, as we were really hoping to try their modern Mexican cuisine. We ended up grabbing a bite at the tap house before our companions joined us.

The food was just ok, but I don't think people frequent Falling Rock for the food. My wife ordered the Black 'N Bleu Burger while I had the Cordon Bleu. The burger was every bit blackened with its its overabundance of Cajun spices. The large hand-breaded chicken breast on my sandwich was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and complemented nicely by the swiss cheese and bits of ham. We both much preferred the chicken to the burger. Unfortunately, the fries that accompanied each sandwich were soggy and unappetizing. Good thing the main course was the beer!

With over 200 beers to choose from, and the selection changing weekly, everyone's taste buds will find suds to their delight! Along with the beer selection, the atmosphere is second to none. Large wooden booths and leather arm chairs make this pub a great place to relax with friends and enjoy a few pints. You can spent hours simply contemplating the plethora of beer bottles and taps lining the walls. Falling Rock is definitely a beer connoisseur's dream come true. I went with an all-Colorado themed night of dark brews to go with the cool beginning of autumn with draughts from Avery, Left Hand and Odell.

Saboteur, Odell Brewing Company, 10.0% abv, Boulder, Colorado
Served in a wine glass, this brown ale may not please everyone's tongue. Using a yeast that is often the bane if a winemaker's existence, Brettanomyces, this brown ale is transformed into a sour brew that is reminiscent of English Porters from the 19th century and traditional Belgian ales. Brett, as the yeast is colloquially referred to, is usually considered a fault in most wines but also is the diagnostic characteristic of some wineries, such as the eponymous Château de Beaucastel. To me, the Saboteur tasted of earth and vanilla with a slight sour component that Odell's describes beautifully as pineapple. So think of your favorite strong dark brown ale with a shot of pineapple juice in it and you you are on your way to tasting Saboteur.

Nitro Milk Stout, Left Hand Brewing Company, 6.0% abv, Longmont, Colorado
One of my favorite beers is Left Hand's Milk Stout. I have had the bottled version of this beer many times before. However, I had never had the nitrogen version previously. Most draught beers are dispensed using carbon dioxide to maintain the carbonation in the beer. However, some beers, most notably Guinness, are dispensed using nitrogen which creates a smoother creamier pour with a dense foamy head. I definitely have a renewed appreciation for this fantastic stout. The milk sugars provide a sweet creaminess to this dense dark brew. The nitrogen only amplifies this creaminess and makes this stout all that much better.

Straight Outta Hell, Avery Brewing Company, 10.0% abv, Boulder, Colorado
This single-barrel experiment is one big bad beer! The 50% Out of Bounds Stout and 50% Mephistopheles' Stout aged in a Heaven Hill bourbon barrel for six months will knock your socks off. This black beer delivers a thin dark-brown head and releases aromas of caramel, espresso and bourbon that you smell even before it gets near your nose. This one is a sipper because it tastes like a shot of espresso and a bourbon with a dollop of molasses merged together. It is a hot beer that is surprisingly contains only 10% alcohol. Good to warm your soul on a cold evening but not for the faint of heart!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Certified Specialist of Wine, part 4

Well, today when I came home, a large envelope from the Society of Wine Educators was waiting for me. Inside there was a folder with two pieces of paper with my name on them. The first was a letter congratulating me on my status as a Certified Specialist of Wine! I passed with a score of 91%. The second document was a signed certificate documenting my CSW credentials. I now have the option of taking the Certified Wine Educator exam in the future. The CWE credential adds two tasting exams and an essay to a more rigorous multiple-choice exam. I will need to study more and taste a lot of wines before I decide to continue down this path.

With the good news in hand, I decided to open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate. While not a fancy wine, the Miolo Brut Rose is not your ordinary sparkler. This blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay hails from the Vale dos Vinhedos in southern Brazil. Miolo actually began in 1897 when Guiseppe Miolo immigrated to Brazil from Italy and planted grapevines. In the 1970s, his descendants were pioneers in planting premium grape cultivars in Brazil with Miolo Winery finally being established in 1989. In 1992, Miolo released its very first commercial vintage of Merlot. Now, Miolo Wine Group operates eight different wine brands, owns 1000 hectares of vineyards and produces over 1 million cases of wine every year. While you may think of Chile and Argentina as the most important wine-producing South American countries, Brazil is the third-largest producer and second-largest consumer of wine on the continent. In fact, Moet et Chandon even has invested in the potential of Brazil's ability to produce fine sparkling wine with its Chandon brand. While Brazilian Chandon is mainly a domestic product, Miolo does export a bit of its lineup to the U.S.

