Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Let's get vertical, vertical...

Cheers to Olivia Newton John and my apologies to any who is now picturing their favorite wine pundit dancing around in a leotard and matching sweatbands.

Most wine blogs and glossies focus their efforts on tasting and reviewing current releases of wine. Furthermore, said publications tend to focus on mainstream wines. When prognostications of the ageability and drinking window of young wines are made, they tend to be based (I hope) on prior experience with how previous vintages fared. But very rarely do you see published vertical tastings of wine. Sure, Robert Parker, Jr. famously has stepped aside from the current California beat to do retrospective tastings of California. Almost always vertical tastings are solely in the realm of top producers. James Suckling recently posted a series of videos documenting his experience tasting three centuries of Chateau Latour. Richard Jennings recently tasted through aged Kistler pinot noirs and found that he did not agree with the top critics' early prognostications. Occasionally the wine gods smile on off the beaten path producers. Super-blogger Joe Roberts got in on the action and posted about his experience of tasting a vertical of Peconic Bay merlot from Long Island, New York. To my knowledge, there have been no published vertical tastings of Colorado wine. Until now.

I received a few samples of Canyon Wind Cellars cabernet and had a few bottles in my meager cellar, so I decided that I must open all five vintages at one time in order to compare them and put Colorado in the same light as first-growth Bordeaux and cult Cali pinot. I invited a few friends over to help me taste through the lineup that nearly spanned the history of the winery. I opened and double decanted all the wines an hour before being consumed. The wines were all in good shape, though the corks in the two oldest bottles broke. The five bottles were bagged, numbered and poured blind. No one knew which wine was which and the only thing that our guests knew was that the bottles were all the same variety. As we were tasting, I suspected that somehow the wines got put back in order and we were drinking them from oldest to youngest. In fact we were, with the two youngest bottles being transposed. The secondary and tertiary flavors and aromas brought out by bottle aging was quite apparent, though the youngest of the bunch was a bit of an aberration to even me. Overall, everyone was quite impressed with the quality of all the wines. Though one common theme amongst my casual wine drinking friends was the unanimous surprise that all the wine was the same grape and from the same producer but tasted vastly different. My notes (I was the only one to take notes) along with the group rankings are below:

1997 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

The first wine in the lineup is dark red in color with a little bit of bricking at the rim. Aromas of cherry and black currants are balanced by lovely tobacco and cedar. Smooth on the palate, smooth red and black fruits are complemented with lovely secondary flavors of tobacco and tea leaf. This wine is well balanced and complex and could easily pass as a fourth or fifth growth Bordeaux. It is ready to go and should probably be consumed in the next few years before the fruit starts to fade. My favorite wine of the flight, but the group's #2. 13.8% abv Sample $50. Very Good/Excellent (tasted 7/8/11)

2000 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

The second wine is clearly younger than the previous wine. Dark red with no bricking, this wine is much fruitier. Sweet cherries and raspberries and dark chocolate dominate the nose. It shows a spiciness that wine #1 did not have. Jammy blackberries, black cherries, bittersweet chocolate, pencil lead and some glycerol make this wine much more Californian in style than the previous one. The alcohol is noticeable, but not off-putting. Young but still enjoyable, I think this one has enough fruit to age a few more years. My and the group's #3 wine of the night.14.2% abv Purchased $24. Good/Very Good (tasted 7/8/11)

2003 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

Wine #3 was very similar to wine #2, but with one exception. Blackberries, cassis and cigar box on the nose screamed cabernet. The dark raspberries, currants, and smokey tobacco were enjoyable on the palate, but the mouth-puckering tannins and short finish kept this one from being as enjoyable as the others. This one is built to age and should be given time or a generous amount of time in a decanter. Did not impress too many of us, especially compared to the top 2 wines. This one was my and the group's #4 of the night.13.5% abv Purchased $24. Good (tasted 7/8/11)

2005 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

Jumping ahead to the last wine of the night, this one was a stark contrast to the first wine. This wine is extremely dark purple. Aromas of black fruits, mocha, graphite and cedar fill the glass. Good fruit flavors of currants, raspberries and plums are met with hints of cedar and tobacco along with a good dollop of vanilla. Smooth, yet with assertive tannins, I think that this wine could be a good ringer in a flight of more expensive Napa cabs. My #2 of the night (by a hair), but the group's wine of the night.13.3% abv Sample $26. Very Good (tasted 7/8/11)

2006 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

A bit of an aberration from the others, this wine was poured just before the 2005. Beautiful bright red/purple colors in the glass, this wine is all fruit. Cherries and strawberries and a bit of heat on the nose, this smells quite similar to a red Jolly rancher. Just as fruity on the palate, if I had no idea what this wine was I would peg it as an Australian grenache. This wine may not have the structure to age, but the bright fruits make this good to drink right now.13.9% abv Sample $26. Good (tasted 7/8/11)


  1. Nice to hear about this experience. I had CWC's 98 Merlot, which held up OK, but it looks like the Cab has aged better.

  2. Nice!!!

    NOt sure "super" is the right descriptor for lil' old me, but I did enjoy the post, great to get insight into these things that are soooo off the radar of the big wine mags, etc. Cheers!

  3. Jacob, yes the cabs are doing well, though the grenache-like '06 was odd. We should se if we can get a few wineries together to do a broader vertical of their cab franc and/or riesling. As much as house palate is an issue, wineries really need to do retrospective tastings to improve future winemaking.
    Joe, you're too humble! Most winos know that Latour and the like are good but expensive wines. The glossies need to point consumers towards the unknown producers (like Suckling said he would...). Thanks for reading and commenting. Plus, I've given you your outfit for your next 1WineDude TV episode!

  4. Thanks for this review on non mainstream wines.

  5. Wine brat- thanks for reading and commenting. I think non-mainstream wines have a lot to offer!