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:
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)
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)
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)
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.