NV Miolo Brut Rose, Vale dos Vinhedos, Brazil

This blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is perhaps the darkest non-Shiraz sparkler that I have seen. The flute is filled with a dark, yet clear garnet color. The nose offered low-intensity aromas of yeast and cranberries with a hint of saltiness. This bubbly tastes of extremely tart cranberries and unripe guava and strawberries. On the back end of the palate I tasted rye bread and raw walnuts. While this wine is interesting in its geography, the bitterness and lack of fruit flavors leave me wanting more. 13% abv Purchased $14. Average (tasted 10/04/10)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reeder Mesa Vineyards

One of the gems of Colorado's wine country has its home off the beaten path. If you take Highway 50 south from Grand Junction towards Whitewater, you'll see the gravel Reeder Mesa Road on your left. If you follow this path for about eight miles you'll come upon Reeder Mesa Vineyards. Doug and Kris Vogel own and operate this family-run winery. Trooper, the golden retriever, is head of security and hospitality.

Doug, a former mechanic, is in charge of winemaking, while Kris is in charge of sales, graphic design and many of the other operations. Started in 2003, Reeder Mesa Vineyards is quickly becoming one of the wineries to know in Colorado. The tasting room at Reeder Mesa Vineyards has the best view in the valley with the Grand Mesa staring back at you in all its basaltic glory. Outside, the Vogels have planted 2 acres of estate Riesling. They produce award-winning wines from grapes purchased from the Grand Valley AVA. When my wife and I visited a few years ago, we bought a few bottles of 2006 Syrah. The last of our stash has been popped and is the impetus of this post. Time for me to stock back up! My advice to you? Taste what Reeder Mesa has to offer and buy a few bottles of your favorite. Try one or two now and put a few aside to drink over the next few years!

2006 Reeder Mesa Vineyards Syrah, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

This aged Syrah pours with a black core yielding to a dark red rim. At first the nose is a little tight, but then slowly opens up with blackberry jam, freshly roasted coffee, black olives, hints of clove and what smells like bacon fat! At first taste, spices, black fruit and tobacco dominate but after a few sips the olive tapenade comes to the forefront. Even on the second night, olives and cigars continue to be the best descriptors of this lovely Syrah. I hope that a few library editions of the 2006 Syrah are still available. If not, I'm sure that the current 2008 release will be just as good. 15% abv Purchased $20. Very Good/Excellent (tasted 9/29/30)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bodegas Emilio Moro

In addition to Colorado wine, Spanish wine is at the top of my list for having high quality for a reasonable price. I also happen to greatly enjoy wines made from the Tempranillo grape. The two most important regions where Tempranillo is grown are Rioja and Ribera del Duero. While I have enjoyed most wines from Rioja for a while now, I have a more recent fondness for Ribera del Duero due to the similarities between this region and Colorado's wine country. Both Ribera del Duero and Colorado are home to each country's highest vineyards and have continental climates that allow hot growing seasons that have large daily temperature fluctuations and cold winters that sometimes cause problems for vineyard managers.

Last summer, my wife and I had the opportunity to explore Ribera del Duero and visit a few of the most prestigious wineries. While there, we visited Bodegas Emilio Moro with export director Barbara de Miguel. Bodegas Emilio Moro is a family-owned winery that has been making wine from Tinto Fino (the local name for Tempranillo) in Ribera del Duero for more than 120 years. They own over 170 acres of vines in and around the town of Pesquera de Duero. Emilio Moro and its sister winery, Bodegas Cepa 21, produces a series of 100% Tinto Fino wines. If you are interested in learning about Tempranillo, I suggest that you find some of these wines to explore how different the grape can taste from one region! We met Barbara in the tasting room, where photos of Tom Cruise and David Beckham posing behind the bar adorned the walls along with other Spanish celebrities and royalty. She led us on a tour of the bottling facilities and the barrel room. We then retreated to a second tasting room in the loft overlooking the barrels. After tasting a few of the 2009 releases, Babara called their sister winery, Bodegas Cepa 21, to set up a lunch for us.

We drove to the new and very modern winery just a few kilometers east of Pesquera surrounded by 124 acres of Tinto Fino vines. The wines are designed to be modern in style with bold aromatics and fruit dominating a soft palate. Currently, Cepa 21 produces two wines. We ordered some of the Cepa 21 wine that we had just tasted with Barbara, ate some fantastic jamon as an appetizer before our lunch as we sat next to the large glass wall overlooking the field of Tempranillo vines soaking up the sun.

Recently, I also had the opportunity to meet with Barbara at an event in Denver during her first trip to the United States and taste the 2010 releases. We enjoyed the late-summer weather while eating paella and drinking wonderful Spanish wine on a downtown Denver rooftop patio.

