A Vineyard to Watch — Is Malbec a Natural for Colorado?

Vineyards of Palisade, CO in the Grande Valley AVA

Vineyards of Palisade, CO in the Grande Valley AVA

Malbec shows promise in Colorado, but its real possibilities are still to be revealed with the maturing of Colterris’ idilic vineyard that falls south to southwest off the highest irrigated site on the East Orchid Mesa.

The grapes are now in their fourth year free from winter kill (thankfully) and the long wait is almost over.  It can be a winemaker’s and vineyard manager’s culmination of a dream or the slow burn of a long-term anxiety as they wait all those years from planting to the first full harvest, particularly if the site is new, as this one is.  In my opinion, expectations run very high for this Malbec vineyard, which to all indications fits the profile of a prime Argentinian site: impoverished, dry, stoney soil with irrigation control and cool nights to hold acidity and giving a promise of delicate fruit flavors.  Also, the warm days and intense high altitude sunlight to ripen the tannins and deepen the phenolics provide dense colors and all those tantalizing palate sensations.

September 2015

In mid September of 2015, I visited this vineyard.  The grapes, luscious and rich with burgeoning flavors, were at 21.5 brix.  The skins, when chewed, were beginning to give up their flavors.  It’s been a long wait, as usual, from planting to the first full harvest, but at Colterris’ idyllic vineyard, as everywhere, nature moves at its own pace.  As we examined the vineyard for what only taste can tell, expectations increased.  The fruit will be at its youthful best this year and the last weeks of this ripening season have turned out just right.  Colterris has three Malbec clones planted in two vineyards, offering distinct characteristics.  Spice from one clone, depth and fullness from another, and the addition of a firm structure from the third.  Still hidden are the full mix of flavors that will give the winemaker just what he wants: lots of potential to work with.

Three Weeks Later

At last harvest has arrived and the grapes are picked at 25-26 prix, depending on the precise location, and the hopes for a great wine are further confirmed.  I’m tasting a Malbec wine as I write, not from this vineyard but from the 2013 harvest in Argentina, and a delightful aroma of violets and spices greets me, served up on a palate of dark fruits.  All this rests in a firm yet juicy acid structure.  The tannins are soft and ripe, exactly what we have come to expect from an Argentinian Malbec.  Most of the vines in Colterris’ new vineyard are cuttings from this same place:  Mendoza, the jewel of Argentinian Malbec and the recognized Mecca for Malbec world-wide, producing wines that are soft, velvety and powerful.

Colterris’ vines are healthy and so obviously in love with their new location.  Their searching roots, now deep in the arid, stoney soil, have hopefully found the mineral riches grapes love and the Grand Valley AVA offers.  Colorado Malbecs that I have tasted so far are somewhere between the dark savoriness (some would say harshness) of a Cahors and the lushness and velvety texture of the Argentinian fruit.  I’m waiting to see if this vineyard is going to show more of the delicate fruit and lush character found in the Argentinian Malbec I’m tasting as I write, and I expect it will.  As the vines age, more will become evident, but some great Malbecs for Colorado could be forthcoming.

Why do wine grapes generate such promise and stir such hope?  How is it that wine yet to be ushered into existence can create such warm feelings of anticipation?  Is it the way our imaginations overtake our senses, stimulating our memories for a drink we have learned to love?  Yes, and the more we respond to its promises, the more we salivate.  Experiencing wine is experiencing it first in anticipation, then in the moment of physical pleasure, and finally, many times again in memory.  It’s the experience of awaiting the unknown because wine does not promote in advance its secrets and pleasures.  Teasing us, it makes us guess and predict, which is the fun of expectation that begins long before the grape transforms itself into wine.

We came from the soil as the ancient text reads, “formed out of the dust of the ground.”  So, as we walk the rows, we feel that bond with all that is natural around us.  There is life in the soil, the vines, the wine to be, and in us.  Is the magic in the bond we feel or in the hope that seemingly enters us with each breath we take?  Life itself is a mystery and all these emotions of promise await the moment when at last we drink the transformed juice and mystery vanishes into exciting reality.

From vineyard to bottle

This is a Malbec vineyard to be envied for its potential.  Will the potential translate into an exceptional wine?  Again, I think so.  We’ll know soon enough though, and I hope you will explore the results with me.  Colorado needs investments like this that will determine its potential and define its stature among winemaking regions.


Colterris “Coral” 2014 — Made with a Purpose

Colterris “Coral” from the Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

Colterris "Coral" 2014

Colterris “Coral” 2014

A wine has to be made with a purpose or it’s just another wine.  What purpose do we find in this wine from Colterris in the Grand Valley AVA?  First, it sports a very attractive coral color with an appealing, light effervescence (first indication of the purpose the winemaker had in mind).  Floral notes dominate on the nose and many of the fruits border on white wine fruits:  pear, guava, apple, as well as light strawberry notes; some tasters get peach and a light touch of honey that coats the mouth and does not want to let go in the finish.

