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)