Monday, December 26, 2016

Rocky Mountain Wine: Surprisingly Good Vino from Colorado

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Back in March, I reviewed a case of wines from Colorado, the winners of the state’s 2015 Governor’s Cup Awards. While I found some fun bottles, some wines felt out of whack, unbalanced, weird. I recently tasted through this year’s top 12 Colorado wines, and found much more to get excited about.

Colorado, perhaps better known for brews than vino, has been growing in recent years. In 2009, Colorado wineries sold about 100,000 cases, but that number had jumped to almost 150,000 by 2015,
according to Colorado Wine.

The Colorado River flows through the state's Grand Valley American Viticultural Area. Credit: Colorado Wine Industry Development Board

With abundant sunshine (more than 300 days per year) and low humidity, wine grapes can thrive. But high elevation vineyards (from 4,000 feet to a staggering 7,000 feet) and Colorado’s climate can make for some tough conditions. “Low yields and large year-to-year yield fluctuations are characteristic of Colorado grape production, even in the Grand Valley AVA, due to cold temperature injury,” according to a 2016 report from the Viticulture and Enology programs at the Colorado Wine Industry.

My palate tends toward Colorado reds from Bordeaux varieties, although Syrah can do well, too. What I like about a lot of these wines is the combination of generally moderate alcohol content, structured tannins, and a tangy zip of acidity that keeps the wine fresh. And the prices for some of these wines make exploring them easier. That is, of course, if you can find any, as the wines are made in small quantities and not available in many markets.

However, if you’re looking for outdoor adventure and gorgeous scenery to pair with wine-tasting, perhaps a trip to Colorado should include some wine tourism. I know that’s my plan.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Plum Creek Riesling Dry - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $16
Medium yellow color. Aromas of juicy peaches, white flowers, papaya and honey. Tangy and pithy on the palate with crisp acidity and flavors of lime peel, white peach and apricot. Quinine, flower stems and sharp dandelion notes but a nice honeyed presence despite the dryness. Actually quite nice but an interesting flavor profile for Riesling. (85 points)

2015 Red Fox Cellars Tempranillo Long Day Rosé - Colorado
SRP: $19
Pale salmon color. Bright strawberries, watermelon rind and floral perfume on the nose. Bold texture for 13.5% alcohol, almost waxy, but fresh acidity keeps it lip-smacking. Flavors of watermelon rind, white cherries, strawberries, juicy fruit but a fresh appeal. Yellow and white flowers mix with hints of white pepper and green tea. I’m impressed! (86 points)

2013 Kingman Estates Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $19
Medium purple color. Aromas of juicy black cherries and dark plums meet smoky charcoal, eucalyptus, mint and bell pepper. Medium bodied, impressive grippy tannic structured, medium/fresh acidity. Black cherries and currants, dark and smoky, with notes of cola, coffee, loamy soil, tobacco. Quite woody (a fistful of oak shavings in the teeth), but, that aside, the wine is quite nice. I’m interested to see what three-to-five years of cellaring does to this wine. (87 points)

2013 Snowy Peaks Winery Petit Verdot - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $27
Bright purple color. An aromatic blast of spicy black pepper, bay leaf and pipe tobacco on top of tart red and black currants. On the palate, bright acidity plays with serious tannic grip and nicely balanced fruit of the tart red and black plum variety. Lots of tar, anise, graphite, smoke, spicy oak. Despite its solid structure, this stays fresh, although the wine will definitely improve in the cellar. Very nice! (88 points)

2013 Bookcliff Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve - Colorado, Grand Valley
I don't have lots of experience with Colorado wines, but Bookcliff has
been a standout in the past two years of the Colorado Governor's Cup.
SRP: $25
Deep ruby colored. Smoky herbs and pepper on the nose with chewing tobacco on top of tart black cherries. Medium-bodied with bright acidity that balances nicely with structured tannins, combining in a pure and silky mouthfeel. Black cherries and red/black currants, ripe but crunchy, the fruit is laced with tobacco, loamy soil, rosemary and cedar chips. Coffee and oak linger with fresh acidity on the finish. Impressive in its balance, and this could age nicely for at least a few years. (88 points)

2014 Bookcliff Vineyards Syrah - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $19
Light purple/dark ruby color. Aromas of tart black cherries, red currants, herbs (sage/bayleaf) with black pepper sauce. Full-bodied with sturdy tannic grip, vibrant acidity, I like the balance with the tart black cherry, red currant and dark plum skin. Air and time open up all sorts of nuances like pepper, charred meat, charcoal, tobacco and graphite. Concentrated but showing such freshness and vibrancy for a Syrah with 14.5%. I’m seriously impressed with the quality to price ration of this Colorado Syrah. (88 points)

2013 Bookcliff Vineyards Ensemble - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $19
Deep ruby color. Aromas of red and black currant, dark coffee, violets, cola, some green herb scents. Full-bodied with grippy tannins and black and red currant fruit. Notes of dark coffee, pencil shavings, anise and cinnamon spice add some complexity. A bit dense, this could use a few years of sleep. A bit heavy on the oak, but a nicely made Bordeaux blend of 52% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Malbec. (87 points)

2014 Whitewater Hill Shiraz - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $18
Light purple color. Aromas of juicy black cherries, blackberry and blueberry jam, along with pine needles, black pepper and flower pots. A silky. medium-bodied presence on the palate with fine tannins and crisp acidity. Tart black cherries and blackberries are loaded with soot, pine, charcoal and black pepper. Tangy and a bit sharp but shows some tasty elements. Grown at 4,800 foot elevation. (86 points)

Despite labels reminiscent of '90s Arizona
Diamondback jerseys, these Cabs are legit!

2014 Whitewater Hill Cabernet Sauvignon - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $19
Medium purple color. Smoky aromas of charcoal and tobacco on top of tart blueberries, cedar and pine. Medium-bodied with moderate-structured tannins, fresh acidity, nice balance. Tart blackberry and blueberry play will tobacco, bell pepper, scorched earth, a good dose of wood but the wine stays juicy and fresh and easy to drink (12.5% alcohol). A lot more personality and verve than so many sub-$20 California Cabernets. (87 points)

2014 Whitewater Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $29
A bit deeper purple color, with dark, rich aromas of blueberries and black cherries, along with tobacco, vanilla, earth and cedar. Pure and smooth on the palate with fresh acidity, sturdy tannins, plush but tart blueberries and black cherries. Lots of tobacco, roasted chestnut, wet soil and vanilla, all of it woven in together quite nicely. Rich in flavor and structure but so fresh and bright. Impressive stuff that should improve well in the cellar for at least five years. (88 points)

1991 Colorado Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - Colorado
SRP: $74
Medium ruby/light brick color. Aromas of red currant and strawberry jam, some serious volatile acidity, too, in the form of sun-dried tomato and wood varnish, along with some sweet tobacco and wet leaves. On the palate, the tannins still provide some light structure, a smooth mouthfeel, the volatile acidity adds a whole lot of sharpness. Dried red currant and red apple peel flavors topped with chewing tobacco, wet leaves and peat bog – some sweet coffee notes underneath. An interesting experience, but a bit of an odd one. (Not Rated)

2015 Fox Fire Farms Traminette - Colorado
SRP: $24
Light yellow color. Smells like canned peaches, white grape jelly, spiced tea and Christmas tree. Juicy texture on the palate with fresh acidity, the sweetness is a bit high, making the wine a bit clunky. Flavors of white grape jelly, tropical fruit juice, spiced tea and sugar cane. It is rare that I find a Traminette I want to drink, and this one is not it. (78 points)

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