This is the first of two parts looking at Colorado wine. Today is an overview, and Monday is a look some of the wines.
Guy Drew, who owns the self-named winery outside of Cortez in southwestern Colorado, insists the high desert in that part of the state will eventually produce world-class wines. And he isn ?t alone in that optimism, either. Talk to growers and winemakers throughout Colorado, from Grand Junction in the west to the Front Range in the east, and you ?ll hear the same thing. Colorado is a wine phenomenon waiting to happen.
Says Horst Caspari, the state viticulturist: ?One day, we ?ll be so popular, you ?ll see Hollywood celebrities buying land here and opening wineries. ?
And it’s mostly good news, if my experience yesterday at a 20-winery tasting in Dallas is any indication. Oregon is best known for its world-class pinot noir and chardonnay, and there was plenty of that on hand. But the state’s producers are working with a variety of other other cool climate grapes, including and especially German varietals.
That said, the 2006 harvest had its problems. I tasted a surprising number of flabby and uninteresting wines, including too many that were overly alcoholic. That almost never happens in Oregon. I was told that this development has more to do with the difficulties in 2006 (not enough sun, too cool) than with any style shift. I hope so. Oregon is famous for its accessible, fruit-driven wines, which are a welcome relief to so much that comes out of California.
Or yet another reason why the Wine Curmudgeon likes Washington state wine.
This is a well-made, unpretentious red blend (cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with syrah, malbec and cabernet franc for good measure) that is everything so many Napa and Sonoma wines aren’t. It’s easy to drink, yet also food friendly.
It’s a touch pricey at $13, but considering how many decent red blends cost half as much more, that’s not a huge problem. Plus, one has to appreciate the humor in both the wine’s name and and the winery — the Magnificent Wine Co.
Serve this at room temperature with hard cheeses (or even cheese puffs). I made chicken in red wine with it, and then served the wine with dinner.
This is the first of three parts looking at the state of Texas wine. Today, an overview of current trends. On Thursday, a Texas wine of the week. On Friday, some of the most interesting wines that are currently available.
The good news is that the quality of Texas wine is better than it has ever been. The not so good news? Some of the same problems that have cropped up over the past decade are still there — price/quality ratios that are out of whack, dirty and unclean wines, and poor fruit quality.
Drive north on I-25, past downtown, and it’s on the right, a fairly non-descript beige building stuck among the usual sorts of things scattered along an interstate on the outskirts of town — in this case, Albuquerque, N.M. But don ?t be deceived by looks. The building houses the headquarters of Gruet Winery, which is one of the best sparkling wine producers in the United States.
That Gruet is one of the best, and that the company does it with grapes grown in New Mexico, speaks volumes about how far regional wine making has come in the U.S. Gruet sells more than 80,000 cases in 48 states, and it graces the wine lists of high-class bistros around the country. And, it ?s an example that other regional winemakers can study to see how to match grapes with climate and turn out a critically acclaimed product at a more than fair price.
My introductory wine students at the Cordon Bleu in Dallas did their in-class tasting on Friday. This is not only an important part of the class, but a big deal for the students. Many of them had never drunk wine before, let alone tasted it in a serious, professional manner.
And, apparently, they learned something.
At some point during the class, maybe around the third red wine, I started to get the sense that the past two weeks were sinking in. Teachers with more experience can probably describe this sensation better — the light bulb going on over the head moment, when everything I had lectured, cajoled, threatened, and discussed with them in class was finally making an impression.
They realized that the tannins in the merlot were bigger than the tannins in the pinot noir, and that the tannins in the cabernet were bigger than those in the merlot. They tasted — and could explain — the fruit difference between the shiraz, merlot and the two pinots. They even seemed to understand the difference between the two cabernets, a youngish one from Sonoma and an older one from Napa.
Most importantly, when we talked about food pairings for each wine, most didn’t have the blank look that had been on their faces since the first day of class. White zinfandel, which had been their stock answer for any pairing, never came up. Someone suggested pot roast for the Oregon pinot; someone else said absolutely not. The wine wasn’t big enough. I was almost giddy.
I even got a compliment. I had warned them that this wasn’t going to be an afternoon at the beach, where everyone would get a pleasant glow. I told them this was a serious, professional tasting, doing 10 wines in a little less than two hours. It was swirling, smelling, discussing, and then tasting, spitting, and more discussing. What did the wine smell like? What did it taste like? How was it different from the others? What do you think it costs? Is it a value? What would you pair it with? Of course, they didn’t believe me. No one ever does when I tell them tasting wine is hard work.
Anyway, about three-quarters of the way through, one of the students (whose test grades reflect how much attention he pays in class) said: “Mr. Siegel, you’re right. This is work. I couldn’t do what you do. I wouldn’t want to do it.”
It’s the small victories in teaching, right?
The wines we tasted:
1. Pikes Riesling 2006. A dry Australian — OK, but nothing spectacular.
2. Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Good example of the California style, with some grapefruit mixed with tropical fruit.
3. Joullian Chardonnay 2006. Not as oaky as some from California, but oaky enough so that the students got the point.
4. Lange Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2006. A good wine, but not as good as I have had from Oregon.
5. X Winery Pinot Noir Los Carneros Truchard Vineyard 2006. To my mind, one of the two best wines we had, with wonderful fruit and soft yet sturdy tannins.
6. Dusted Valley Stomp Merlot 2004. Very ordinary New World style merlot. The least favorite of most of the class.
7. Teira Zinfandel 2005. A stunner — low alcohol, with spice and blueberry. I was ready to go buy a case and make a pot of red sauce for spaghetti and meatballs for the class.
8. Wishing Tree Shiraz 2005. The students who had tasted lesser shirazes, like Yellow Tail and Rosemount, were excited they could tell the difference between those and this one.
9. Liparita Enlace Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. A nice Napa cabernet, with the requisite zingy tannins and dark fruit.
10. Mantra Revelations Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This Sonoma cabernet was, as the class noted, younger and easier to drink, though not as complex, than the Enlace.
Take a peek at the upper left hand corner, and you’ll find the new Hall of Fame.
What makes a Hall of Fame wine? There ?s not necessarily a precise explanation. It ?s better than it should be, and it ?s consistent from year to year, just like more expensive wines with better reputations. That ?s one reason wines have been dropped from the Hall of Fame, and several were this year.
Several other notes:
? These wines are generally available in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so I don’t have to get involved in the Two Buck Chuck debate. There are no Trader Joe’s in this part of the country.
? I am not enamored of Yellow Tail, which doesn’t rise above the level of grocery store wine. They may represent good value, but they aren’t Hall of Fame wines.
? I ?m still searching for that terrific $10 Argentine malbec. Most of the malbec I ?ve tasted in this country is $15 or so; good wines, certainly, but not eligible for the Hall of Fame.
? And there is no pinot noir in the U.S. for less than $10 that is Hall worthy. The French labels like Red Bicyclette and Lulu B are easy to drink, but not especially pinot like. And most of the $10 U.S. I have tasted has some varietal character, but almost nothing else.