There are a lot about misconceptions of Colorado wine. First, and most egregious, is the quality factor. Sure, just as with any wine region, Colorado wineries produce some not-so-tasty juice. But consider Bordeaux. There are somewhere on the order of 10,000 producers just in the broad Bordeaux wine region. 10,000. That is more than all of the wineries in the United States! When most wine aficionados discuss Bordeaux, we are referring to less than 100 producers. The current evolution of the 1855 Bordeaux Classification includes 61 châteaus. A handful of right bank producers in and around the towns of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol are now as highly regarded as the classified châteaus of the Médoc. My point is, only about 1% of the wineries are Bordeaux are considered to produce high-quality wine. The rest is probably mediocre to less than mediocre (or at least by the standards of the wine tastemakers). The same concept can be applied to the wineries of California. There are more wineries in California producing plonk than meticulously crafting fine wine, and I bet you can name a few wineries in both camps. The good news is, if you know which wineries to seek out, you can find wine you like.
Colorado is no different. With over 100 wineries in the state, I'd be willing to bet (not $10,000) that the average wine consumer in the state could not name more than 5 wineries. If they were to taste wines from all 100, consumers might find wines that they consider to be at the same quality level as wines from California or even (gasp!) France. One of the best ways to get wine drinkers to try new wines is through restaurant wine lists. When I worked in the retail tier of the industry, I was surprised how often people came into the store and said they tried a wine at a restaurant and wanted to by a bottle. I was relieved when people actually new which wine it was and not just that it had a red label. Unfortunately, one of the problems with the idea of getting Colorado wine onto reputable restaurant wine lists is convincing the wine buyers!
Luckily for Colorado, there are more than a few chefs and sommeliers who are open to the idea of adding more local juice to their lists. With the help of Colorado Wino (Jacob Harkins) and Swirl Girl Denver (Kendra Anderson), we've put together the #DenverWineCru where we blind tasted Colorado Wine against the world. Our goal is to see how Colorado wines compare to wines from established wine regions.
We were joined at the first by a group of eager winos and Jensen Cummings, Executive Chef at Row 14. We tasted a lineup of five different wine styles with wines from Colorado and elsewhere around the world in each flight. When things were all said and done, everyone left impressed with Colorado's quality. Colorado didn't "win" every flight, but even when it didn't there were many more home runs than strike outs (and there were a few...).
Here are my notes of the wines that I took as we tasted without know what was in each bottle:
Flight 1: Bordeaux White (supposed to be sauvignon blanc, but the actual Bordeaux was heavy in semillon)
1. Canyon Wind Cellars, 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Colorado
Aromas of crisp cut grass, kaffir lime and wet stones. On the palate there is a lot of tart, bitter lime, not a lot of fruit and unbalanced alcohol.
2. Château Granville-Lacoste, 2010, Graves (Bordeaux)
Lots of tropical fruit and citrus on the nose. Smooth flavors of melon with a hint of salt and good acidity. I prefer this to wine #1 and so did the group.
Flight 2: Riesling
1. Bookcliff Vineyards, 2010 Riesling, Colorado
Nice scents of apple and citrus. There is a slight bitter/spiciness on the palate and a good balance of sweetness and acidity. The finish is a bit short, but it is a nice wine.
2. Talon Winery, 2009 Riesling, Colorado
The nose is overwhelmingly sweet and alcoholic. There are some honey and apple flavors, but the weird bubble gum flavor is offputting. The finish is short. This is my least favorite of the riesling flight.
3. Boulder Creek Winery, 2009 Gen Y Riesling, Colorado
Beautiful floral aromas combined with pineapple make this nose something special. It is complex with loads of fruit and typical petrol and slatey flavors. My favorite of the flight.
4. Snoqualmie, 2008 Winemaker's Select Riesling, Columbia Valley
This wine gives off powerful aromas of crisp fruit. The dominant flavor is tart apple, but the tastes like a fruit salad with hint of ginger spiciness. Excellent finish. This is a tasty wine.
5. Mohua, 2008 Riesling, Central Otago (New Zealand)
Did someone slip a New Zealand sauvignon blanc in? Loads of minerals, bone dry dominated by bitter, cut grass. Not my cup of tea for riesling. (Though this was the groups overall favorite of the flight...)
6. Carl Schmitt-Wagner, 2007 Kabinett Riesling, Mosel (Germany)
Big fruity nose. The sugar and acidity are exceptionally in harmony. Good mineral component with lots of green apple. Definitely one of my top three.
Flight 3: Cabernet Franc
1. Alexander Valley Vineyards, 2008 Cabernet Franc, Alexander Valley
This is definitely cab franc! Loads of green pepper and leather with raspberry and, unfortunately, hints of banana. The tannins are ripe. Lots of oak, smoke (smoke taint from 2008 in CA?) and a short finish.
2. The Infinite Monkey Theorem, 2010 Cabernet Franc, Colorado
This is a young cabernet franc that should have been bottle aged by the winery a bit longer. I immediately guess The Infinite Moneky Theorem, and if it is, it definitely has mellowed since my last tasting it with David White of Terroirist.com. Lots of butter, plum and vanilla from the oak. There is slight bit of green pepper that makes sure you know it is franc. A nice wine, but should get better with some more age.
3. Boulder Creek Winery, 2009 Cabernet Franc, Colorado
Wow. This is a nice wine. Good amounts of black pepper, leather, graphite and lots of ripe, dark fruits. This is complex, with a long finish. Please let this be from CO! Obviously my favorite of the flight! The group preferred this one in a landslide.
Flight 4: Cabernet Sauvignon
1. Treasure Hunter, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak (Napa)
Please give me a steak! This is a big mother of a wine dominated by oak, mushroom, black pepper and dark fruit. The tannins are mouth puckering. Sadly, it has a relatively short finish.
2. Robert Hall, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles
This wine has a very interesting and complex nose. Dark fruits and a bit of leather funk. Mushroom, earth and molasses complement the black currant flavors. There is a slightly bitter aftertaste, but it is not that off putting. I was not overly impress by the cab flight, this was my top choice along with the group.
3. Bonacquisti Wine Company, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Colorado
Is this a blackberry liqueur? Lots of alcohol and blue and black fruit on the nose. On the palate, this is an unfortunate tannic mess of volatile acidity and acetate. Tastes like port gone awry.
Flight 5: Petit Verdot
1. Chateau St. Michelle, 2008 Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley
Petit verdot is usually a big black monster and this is no different. Lots of black and blue fruits along with a nice tea and herb component make this a nice wine. I slightly prefer #2 to this because they are so different it is hard to compare.
2. Creekside Cellars, 2008 Petit Verdot, Colorado
Wow, this is a totally different beast than the other PV. It shows intense aromas of violets and candy. It is very light in color and texture for being a petit verdot. It is very complex and floral with an odd (yet pleasant) hint of maple. A very nice wine, but difficult to compare the two opposing styles side by side. The group also picked this as our favorite.