2008 Hito, Ribera del Duero, Spain
This deep yet bright purple wine offers a clean nose of red fruits with floral notes. It spends only 8 months in used French oak. Raspberries, cedar and dried violets meld with fine tannins to create a good easy-drinking wine that can be enjoyed by itself or with food. Sample (retail $20). Good (tasted 9/13/10)

2007 Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero, Spain
The flagship wine of this new winery is a slight step up from the Hito. The wine spends 14 months in a blend of 85% new French barrels and 15% used American oak. The Cepa 21 is a slightly darker color than the Hito. It shows more darker fruits and a bit of nice minerality. You can tasted dark dried red fruits and a hint of leather mixed in with a more complex tannin structure. Sample (retail $26). Good (tasted 9/13/10)

2007 Emilio Moro Resalso, Ribera del Duero, Spain
This entry-level offering is perhaps my favorite as far as quality to price ratio. The reddish purple juice releases a very floral and fruity bouquet. The simple fruit flavors on the palate are complemented with a spicy earthiness, tart acidity and light tannins. While not an overly complex wine that will make you scratch your head, this wine is a bit more Old World the those from Cepa 21. Sample (retail $17). Good (tasted 9/13/10)

2006 Emilio Moro, Ribera del Duero, Spain
This step up from the Resalso is definitely a fine example of Tinto Fino. The color is more dark than purple and the aromas on the nose are complex. A good amount of acidity is balanced by dark fruits, a concentrated earthiness and dried leather. This wine demands food more than the previous three but still is quaffable in its own right. Sample (retail $28). Very Good (tasted 9/13/10)

2007 Emilio Moro Malleolus, Ribera del Duero, Spain
Now we're getting into the big bold triad of Emilio Moro's ultra-premium wines. Concentrated and complex fruit aromas along with lavender and rosemary emanate from this big deep-purple wine. The Malleolus is like a velvet balance beam of high acidity and dense tannins. Prounounced spice and earth match the dark fruit flavors. Sample (retail $65). Very Good (tasted 9/13/10)

2007 Emilio Moro Malleolus de Valderramiro, Ribera del Duero, Spain
The cream of the crop. This single-vineyard wine is from the oldest 11 acres of vines owned by the estate. The blackish/purple wine gives off a complex bouquet of of deep, dark fruits followed by a slight scents of sweetness. The Valderramiro tastes of freshly brewed mocha espresso combined with blueberry and blackberry jam with a dusting of herbes de Provence and graphite. This wine is a tightly-wrapped little boxed gift that will require at least 5-10 years before it will be ready to unwrap its complex and powerful personality. Sample (retail $189). Very Good/Excellent (tasted 9/13/10)

2007 Emilio Moro Malleolus de Sanchomartin, Ribera del Duero, Spain
The other sacred cow produced by Emilio Moro. This wine is more powerful and aromatic than the Valderramiro but also shows a bit more alcohol on the nose and palate. The same rich dark fruits, spices and pencil lead flavors are present but with the addition of a roses. Another complex and powerful wine that needs time but that is slightly less balanced than the Valderramiro at present. Sample (retail $209). Very Good (tasted 9/13/10).


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wild Wine Lists

In this week's New York Times, Kevin Sack discussed the emerging trend in restaurants of using touch-screen electronic devices, such as the iPad, to deliver their wine lists instead of the traditional book, binder, or sheet of paper. However, this isn't a new idea; Aureole in Las Vegas began using wine tablets in 2003 to navigate the near 10,000-bottle wine list housed in its four-story glass wine tower. While I have not yet lay my hands on an iPad, Aureole's tablet was easy to use for quickly identifying specific wines that meet your requirements (i.e., price, region, vintage). While not a crutch for a poorly designed wine list, such technology can make perusing a wine list even more fun.

So, I pose this question: what is the most interesting and inspirational wine list (technologically enhanced or not) from which you have had the pleasure of ordering?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Colorado Wine Haiku

In advance of Regional Wine Week (Oct. 10-16), Colorado Wine Press offers this submission to DrinkLocalWine.com's haiku contest:

from grand valleys to
mesa tops, Colorado
wine is beautiful

Join the fun and comment here or on our Facebook page with your local wine-themed haiku and submit it to The Wine Curmudgeon at Drink Local Wine, too!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Pinot done right in Colorado

Pinot Noir has achieved an increased prestige since the release of the movie "Sideways." Pinot Noir is the grape from which the great (and sometimes mind-blowingly expensive) red wines of the Burgundy region in France are made. It is also one of three grapes from which true Champagne is made. Chardonnay is perhaps the most famous cultivar from Champagne due to the grand Blanc de Blancs (literally, white of whites) of Champagne's greatest Champagne houses and Grower Champagne.

