Glass Half Full
Colorado wine. It wasn’t long ago that these two words could put a smirk on any wine-lover’s face. Rarely exciting and occasionally undrinkable, Colorado wines seemed to highlight the vintners’ lack of knowledge and experience. Flawed winemaking, the wrong grape in the wrong place and a poor understanding of Colorado’s climate all contributed to less-than-stellar results.
Colorado wine. It wasn't long ago that these two words could put a smirk on any wine-lover's face. Rarely exciting and occasionally undrinkable, Colorado wines seemed to highlight the vintners' lack of knowledge and experience. Flawed winemaking, the wrong grape in the wrong place and a poor understanding of Colorado's climate all contributed to less-than-stellar results.
Thankfully, much has changed. In the past six years, the number of licensed Colorado wineries has nearly doubled to the current total of 72. And this growth has brought improved knowledge and experience.
Combine a dedicated cadre of producers with good research, top-notch consultants and improved winemaking techniques, and you have a recipe for success. Colorado's wines have finally earned their proper place at the table.
So put down that bottle of California Chardonnay and try one of the following food and wine pairings, featuring wines selected for their consistency, quality and availability. Your friends and your palate will thank you.
The Wine: Sutcliffe Vineyards Syrah, 2005
John Sutcliffe, Englishman and both critic and proponent of the Colorado wine industry, founded Sutcliffe Vineyards in McElmo Canyon in the Four Corners region of Colorado. His wines are among the best in the state.
What to Pair: Think game, meats and robust, hearty foods. Mushrooms, olives, roasted tomatoes, rosemary and thyme all work as accompaniments, too.
Why It Works: Intense wine demands intense food. The earthiness of mushrooms and the intensity of game make this Syrah shine, echoing the wine's earthy spiciness and highlighting the intense, wild blackberry fruit.
The Wine: Boulder Creek Winery Riesling, 2006
Winemaker Jackie Thompson, along with her husband Mike and son Will, founded Boulder Creek Winery in 2003. Jackie's degree in plant and soil science, plus her winemaking and wine science coursework at UC-Davis in California, give her the background needed to craft award-winning wines from Colorado grapes.
What to Pair: Riesling loves lighter-to-mid-weight foods, especially those that are salty, spicy or smoked. Pork and seafood are must-serves with Riesling. Citrus, bacon, mint and ginger also help to make the grape shine.
Why It Works: Sweet loves spice, and the clean, crisp, off-dry nature of Boulder Creek's Riesling makes it the perfect wine for spicy, Asian-influenced cuisine.
The Wine: Plum Creek Cellars Chardonnay, 2005
Plum Creek holds Colorado winery license No. 10, the oldest existing license in the state. Founded in 1984, Plum Creek Cellars is considered the pioneer of the quality movement in Colorado wines and has been awarded more than 400 medals in international, national and regional competitions. Grapes for this wine were sourced from Plum Creek's Palisade and Paonia vineyards.
What to Pair: Crab, lobster, chicken and pork are perfect partners with Chardonnay. Work a little citrus, corn, mustard or tarragon into the recipe and you've got fireworks.
Why It Works: The sweetness of corn and lobster highlights the richness of the grape and also tames its sometimes assertively oaky nature. A little mustard harmonizes with the wine's crisp acidity and toasty oak.
The Wine: Bookcliff Vineyards “Ensemble,” 2004 (57 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 38 percent Merlot, 3 percent Syrah, 2 percent Cabernet Franc)
Husband and wife owners John Garlich and Ulla Merz first planted grapes in the Vinelands, an area east of Palisade, in 1996. Front-Range residents, they spend their weekends working in their vineyards and practice sustainable farming techniques.
What to Pair: Lamb and beef have long been traditional partners for Cabernet Sauvignon. Veal pairs wonderfully when the Cabernet has been blended with Merlot, which softens the profile of the wine—as it does wonderfully in the case of Bookcliff's Ensemble. Currants, mushrooms, Balsamic vinegar and black pepper all help connect the food with the wine.
Why It Works: Match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine. Cabernet is not shy and your food shouldn't be either. The sweetness of Balsamic works fantastically with the ripe, cassis-dominated fruit of Cabernet, and a little black pepper is always welcome with a grilled New-York steak or grilled veal.
Other wineries to watch:
S. Rhodes Vineyards:
S. Rhodes Vineyards is located near Paonia. Steve Rhodes, a somewhat reclusive symphony cellist, honed his winemaking skills in Sonoma County before starting his own vineyard and winery in 1996. Try his 2004 Merlot or his deftly elegant Pinot Noir, if you can find it.
Alfred Eames Cellars:
Alfred Eames Cellars is located at Puesta del Sol Vineyards just south of Paonia. Eames began his winemaking career in Spain when he was 18 and relies on a traditional, hands-off approach with his wines. Try the Estate Pinot Noir, which is grown at 6,000 feet—high-altitude happiness at its best.
Bethlehem Wine Cellars:
Winemaker and proprietor Bill Musgnung, formerly with the Adelsheim and Erath vineyards in Oregon, has just released his first wine, appropriately called “First Release 2006,” a blend of 60 percent Syrah and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. A great freshman effort from a veteran winemaker, the wine is structured, intense and still a bit primary, but shows promise.
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