Colorado

Top Red Wines Of 2014

9 January 2015
A fun and fruity 2011 Posta Kadarka from Szekszárd, Hungary

A fun and fruity 2011 Posta Kadarka from Szekszárd, Hungary

This list, especially when taken together with my companion list of whites, illustrates how absolutely delicious wines are being made in all sorts of unexpected places all over the globe. Nowadays, there is simply no reason to confine your drinking to wines from two or three classic regions.

Taking a risk on something lesser-known can reap significant rewards, both in terms of saving money and broadening the palate.

The planet is encircled with tremendous wine-making talent. Fantastic wine makers can be found in just about every wine region on the map, and just as important, insightful wine growers are exploiting vineyard sites to their full potential, finding new terroir for classic grapes as well as resurrecting nearly forgotten ancient varieties rich in character and history.

We wine lovers have never had it better, whether we’re in Chile, California, Colorado or Croatia.  Cheers to the vintners in far-flung places taking risks on unorthodox wines, hoping that we’ll notice their beauty, and cheers to the importers, restaurants and wine shops courageous enough to work with them. My life is much the richer for it.

The most memorable reds I tasted in 2014, in alphabetical order:

 

Ciprian Pinot Noir

Ciprian Pinot Noir in Vienna’s Silvio Nickol restaurant

2009 CIPRIAN BARRIQUE PINOT NOIR, ZIZERS AOC

The adventurous sommelier at Silvio Nickol in Vienna poured me a glass of this extraordinary Swiss Pinot Noir from Zizers, a little-known AOC in Graubünden, set on the Rhein River just south of Liechtenstein. I don’t usually quote directly from the notes I take while tasting, but I’ll make an exception in this case and quote from my notebook at length:

“Gorgeously balanced — exquisite surprise! Great finesse. Earth, deep red fruit, elegant acids, aromatic cherry finish. Light, joyous, refined — how do I get some?? Chills down spine!”

The Swiss export almost none of their wines to the United States, unfortunately.

 

2009 DUXOUP CHARBONO

Only about 89 acres of Charbono vines remain in California, and Duxoup makes one of the best Charbono varietals. The winery sources its fruit from the Frediani Vineyard, comprising 10 acres of old Charbono vines along the Silverado Trail: “The most sought-after Charbono on the planet,” according to The Wine News.

The wine was a pleasure in every respect, with aromas of rich, dark berries and plum. Forceful and big, it tasted of ripe, dark, dusky fruit, and I was impressed by its focused acids and well-balanced tannins. I don’t often spend $20 on a bottle of wine, but for something so rare and well-crafted, $20 seems like a steal. (The current vintage is 2011.)

 

2010 GRAN ENEMIGO GUALTALLARY SINGLE VINEYARD

El Enemigo

A lineup of The Enemy

El Enemigo is a side project of the winemaker of Catena Zapata, one of Argentina’s most highly regarded wineries. Its name refers to “the enemy in ourselves, the one stopping us from trying something different — something extraordinary,” explained Enemigo representative Constanza Hartung. The wines she presented, with one exception, did not rely heavily on Malbec or even Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead, these blends showcased Cabernet Franc.

In this blend of 85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Malbec, there was a freshness to the aroma, but it had notable undertones of earth and dark fruit. When I tasted it, I just thought, “Wow.” It was lush and rich, but simultaneously focused and clean. Quite a balancing act.

 

Katunar "Kurykta Anton" Syrah, with boeuf Bourguignon

Katunar “Kurykta Anton” Syrah, with boeuf Bourguignon

2010 KATUNAR “KURYKTA ANTON”

The Katunar vineyards have an enviable location on the south end of the island of Krk, just southeast of the Istrian peninsula. Father and son Anton and Toni Katunar exploit their fine terroir fully. The 2010 Katunar “Kurykta Anton” was thoroughly delicious.

Referred to as Kurykta Nigra on the Katunar website, this deep magenta-hued Syrah had an instantly appealing aroma of earth, iron and red fruit. It felt very well-balanced, with a rich texture and luscious red-fruit flavors leavened by deep undertones of earth and a bright zing of acids. I also loved the overtones of violets and the tightly focused metallic finish. The rustic acids helped the wine pair beautifully with some traditional boeuf Bourguignon, standing up to the hearty flavors in the dish and clearing the palate for the next bite.

 

2010 LAPOSTOLLE PIRQUE VINEYARD SYRAH

One of six unusual single-vineyard Syrahs that the estimable Chilean winery Lapostolle recently assembled in a special half-case, the Pirque had notes of chocolate and violets in its dark fruit aroma. It felt silky on the tongue and revealed itself slowly, deliberately. There was a freshness underneath its ripe, ripe fruit, like eucalyptus or green peppercorn. Sexy and very classy. (The single-vineyard Carmenères are also excellent.)

