Valentine's Day came early for Ben Parsons, winemaker/owner of the Infinite Monkey Theorem winery. Not in the form of chocolate-covered corkscrews or any other such frippery; the gift he received was something every Colorado winemaker has been pining away for: a Wine Spectator score of 88 points.
So when Parsons discovered last Friday afternoon that his 2008 100th Monkey bottling -- a ripe, spicy blend of four grapes -- had earned the first 88-point review in the history of Colorado wines, he was justifiably stoked.
"Yeah, I came in and saw it on Friday and was like, 'Oh, cool!'" Parsons says. "I've been sending wines to Wine Spectator forever, and it seems like they always pass over fledgling wine regions, but it seems like it always takes just one person to shift it...like that guy from the band Tool [lead singer turned winery owner Maynard James Keenan] who put Arizona wines on the map."
When we asked Parsons why he thought the 100th Monkey was the first wine to crack the 87-point Wine Spectator ceiling, his proud-papa vibes were in full force. "It's a pretty exceptional wine -- the best wine I've ever made," he insists. "I got an 87 for my syrah last year, so the 100th Monkey got only one more point, but I feel like there's some kind of logarithmic scale over at Wine Spectator where that single point really equals a great deal more than that. And I still think they're scoring them lower than they deserve to be," he adds.
Even getting Wine Spectator to review his wines in the first place was no small feat. "You literally just fill out a form saying what the wine is and what varietals it's got and send it in hoping that they'll review it," reveals Parsons. "They never actually tell you they're going to review it, so I just type in 'Infinite Monkey Theorem' occasionally and see if anything comes up."
The praise held even more meaning for Parsons given that the 100th Monkey bottling is made exclusively from grapes yielded during the winery's first harvest. "Other Colorado wineries have been around for a long time; for a winery that's been around ten years, maybe it doesn't mean as much as a winery that gets one straight after coming on the scene," he muses.
The 100th Monkey's quasi-Bordeaux, Rhône-ish style blend showcases 100 percent Palisades-sourced fruit; the informing grape is petit verdot (making up 40 percent of the mix), with the rest split equally among malbec, syrah and petite syrah. Why that particular mix? Parsons let us in on a little secret. "I've always liked blends; it's always fun to see how they can come together. But it's really just a trial and error process," he confesses.
Turns out his approach to making the wine was as unorthodox as its name. "It's pretty cool. We made the four varietals separately, and then we tasted every single barrel in the winery and initially tried to pick out the best samples of each and make the blend from there," he says. "That didn't work, because they were so good on their own, but they didn't work as well together. The petit verdot stood out, so I decided it would be the backbone of the wine."
A quick Google search of the term "100th monkey" pointed straightaway to a Wikipedia entry titled "Hundredth Monkey Effect," a "supposed phenomenon in which a learned behavior spreads instantaneously from one group of monkeys to all related monkeys once a critical number is reached." So was that the inspiration for the wine? "Yes, it was a name that we were definitely looking to use," admits Parsons. "I always tell that story at winery tours and dinners. The whole idea is maybe that after the 100th person tries Infinite Monkey Theorem wines, that there will be a tipping point. And it's been cool to see the growth, now that lots of restaurants and wine stores are carrying our wines."
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Still, the 88-point score doesn't seem to have gone to Parsons's head. "I don't think it will affect how we make wine; if they give me a good score, then that's great," he says, "but it's not like the phone's ringing off the hook based on the review. You could start resting on your laurels, but that's never gonna happen with me."
His award, Parsons notes, is good for the Colorado wine industry as a whole. "Hopefully now there can be more similar scores; it's time to get recognition for good [Colorado] wines."
We'll drink to that.