The effervescence on the palate, the richness of its mouthfeel (which provides a weight that is not expected), the floral notes on the nose, and the smoothness and balance of the alcohol, acids, and flavors make it a very exciting wine to sip and enjoy in a meditative moment or with a pleasant conversation with friends.  I would recommend this rosé as a must for your cellar.  A touch of sweetness (residual sugar at 6.1 g/l) is not too much and would make it a pleasant match with a light curry dish, something spicy.  It may pair well with tilapia, tuna salad, ahi tuna, shrimp with cocktail sauce, parmesan cheese, and I loved it with a simple garden salad.

Rating: 89

Emotional rating:  Stimulates the happy neurotransmitters — a pleasure — with a little complexity that all good rosés should offer.

Available:  Distributed by Classic Wines.  You can contact them to find a retailer near you.

You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in my books, “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 1 – The Dry Red Wines ” and “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 2 – The Whites and Rosés.”  Volume 1 also provides descriptions of the pairing of several Colorado wines with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs.


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Colterris Cabernet Franc 2013 – Stunning!

IMG_1434Colterris has excellent vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.  A smaller vineyard of Petit Verdot rounds out their choices.  I have tasted, from 2009 to the present, notable Colterris Cabernet Sauvignons.  Malbec is still young and beginning to produce, but their Cabernet Franc is a wine that may outclass their previous successes.

The wine is a deep ruby, almost opaque, bright and clear.  The varietal character is demonstrated with a herbaceous note that is expected in the Cabernet family but not overdone or crudely dominant as it is in some Francs.  Complex notes waft out of a pleasing base of harmonious fruit and oak.  Aromas of licorice, coffee grounds, black current, pencil shavings, and vanilla with a pleasant floral quality rise from a viscous, juicy wine.  Mineral characteristics will call to mind the warm gravel of the Colterris vineyards.  The acids keep the wine fresh and vibrant, cleaning the fattiness of rich foods, which it would naturally enhance.

Cabernet Franc is a wine that is finding new appeal around the world.  It is usually forgotten that one of the Bordeaux heavy weights, Chateau Cheval Blanc, a St. Emillion first growth, is about two-thirds Cabernet Franc.  Colorado has a future with this grape that seems to find another home in its Grand Valley AVA.  The expression it finds in Colterris’s 2013 vintage displays lower tannins, color, and body than a full Cabernet Sauvignon but for Franc, it is rich and in great balance with a polished, smooth texture and a medium to long finish.  All Cabernet Sauvignon lovers could do well to try this highly rated wine.

Rating:  91+

Emotional rating?  Let me weigh in:  It is an emotional delight, a wine to be remembered at an appealing 96 points!


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You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in my books, “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 1 – The Dry Red Wines ” and “Experiencing Colorado Wine, Volume 2 – The Whites and Rosés.”  Volume 1 also provides descriptions of the pairing of several Colorado wines with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs.


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Colterris’ “Coral” — A White Cabernet Sauvignon from Colorado

Grapes transformed by a kiss of sunlight.

Grapes transformed by a kiss of sunlight.

Yes, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes! It’s unusual to see a white wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Colorado’s rich fruit allows the grapes to be picked early and showcase the early development of the flavors in the juice of this grape. Almost immediate removal from the skins gives us Cab without the heavy load of blackberry and black currant we get from Cab’s thick skins. It’s a chance to get to know Cabernet Sauvignon from a new exciting point of view. This pretty, light coral Cab highlights the flavors of pure Cabernet Sauvignon juice and offers this rare opportunity. Wine lovers, take note. Wine is emotion in a glass, so let the emotion of this wine from first sight arrest your senses. But don’t stop there. Sniff, drink. Pure pleasure lies ahead for both the white and red wine drinker. Let’s explore. The herbaceous nature of Cabernet Sauvignon is nowhere to be found. And it’s solid punch and stringent tannins are also left behind in the skins and pips that have been removed from the miracle taking place in the act of fermentation. This wine welcomes you with dominant floral notes — rose, orange blossom and honeysuckle — but apricot, ripe melon and apple dance on the edges too. King Cab’s juice proves to be delicate and refined. Tropical notes of pineapple and a mellowed guava are livened by a spritely acid. In Coral, the brightness is attractively tamed by just a touch of sweetness. And then another revelation greets the attentive drinker: the earthy notes of a white cheddar that smooth the power of a gripping red Cabernet Sauvignon mingle harmoniously with this white version of the famous grape as well. The finish is medium-long and is balanced while the character is not lost and the flavors perform their final encore as they exit. Food will be welcomed by this wine due to its bright finish. It’s a wine for that salad (lightly dressed) that includes stone fruit. Also, fish dishes with tropical fruit garnish or a lightly sweetened chutney. Pork and poached chicken would be enhanced by its gifts and Rocky Mountain Trout would find a cleanser of the palate that also complements the richness of the fish. With an alcohol of 12.5%, its alcohol is cool and promises a summer night’s delight. This White Cabernet features the clones of Opus One, a famed Napa Valley Cab. Colorado and Colterris leave their imprint too. Here’s a format for an exciting wine adventure: A bottle each of Opus One, Colterris Cabernet Sauvignon (which will not drain your wallet) and Colterris’ Coral should open a fascinating discussion of the great grape (all the same clones) and its expression in two very different regions along with comparative value and plain delight. Well done! The white wine drinker’s amazing introduction to the famous red grape.

