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.


Find the Colorado Wines You’ll Love and Learn About Them!

Though few Colorado residents are aware of it, Experiencing Colorado Red Print ReadyColorado wines have won awards for “Best in the World” and even Robert M. Parker, Jr. said in a Tweet last October that his taste of two Colorado wines “opened his eyes to Colorado wine.”  We’ve come a long way in this industry, yet relatively few of us are aware of the pleasures that are available in our own backyards.

However, one Denver-area wine writer and wine enthusiast has set out to reveal the vinifera treasures that are tucked away all over the state and just waiting to be discovered.  In his new book, C. S. Vin (a pseudonym), an Amazon bestselling author in another genre, provides nearly 400 pages to “entertain, educate, and entice readers to enjoy experiencing the exceptional elixirs” (as one reader puts it) produced by the winemakers of Colorado.

The book provides a guide to quality and styles of dry red wines available in Colorado that are made entirely from Colorado grown Vitis vinifera grapes.  (Fruits wines and and wines made from hybrid grape varieties are not included.  The white, rosé and sweet wines will be covered in Volume 2, scheduled for release in 2014.)  Here’s a look at some of the information readers will receive from Experiencing Colorado Wine — Vol. 1:

  • What grape varieties are currently being grown and vinified in Colorado?
  • What distinguishes Colorado wine from those of other regions?
  • Who are the winemakers? Where are the wineries?  Where can we taste samples of the wines?
  • I’m new to drinking wine.  Teach me how to appreciate it and find the best value.
  • What challenges do grape growers face in Colorado and how are they meeting these challenges?
  • Strikingly, we do not enjoy wines with our tastebuds and olfactory senses, as we commonly think, but with our emotions!
  • How do chefs arrive at their decisions about what foods to pair with a wine.  Surprisingly, they do not pair wine with food, but food with wine.  Learn the difference and why.
  • Chefs from eleven top Colorado restaurants (think Broadmoor, Flagstaff House, The Fort, Kelly Liken, LaTour, etc.) have paired foods with selected Colorado wines and provided the recipes that are included in the book.

A year of research and writing, including the “difficult tasks” of tasting all the dry red wines currently available in Colorado (and some that only exists as library wines in the winemakers’ cellars) and sampling  extraordinary cuisine created by some outstanding Colorado Executive Chefs, has produced the first-of-its-kind book on Colorado wines.  If you are a wine lover or want to learn about wine, this book must be in your library.  If you love this state and want to know more about it, you’ll find some interesting tidbits here about that too.

You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in “Experiencing Colorado Wine,” and you’ll find the description of the pairing of several of them with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs.

GET YOUR COPY during our “Colorado Mountain Winefest” Sale at SQUARE MARKET FOR $20!

C. S. Vin, who was trained in French, German and Italian wines, has relied on his  background as a state wine retail manager and 30 years as a wine enthusiast to produce a valuable asset to those interested in wine in Colorado.  Written in a warm, entertaining and conversational style, Experiencing Colorado Wine — Vol. 1 (SRP $24.95, 5.5 x 8.5, 396 pages, ISBN 978-0-9835718-6-5) is available from “Experiencing Wine” on Square Market, at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and wherever fine books are sold.  For more information, visit http://www.experiencingwine.com or call 720-271-1221.


Grapes Don’t Come with a Guarantee

Colorado Grape Growers have suffered severe losses.  Of the last 5 vintages, only one has

Vineyards of Palisade, CO in the Grande Valley AVA

Vineyards of Palisade, CO in the Grande Valley AVA

been a good crop due to winter kill and the need to cut the vines off at ground level,  retraining the new canes that sprout from the unaffected root system.  For the 2014 vintage, even Canyon Wind received some damage, which is unusual. But Colorado is not alone.

Burgundy and Bordeaux have had their devastations too.  A recent report on winesearcher.com details how for the last two years, Burgundy growers have suffered very poor crops and this year all hopes for a great vintage were high, only to be devastated by “machine gun” hail, ruining whole areas and creating losses estimated to be up to 90%.  Even their trusted hail cannons, which fire silver iodide at the clouds to dissolve the potential hail stones, did not work.  Some growers are concerned whether they will be able to continue.

