Few, if any, Colorado wineries operate like California wineries. Generally speaking, that is a good thing. Colorado is not California and its wines are going to be as equally different. Yet, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are still Colorado's most planted varieties by acreage. Many of Colorado's vintners still think they can compete with California on these major varieties. Sure, the quality might be there, but consumers will more than likely go for the known commodity rather than take a flyer on the local juice.
Comparing Colorado to California is where many consumers lose their way.
Many people (consumers and retailers alike) think that Colorado wines
are overpriced when compared to wine from almost anywhere else. This is
utterly ignorant. Now, when I make this comparison to California, I'm talking about comparing apples to apples. I'm comparing Colorado's family-owned boutique wineries to California's family-owned boutique wineries. How many wineries in California that produce less than 1,000 cases sell their wine for less than $25? Very few. The average price of a bottle of Colorado wine is around $16-$17 per bottle (unreleased Colorado State University study estimates $15.85 and my non-scientific study showed $17.65). Very few if any artisanal producers anywhere in the world sell wine that inexpensively. But I don't want to compare wines by price.
The way many small artisanal California wineries operate is by producing limited labels or very specific styles. You may know that I've written about winery specialization before. These same wineries often (not always) have a relatively consistent schedule of when release wines and do so via release parties and direct to consumer mailing lists. Very few Colorado wineries take advantage of mailing lists or wine clubs the way that their West Coast brethren do, though some are starting to see the advantages of that method. One winery that comes to mind with such a sophisticated organizational structure is Ruby Trust Cellars.
Ruby Trust is one of the newer Colorado wineries, yet has seen more than their fare share of recognition. Ruby Trust doesn't have a tasting room and doesn't do the wine festival circuit like many local wineries. In fact, their first and only public appearance was the Drink Local Wine Conference in April of 2012. The winery is only open to the public one day a year, the annual release day party. However, its not like the wines are impossible to come by. Ruby Trust can be found in select Colorado restaurants and retailers. They also just signed on with a distributor: Synergy Fine Wines. That last step is a rare thing for a winery that produces only a few hundred cases a year.
Ruby Trust produces just five wines (they only released 2 wines from the 2010 vintage). They focus on red blends with cabernet franc, petit verdot and syrah. They use cabernet sauvignon, but only as a blending grape (they did release the cab sauv-based 2009 Bandits Pass). They use fanciful names for each of the wines so that they may change the blend as the vintage requires (they also own no vineyards are buy from select growers in the Grand Valley AVA). All too often wines are constrained by their varietal label and could be better with some blending. There is no doubt that each Ruby Trust wine has its own identity; Smuggler is the cabernet franc-dominant wine, Fortune Seeker is petit verdot and Gunslinger is unmistakingly syrah, yet none could qualify as a varietal wine. And just a bit of foreshadowing, petite sirah might make its debut next year.
Owner Ray Bruening invited me to taste the 2011 releases prior to bottling back in March and the wines should be released for sale in the coming weeks. The wines might be the best of the three releases from Ruby Trust. After a one year hiatus, Fortune Seeker returns to the lineup. the 2011 Fortune Seeker is 68% petit verdot, 16% cabernet sauvignon and 16% syrah with 14.2% abv. Not surprisingly, there is a strong bouquet of flowers, red and blue fruit along with vanilla and toast from the oak. This wine is dense, yet light on the palate. Flavors of dried meat, dark fruit, tobacco, herbs, flowers, some garrigue and a few spicy notes. The tannins are smooth and the finish is long.
The 2011 Gunslinger is 64% syrah, 29% cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot and 14.0% abv. The aromas of black olives, smoked meat, bacon fat and black fruit clearly identify this as syrah. There are hearty campfire flavors along with generous blackberry, sage and lavender flavors. This is a dense, rich and oaky syrah that will please palates that love bold flavors. I can't wait to put this wine in a lineup of some top California or Washington syrahs, blind of course!
Perhaps my favorite of the lineup is, not surprisingly, the cabernet franc. The 2011 Smuggler is 48% cabernet franc, 37% petit verdot, 15% cabernet sauvignon and 15.3% abv. The high alcohol is not noticeable in the least. The Smuggler is dark and black on the color, nose and palate. Leather, dried flowers, dark chocolate and black fruit dominate the nose and palate. It is the biggest of the three with flavor to spare and will probably need the longest time in the bottle. The tannins are dusty and not overwhelming, but create a good backbone for the wine to flesh out around over time. The finish is quite long.
It should be noted that I these were tank samples just prior to bottling. As has been noted with all the media attention to the en primeur system in Bordeaux, the finished product in bottle might be different. I expect these wines to improve with time in the bottle, but only time can tell. I'll definitely report back when I have a chance to tasted the finished bottled wines.