Winners Of The DLW 2012 Colorado Wine Taste-Off (And Why CO Wine Might Already Have World-Class Potential)

The conclusion of the recent 2012 Drink Local Wine Conference in Denver was a “taste-off” competition of sorts in which twenty-plus Colorado wine producers each poured two of their offerings, with the media and attendees voting on which of those offerings were the “best” on hand (technically, one producer wasn’t pouring wine, in terms of grape wine, but showcased their Mead – Redstone Meadery, who took the “people’s choice” award for their intriguing Nectar Of The Hops).

As a competition, it was fun but given the levity and structure of the proceedings, it shouldn’t be taken as a be-all, end-all statement on CO wine hierarchy (we are talking about a competition with a quarter of the state’s producers, only pouring two wines each); but gems are gems no matter how or where you happen to uncover them.

I will get to my thoughts on the gems – the winners on the wine side of that taste-off – in just a minute (or three), but first I want to tell you about the clearest winner of the Taste-Off:

Colorado wine.

While I maintain my stance (firmly, I should add) that the region is a “nascent” producer in that Colorado has not fully cracked the code of what grapes to plant where to consistently produce world-class wines, and while the quality levels between (and even among the offerings within each of the) producers is still way too broad (there’s plenty of mediocre wine to be had), I can also tell you emphatically that there seems to be no ceiling for Colorado wine’s quality potential.

Colorado is already making world-class wines – it just happens to be in tiny quantities and can’t be made consistently enough (quite a bit of that being due to extreme vintage variation brought on by the intensity of its continental, high-elevation climate). And while you’re certainly likely to find some real clunkers in CO (its bad wines are epic in their terribleness), the best ones really are gems worth wading through the muck to unearth; in some cases – particularly in the case of one of the DLW Taste-Off winners – CO wine has already arrived

You won’t be able to grab any old bottle of wine sporting a Colorado AVA and be promised of a face-meltingly amazing wine-gasm experience, and so you’ll need to do your producer homework fairly carefully. But to some extent that’s true of every wine region everywhere, it just might be “more true” in CO as its wine culture firms its footing. But hunting for the best there will provide some fantastic drinking experiences – in most cases at near-bargain prices considering the quality of those finds.

Let’s start off with the wine that, to me (and to several others in attendance, apparently) was the best in the room, by a looooong margin. It’s also, in my view, one of the most stunning bargains available in wine, and in particular in domestic U.S. wine.

DLW 2012’s Best CO White Wine: 2011 Guy Drew Vineyards Pinot Gris (Colorado)
Price: $16
Rating: A-

Yeah, you’re reading that correctly. This might be the single best Pinot Gris I’ve yet had from the U.S. Guy also told me that I look like I’m in my mid-fifties (WTF?!??) and I’m still ok with this rating. This wine had the melons and richness you’d expect from PG, but coupled with spices and a pithy, lemony raciness that sailed through to the finish like it was shot from a sniper’s rifle. That finish, by the way, lasted twice as long as those from just about any three of the other wines in the competition combined. I just hope that guy can find more of this fruit for subsequent vintages – there is a very real danger that this impressive, svelte, boldly aromatic effort will be a fleeting one-off. Fortunately, Guy’s other wines are also largely quite good and quite under-priced (just not this good and that under-priced). For what it’s worth, this wine also took home the event’s “media choice” award.


DLW 2012’s Best CO Red Wine: 2009 Ruby Trust Cellars “The Smuggler” (Grand Valley)
Price: $25
Rating: B

Not my vote for fave red at the event, but certainly not a slouch and certainly not trying to unfairly smuggle away your $25. This is a Cabernet Franc-based blend has splashes of Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot, and is mostly black-fruit brawn but with tinges of vanilla, oak, and violets. But the killer thing is the amount of white pepper spice delivered by this wine – it’s kind of like getting drop-kicked in the face by white pepper. For those who enjoy muscle and velvety fruitiness mottled with secondary aromas to keep things interesting, this would be a great introduction to how focused, extracted grape power can be used for the forces of good.


Finally, there’s one more wine that I want to include, which didn’t win anything but had my vote for Best Red:

2010 The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey Cabernet Franc (Colorado)
Price: $23
Rating: B+

A bit of a beast, but a tamed beast – dark cherry, caramel, a velvety texture to wash it all down, but the tamed parts come via a tiny bit of florals and a wonderful anise-like spiciness that carried through to a reasonably-long finish. It wasn’t lacking acidity, either, and I found myself wondering later how good this might taste given a few years to sleep off the vigor of youth.






  • Jeff Eckles

    Guy Drew consistently makes great wines so that one is not a shock to me, but Holy Cross is a bit of a shocker. I usually find their wines to be overly sweet in general. Glad to see them putting out a winner. I will be searching out all 3 of these this weekend I think.

    Really wish I could have made it up for the conference (family takes precedence), but it has been great seeing all the positive posts here and from others that attended.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Jeff – hopefully we can meet up at DLW 2013.

