DrinkLocalWine.com, an organization I co-founded four years ago with Dallas-based wine writer Jeff Siegel, held its fourth annual conference last weekend in Denver, bringing together bloggers from as far away as New York and California to explore Colorado wine. Not to sound too self-serving, but I think it’s fair to say this was the best conference yet.
I’m biased, of course. I think the previous three — in Texas, Virginia and Missouri — were all good, too. Mostly, I think the growth of the conference is evidence that the local wine movement is catching on across the country. Even CNN has noticed the trend.
As in previous years, the highlight was the Twitter Taste-Off, three hours in which we tried to juggle wine glasses, spit cups and smart phones so we could taste and Tweet, giving the 23 participating wineries some instant feedback.
Overall, the wines were quite good, and if life, love or work ever takes you to Colorado, I encourage you to try the local vino. Among whites, Riesling does very well, and a pinot gris from Guy Drew Vineyards was voted best white wine of the tasting. Several wineries make viognier as well, though I found the quality inconsistent. Perhaps I’m to partial to Virginia’s viognier.
Colorado’s reds favor Bordeaux grape varieties and syrah, often mixed in intriguing and unusual blends. We tasted a few petite sirah wines as well, which gives you a clue to Colorado’s style with reds — very Californian. Many of them were inky and highly extracted, with plush mouthfeel and lots of oak. My favorites in this style were Ruby Trust Cellars’s The Smuggler, a cabernet franc-based blend that was voted best red wine, and the 100th Monkey, another Bordeaux-style blend from a quirky urban winery in Denver called The Infinite Monkey Theorem.
Not all Colorado reds hew to the California model, however. Bookcliff Vineyards, Creekside Cellars and Canyon Wind Cellars produce elegant, more classically styled reds that impress with their finesse.
While most of the wines were good, some proved that Colorado is not immune to the problem of high alcohol, as growers leave their grapes hanging longer on the vine in order to coax every bit of ripeness into them. Some winemakers seemed to think that wine is made primarily from oak barrels, and that grapes are just seasoning. A few wines had the nail-polish smell of volatile acidity. The Colorado wine industry is still young, after all, having started in earnest in the early 1990s.
Colorado wine country is centered on the west slope of the Rockies, around Grand Junction. But several wineries are located on the Front Range, especially around Fort Collins, and a few have tasting rooms in Denver and Boulder. In this sense, Colorado’s wine industry mimics Washington’s, with its wineries near Seattle, far from the vineyards on the east side of the Cascade range.
So even if you’re parachuting into Denver for a short visit, you can seek out some fine Colorado wine. Two restaurants that feature local vino are Row 14 in Denver and Salt Bistro in Boulder. Tell Jensen at Row 14 or Evan at Salt that Dave sent you.