All agriculture is a risky business.  Devastating weather and diseases can wreak havoc on any crop, but usually not to the extent that grapes suffer.  Why?  Except for a few ideal locations that could not support the demand for good wine, the best grapes grow on the edge of climatic possibilities and there the struggling vine produces its precious fruit, full of flavor and potential for the winemaker.  A certain cyclical pattern seems to bring times of hardship and times of plenty and the hopeful grape grower awaits the return of some great harvests.  The wine industry has always been aware of the importance of vintages for these very reasons, one in five being an apparent average for Bordeaux.

Don’t give up on Colorado wine.  Some growers are very pessimistic, but we must wait and see what the future holds. When Colorado has a good year, the wine is good — yes, very good in the hands of Colorado’s best winemakers.  I’ll keep you informed of the best as the wines are released and flag you about some affordable but excellent wines from elsewhere around the globe.  As usual, each blog will be another lesson in understanding and appreciating great wine.

Next:  expect an education in Super Tuscans and the famed Sassicaia.


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.

GET YOUR COPY during our “SUMMER OF WINE” Sale at SQUARE MARKET FOR $20!Experiencing Colorado Red Print Ready

Book entertains, educates, and entices readers to experience Colorado wine

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.

Colorado — It’s Challenges Make for Great Wines!

DSC01154Two special places on the face of this earth where the vitis vinifera vine has found a home rich in flavor-giving minerals and bathed in an intense high altitude sun lie in Western Colorado: the Grand Valley AVA at the mouth of the DeBeque Canyon and the slopes and mesas of the West Elks Valley AVA. Trip Advisor, in an October 2012 article, names Colorado number nine among the top ten wine destinations in the United States.  (I am on a mission with the hope to upgrade that rating.)  The wineries where this surprisingly rich fruit is made into wine are on both the Western Slope and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, from Colorado’s northern to its southern border, and they are not to be missed by any ardent lover of wine, unless they suffer from the degrading disease called bias.  If you have wondered which wine to buy, I may be able to help you find Colorado’s red gold. Great wine regions are often found in challenging terroirs.  Colorado is not alone with its challenges of severe winter cold and spring frosts.  Bordeaux is challenged by the lack of sunshine to ripen the grapes sufficiently in some years — discouragingly so, and for the smaller chateaux, this can be a serious economic setback.  (In 1991, seventy percent of the crop was lost.)  Germany’s Rhine and Mosel River valleys lie on a northern extreme for vinifera vines and struggle to reach a Brix level (sugar content of the grape) that will produce a mere nine percent alcohol at times.  They even have to resort to chaptalization (adding sugar) — named after Jean-Antonine Chaptal who promoted the practice for practical reasons.  Burgundy’s rains can seriously dilute a harvest in some years, IMG_0337disappointing both winemaker and consumer, while the southern hemisphere also has places where it demonstrates that grapes struggle on the edge of too much heat or too much cold, and yet they produce some of the world’s great wines.  Special places are often found on the edge of acceptable growing conditions, and Colorado is one such place. Colorado wines have largely gone unheralded. That’s because some of the wines made before the recent surge in quality  were (well, let’s admit it) “awful plonk.”  One bad wine will be remembered more than a dozen good ones.  However, the wines are not that way any longer since great progress has been made.  Many of the wineries you will read about are creating excellent wines that are winning international medals, and one Colorado wine (from Carlson Vineyards) has even won the title of “Best Semi-sweet Riesling” in the World!   Another (from The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey) has won best Merlot in the world in its price range.  Bookcliff Vineyards’ 2010 Cab Franc was named the best Cab Franc in the $15-$20 range at a recent Los Angeles International Wine Competition, competing against wines from all around the World.  We could mention others. Colorado wine has come of age, as I hope to convince you, and if you have an open mind and a mouth that hinges, it should not be difficult.  As you read, you may also learn more about wine because we will discuss how conditions affect the grapes that are grown here in this special place.  You will be able to pick your favorite wineries from the descriptions and you may find many.  So follow future posts to mine the rich “red gold” and join the “rush!”

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.