  • Colorado Wine Press

    Glad you found some gems, Joe! I agree with everything you said. We do make some damn tasty wine! Maybe now that someone with a national (apparently locals that are critical don't know what we're talking about…) wine reputation (I make no claims as to what your reputation is….) has called out CO wineries and told them that not all of their wines are excellent and some in fact make (and attempt to sell) flawed wines, they'll keep working on improving quality. Quite a few wineries already strive in their quality efforts, but there are plenty that are oblivious to the truth. But, like you said, this is true in any wine region. Yes, even in Napa and Bordeaux…

    I look forward to seeing you back in the Centennial State, especially when you're feeling better. I'll make sure that you get to taste more than just two wines from a handful of producers (and I'll try to screen out the epically bad ones!)

    • Colorado Wine Press

      Oh, in a bit of not-so-breaking (I found via Twitter last week), but not-quite-yet public info, the Holy Cross CF won best of show at the Governor's Cup… (shhh, don't tell anyone until the complete results are released later today or tomorrow….)

      • 1WineDude

        CWP – you spilling the beans? :)

        • Colorado Wine Press

          The beans were already spilled, I'm just kicking them around a bit ;)

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, CWP. I look forward to taking you up on that!

  • Sally Davidson

    I am surprised to see your comment that the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey 2010 Colorado Cabernet Franc did not wine anything. It has been reported to us that it swept the show, with a double gold medal and the BEST WINE in Colorado.

    • Colorado Wine Press

      Sally, Joe is talking about the Drink Local Wine Twitter Taste-off. That is completely different than the Governor's Cup competition. Congrats on the Governor's Cup Best of Show – but best wine in CO is a bit of a stretch. As you know, competitions receive only fraction of all possible wines that could be entered. That being said, your cab franc is a very good nice wine and deserving of its honor this year.

    • 1WineDude

      Sally – different competition, I think.

  • Steve Heimoff

    I hope CO wine is better than when I was there on the Front Range about 12 years ago. Then, the varietal wines left much to be desired! I liked the fruit wines and mead, though.

    • Colorado Wine Press

      Steve, 12 years is a lot of time. I'm sure you'd be surprised how much things have changed.

    • 1WineDude

      Steve – I think that it is. And the mead still kicks ass. :)

  • Jason Phelps


    Why does it matter if CO as a region is "nascent" producer? Your doubling down on the firmness of your stance on that seems like an incomplete thought. What are you trying to say? Do we have to compare its state to somewhere else to taste and discuss the wines?


    • 1WineDude

      Jason – only matters in that people know what they're in for due to those circumstances, which is a lot of variation between vintages and even among the same producer's wines in terms of quality, due to a lot of experimentation of what to plant where, etc.

      • Jason Phelps


        That may be true, but being so adamant about it struck me as odd. Setting it up as "people know what they're in for" puts ideas in people's minds. If you are trying to bring attention to lesser known areas those ideas might work against that.

        Every wine region in the world makes crap wine and has variation due to weather, changes on the business, etc. Regions that grow the lion's share of the world's wine also make the lion's share of the crappiest wine too. I try not to deride experimentation because without it the best that we enjoy in the would never have come to exist. Most of the best wine and cheese in the world originated as happy accidents.


        • Colorado Wine Press

          Well said, Jason!

        • 1WineDude

          Jason – I appreciate that. But my experience is that the extremes are more acute in regions like CO. The point is for people *not* to be discouraged by a few bad examples when they encounter them and to press on to the good stuff.

  • Andy

    When the vintage is in the wheelhouse, high elevation wines can really be remarkable (from what I hear its the wide temp swings and the increased solar radiation but who really knows?). But, the strikezone is from the belly button to the waistline due to the early and late freezes and monsoonal storms. But, if you look hard enough and play the vintages right, you can find exceptional wines from CO, NM and AZ

    • 1WineDude

      Andy – that matches my experience in CO exactly.

  • rwolfe12

    Thanks Joe for some good insights. Lucky for me I like peppery wines, as I picked up a couple bottles of the Holy Cross last weekend. I may knock off early today and go try to find the others while the Colorado Urban Wine Festival is underway.

    I moved back to Denver a couple of years ago from the San Francisco area, and I readily admit my cellar is about 85% California wines, mosylt dominated by Cabernet and Cabernet dominated blends, as well as some nice Pinot Noir. When I lived here back in the 80's and early 90's it was far easier to fine a bad Colorado wine than a good one and I am glad to see that changing over time. In CA I generally steer clear of Cab Franc as I prefer the Cab Sauv in that region. Maybe here it will be different and I'll develop an appreciation for CF. After all, when I tried CA Malbec I was underwhelmed, but on a visit to Argentina last year I was introduced to some very nice Malbec's and I am happy to have a few in the cellar now.

    I guess the conclusion there is "before you open the bottle, open your mind."

    Cheers and TGIF!
    Ron Wolfe.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Ron – great motto, and happy hunting to you!

  • Trackbacks

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