Another term that you may be familiar with is Blanc de Noirs (literally, white of blacks). This style of white wine is made from black grapes. The two permitted black (sometimes referred to as red) grapes in Champagne are Pinot Noir and a mutant relative, Pinot Meunier. This unheralded grape derives its origin from the oft-mutating Pinot Noir (just as Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc). It gets its name from the white, flour-like down found on the underside of the leaves. Meunier, for you non-Francophiles, is French for "miller." Pinot Meunier actually accounts for about 40% of the vineyard acreage in Champagne and is used as a blending grape to add aromatics and fruit flavors to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sparklers. Despite its predominance in Champagne, you will be hard-pressed to find varietal Pinot Meunier or to even see it mentioned on a label.

Nonetheless, Jack Rabbit Hill in Hotchkiss, CO grows and vinifies Colorado Pinot Meunier. Rather than producing it as a varietal bottling, Jack Rabbit Hill blends nearly equal parts Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir to create what they call M & N. These 100% organic grapes (more recent bottlings are certified biodynamic) are aged sur lees in barrels that previously aged their Chardonnay for 3 months. The wine is then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Owner Lance Hanson also runs Peak Spirits and distills vodka from estate-grown Chambourcin, gin from local apples and spices, and eaux de vie from locally-grown fruits. While I've had the pleasure to enjoy most of Lance's wines and spirits, the unique M & N is probably my favorite but closely followed by the CapRock Organic Dry Gin. While the current release from the 2008 vintage is tasty, I still think the 2006 is better. I am lucky to still have one bottle sitting in my cellar quietly awaiting its grand finale sometime in the future.

2006 Jack Rabbit Hill M & N, Colorado
This unique blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Pinot Meunier has been sitting in my cellar for more than two years. It shows a clear dark garnet core fading to a brick red rim. The nose is exceptionally aromatic with black raspberries and dried dark cherries that meld with old leather, truffles and a hint of dried floral notes. In the mouth this smooth, dry, low-tannin wine presents complex flavors of cloves, cinnamon, sandalwood followed by traces of smoke and toast. As the wine opens up, the spices yield to dried red fruits, strawberries and ripe raspberries, with a complement of violets. This lovely blend possesses a lingering finish and I highly recommend it. 14.26% abv. Purchased $21. Very Good/Excellent (tasted 9/4/10)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Certified Specialist of Wine, part 3

Last Thursday, I finally took my Certified Specialist of Wine exam in Denver. The exam was scheduled to start at 9:30 am on the campus of Johnson and Wales University and last one hour. After some last-minute cramming of German and Italian wine regions and law, I arrived about 15 minutes early. I signed in and took a seat at a small table that had a series of glasses set up for the tasting portion of the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) exam. About 20 other people filled the other seats awaiting to take an exam as well. Most of my cohorts were also sitting for the CSW, but a handful were taking the CWE and the Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) exams.

The CSS is very similar to the CSW except it assesses knowledge of the major Spirit types and categories. The CWE is the SWE certification level above the CSW. In addition to an 85-question multiple-choice exam, CWE candidates must answer an essay question, complete two blind tastings; varietal wine identification and wine components and imbalances (faults), and must successfully demonstrate capability of presenting on a wine topic in front of a live audience. The CSW is a prerequisite for CWE candidates, and will be my next endeavor!

After a short explanation by the proctor, Terri Hamilton, we were given one hour to complete the exams. I made my way through by answer all the questions that I knew and marking the questions of which I was unsure. After about 20 minutes, I had made it through all 100 questions. I went back and counted 12 questions that I had marked. Needing only 75/100 to pass the exam, I went through these remained questions with the confidence of not needed to answer them all correctly! Just after the 30-minute mark, I gathered my belongings and turned in my exam and answer sheet. Many of the questions on the exam I had seen before in the online Wine Academy offered jointly by SWE and E&J Gallo Winery. The CSW Study Guide alone did not provide all of the information on the actual exam. If you plan on taking the CSW or CWE exams, I highly recommend paying for use of the online Wine Academy as you prepare.

Before I left the exam room, I made a mental note of about 10 questions I was unsure of and found the correct answers when I returned home. I answered half of them correctly and half incorrectly and feel even more confident with the outcome. If I were to guess my score, I would have to estimate 90 +/- 3. In any case, I have 6-8 weeks to wait until the results are tabulated and returned. I will post the results when I get them!