The half-case of single-vineyard Syrahs (or Carmenères) would make an excellent gift, should you have a oenophile in your life that you wish to impress. It’s great fun to compare and contrast the wines side-by-side, to see the effects of the different terroirs.

 

Marko Babsek of the Balkan Wine Project, introducing me to Stobi Vranec

Marko Babsek of the Balkan Wine Project, introducing me to Stobi Vranec

2011 STOBI VRANEC

Tiny, landlocked Macedonia lies on the northern border of Greece, making it the southernmost of the former Yugoslav republics. Stobi is one of its largest wineries, and it used to export bulk wine to the Soviet Union before retooling to concentrate on quality instead of just quantity.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Vranec (also spelled “Vranac”), an ancient red variety native to the Balkans with a parent/offspring relationship to Zinfandel. It was a bottle of velvety Jović Vranac from Serbia which inspired this blog. This Macedonian expression had a ripe and lush dark-fruit aroma with an intriguing saline overtone. Very well-balanced, the wine had plummy fruit, a wonderful dusky quality and a spicy finish. Delightful.

 

2009 SUTCLIFFE FIELD BLEND

Dinner at Dunton Hot Springs paired with Sutcliffe wines

Dinner at Dunton Hot Springs paired with Sutcliffe wines

When I went to Colorado, I had no expectation of finding fine wine. Had I cracked open my Oxford Companion to Wine — always a good idea before heading off on a trip to pretty much anywhere — I would have discovered that “Colorado’s increasing vineyard area (nearly 1,000 acres) and growing number of wineries (over 50) are beginning to provide wines of quality to its major tourist market as well as Denver…” Sutcliffe is among those leading the charge.

Most blends occur in the winery, with a winemaker choosing so much of this and so much of that. A field blend occurs in the vineyard, blending whatever grape varieties happen to be growing together. This wine “gives the true taste of McElmo Canyon,” according to the Sutcliffe website. I loved its rich, dark-fruit aroma, and it had rich, creamy fruit on the palate. It had elegantly soft tannins and a dry finish, and it became even bigger and richer when paired with some “truffle tremor” cheese.

 

What fortune, to have tasted so many beautiful, unusual wines! I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store.

Share

Fine Wines From The Rockies

4 January 2014

Wine in ColoradoThere were many things I looked forward to when I recently journeyed to Colorado, but I must admit local wine was not one of them. I didn’t even bother to check my reference books before I left to see if anything might be happening in Colorado in terms of wine, because my goals were more about hiking, fresh air and steaks from unusual animals like elk and buffalo.

Had I cracked open my Oxford Companion to Wine — always a good idea before heading off on a trip to pretty much anywhere — I would have discovered that “Colorado’s increasing vineyard area (nearly 1,000 acres) and growing number of wineries (over 50) are beginning to provide wines of quality to its major tourist market as well as Denver…”

I suppose after my experiences in Arizona and New Mexico, finding “wines of quality” in Colorado should have been no surprise. However, The Oxford Companion goes on to say that Colorado’s “dry conditions allow healthy vinifera production but varieties have yet to produce characterful wines despite a usefully hot growing season.” Which isn’t especially encouraging, despite the Companion‘s seemingly contradictory listing of grape varieties which “have all produced wines of interest” in Colorado.

I checked my other resources to see if they agreed with this mixed assessment of the state of Colorado wine. The World Atlas of Wine mentions Colorado only on a map indicating the acreage under cultivation and the number of wineries. Nor does the ever-comprehensive Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia have much to add. It simply notes that “The growing season in most of Colorado is too short to permit grape-growing,” and that there is nevertheless an AVA called Grand Valley, located just west of the city of Grand Junction in the western part of the state.

Sutcliffe TrawsfynyddI felt too anxious to reach the mountains to linger in the Grand Valley AVA touring wineries, but I did finally encounter some Colorado wine quite by chance at a resort west of Telluride called Dunton Hot Springs. The property owns a winery called Sutcliffe Vineyards, which has either 22 or 36 acres of organically farmed vineyards, depending on which page of its website you believe, located near Cortez, Colorado, in the Four Corners region (far to the south of the Grand Valley AVA). You can see a map of the location here, along with a hand-drawn map of the vineyards themselves.

According to the “rants” page of the Sutcliffe website, owner John Sutcliffe didn’t originally intend to start a winery. The gentleman who designed his house recommended planting vineyards around it, which he did. The vineyards bore fruit, Sutcliffe decided to vinify it, and Sutcliffe Vineyards grew from there.