You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in my book, “Experiencing Colorado Wine,” and you’ll find the description of the pairing of several of them with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs.  Order your autographed copyExperiencing Colorado Wine at Square Market.

Cabernet Sauvignon in Bear Country

Colterris logo FBA four-hundred-year-old Tuscan saying observes “where peaches grow, vines thrive.”  Peaches grow well at High Country Orchards and Vineyards.  Ask the bears!  Both bears and humans concur: these are great peaches.  Some of them even end up in the White House and others are shipped all over the country.  Even though the bears cause some damage at night to the orchards, tearing off branches and gulping the luscious fruit, they don’t seem to like the extra work involved in filling their stomachs with tiny vinifera berries found in the adjacent vineyards, so the grapes escape the predator’s hunger, leaving the pleasure to us.  I wonder where else in the wine-world bears visit the vineyards?  All I can tell you is that the wild boars have been caught eating the grapes in the Mosel region of Germany, so what makes Colorado bears so finicky?

With wine you are supposed to dream, not of bears without respectable taste buds, but of great vineyards.  These vineyards are the result of a dream and the enjoyment of their wines will no doubt stimulate your dreams too.  It’s the ethereal aspects of human expectation that fuel the enjoyment of any food or wine lover’s mind and cause them to prematurely salivate.  But I also like to know something about the food or wine before I taste it.  The knowledge I’ve shared in my book, Experiencing Colorado Wine, may increase the possibilities of your sensory pleasure as you taste.  How some people can gulp and eat without thought of where the food comes from and how it was grown seems to me like throwing an impressive measure of pleasure away.  It was intriguing to follow vineyard owners, Scott and Theresa High’s, logic and reasonably calculated hopes for their vineyards as we rode together.

Colterris Wines 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Colterris-9Now, you have waited too long for a verbal tasteScott pours a good sample and the depth of color strikes me.  It’s dark, very dark.  Yes, and it’s 95% Cab from Theresa’s Vineyard and 5% Cab Franc from Katie’s Vineyard, if you were wondering.  Vanilla, blackcurrant, dark cherry fruit (which for me, fortunately, falls short of “plumminess”), and a very distant note of minerality are some of the flavors in the process of courtship.  I can easily predict a greater complexity as they marry.  No, I can’t get the aroma of peaches or the bears!

Picking at the point of ripeness, they have avoided the all too common herbaceousness of unripe Cabernet — a throwback to its parent, Sauvignon Blanc.  This is a typical New World Cabernet from a warm ripening climate, fruit-forward, lush and powerful, a succulent mouthful of sensory pleasure.  Loads of ripe fruit and complex flavors cower in the glass, a little reserved to show themselves as you would expect from a grape that is not highly aromatic.  However, this is perhaps a Cab that borders on expressiveness, meeting you rather willingly, not as in a Grand Cru Bordeaux where the flavors lie under a blanket of tannin and acid waiting for age to fully release them.  This Cabernet holds the tannins to a respectable display and sports the flavors.

All this is presented by the makers of this wine with what I find essential in any great wine: balance and appealing mouthfeel, but please, not without a character and an expression of the place and a sense that an artist (either human or creative nature itself) has somehow been involved.  The intense, bold character of this climate and the strength that nature demands of all that would grow in this demanding land is imaged in this wine.

You won’t find another Cabernet quite like this one, and that makes me thankful.  True individuality is the extra enjoyment for the senses in a wonderful wine.  The flavors linger to complete a rewarding, long finish and, like me, you will put down the glass and ponder the miracles that happen in a vineyard that is nurtured with care.

Without becoming a monster, this is a full and ripe expression of Cabernet Sauvignon that will dress that roast lamb or buffalo steak with the flavors of vibrant berries and dark fruit and you will taste the magic of this promising vineyard.

Tasting Panel notes:  awesome package and presentation … great nose … great with grilled meats.

The above article is an excerpt from my book, Experiencing Colorado Wine.  You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in it and you’ll find the description of the pairing of several with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs.  Order your autographed copyExperiencing Colorado Wine at Square Market.