What luck that Sutcliffe’s designer recommended planting those grapes. The Sutcliffe wines I tried were quite good, and in some cases quite memorable: Before dinner, a fellow guest planning on proposing to his girlfriend that evening opened some very fine reserve bottles, and he poured tastes for the rest of us at the bar. Here’s a list of what I tried:

2011 Sutcliffe Pinot Gris: The fruit for this wine actually comes from Carneros, an AVA just south of Sonoma in California, making the Pinot Gris the least interesting to me of the bunch. It had a fresh, green aroma undergirded by dried herbs, and a flavor profile of lush fruit contrasted with focused, almost prickly acids. Well-made, but I’m not sure why you would spend $25 on it, especially considering the origin of the fruit.

2012 Sutcliffe Sauvignon Blanc: This Sauvignon Blanc had real character, with a nose of moist, funky grass and flavors that moved from musky to sweet to chalky to tart. It paired well with a bright salad of local greens. $25.

2011 Sutcliffe Riesling: If you avoid Rieslings because you think they’re too sweet, this is the Riesling for you. It had a limey aroma, citrusy fruit on the palate and a dry finish. There was little if any sweetness at all, but I found it refreshing, and the acids would surely work well with food. $25.

2011 Sutcliffe Cinsault: Cinsault comes originally from France’s Languedoc region in the far southwest. It may seem odd to find a grape from southern France in Colorado, but as The Oxford Companion notes, Cinsault “has good drought resistance,” making it a likely candidate for Colorado’s generally dry climate. The last few Cinsaults I’ve tried haven’t thrilled me, and this was alas no exception. I smelled a lot of black pepper on the nose, and the red-fruit flavor became overwhelmed by black pepper notes. It felt unbalanced, this wine, though it mellowed a bit when paired with some scallops in curry sauce. $27.

2009 Sutcliffe Petit Verdot: This variety comes from France’s famed Bordeaux region, also in the southwest section of the country. It’s most often seen in blends, but Petit Verdot varietals make increasingly common appearances, which is no bad thing. This version had a pronounced vanilla note in the aroma, along with some creamy red fruit. It tasted wonderfully rich and tannic, and my goodness, for just three more dollars a bottle, I would much rather drink this than the Cinsault. $30.

Dinner at Dunton2009 Sutcliffe Field Blend: Most blends occur in the winery, with a winemaker choosing so much of this and so much of that. A field blend occurs in the vineyard, blending whatever grape varieties happen to be growing together. This wine “gives the true taste of McElmo Canyon,” according to the Sutcliffe website. I loved its rich, dark-fruit aroma, and there again was that rich, creamy fruit on the palate. It had elegantly soft tannins and a dry finish, and it became even bigger and richer when paired with some “truffle tremor” cheese. $35.

2009 Sutcliffe Trawsfynydd: Named for a village in Wales — perhaps the ancestral home of the Sutcliffes? — this blend incorporates every Bordeaux variety except Malbec, according to the Sutcliffe website. The evening was wearing on, which means my notes became more melodramatic. This wine smelled “dark and mysterious,” I wrote, and there again was that signature dark, creamy fruit. Well-balanced, very controlled, and certainly worth its $38 price tag.

NV Sutcliffe Doce Pecado Port: “Doce Pecado” translates as “Twelve Sins,” according to Google Translate, and it did indeed feel a little decadent to drink this port-style fortified wine. It tasted rich but not heavy, with underlying tones of wood and something savory. A fine match for some cherry pie with cinnamon and ginger. $25 for a half-bottle.

It’s difficult to generalize about all of Colorado based just on Sutcliffe’s bottlings, but clearly these wines show that Colorado has the potential to make some very tasty wines indeed. The state has a long way to go before it becomes known for its wine, but with Sutcliffe, it’s off to an excellent start.

Share

Postcard From Colorado

2 October 2013
Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey

Drinking whiskey at a bar where Butch Cassidy once did

I’m currently traveling through the wilds of Colorado, and along the way. I’ve encountered a handful of surprisingly well-crafted wines, most notably from Sutcliffe Vineyards.

But when I stopped by a former mining town-turned-resort where the notorious criminal Butch Cassidy once drank, I decided it was time to order some whiskey. It just didn’t seem quite right to have a glass of Riesling standing atop Cassidy’s signature carved into the bar (see right).

I wanted something local, and Erik the bartender recommended Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. Stranahan’s distillery is located in Denver, and the whiskey is distilled exclusively from barley grown in the nearby Rocky Mountains. (The water also comes, of course, “from the snow-packed peaks of the Colorado Rockies.”)

Sampled neat, the whiskey had an appealing nose of corn and vanilla, but a generally dry character. It started smooth and oaky, followed by a blast of rowdy spice and a fascinating herbaceous and slightly bitter finish.

At 94 proof, this is a strong, serious whiskey that any manly mountain man would enjoy. I suspect even Butch Cassidy himself would have approved.

Share