A little more than nine months ago, we ruffled a lot more than a few feathers by voicing our opinion on the local wine industry. Everyone from the Front Range Winery Association to hobbyist vintners juiced over where we got the balls to speak our minds on such an -- unbeknownst to us -- unbelievably controversial topic.
Dozens of comments, e-mails and telephone calls later, it became abundantly clear that while plenty of folks vehemently disagreed with our assertions, others thought we were pretty much on point. What we weren't as sure of was whether either camp realized how much the debate we'd sparked stayed on our minds -- and set us on a mission to more fully explore all that Colorado winemakers have to offer. In the ensuing months, we've found ourselves trying to sample as much local juice as possible, eager to try the stellar bottles we'd been admonished for overlooking and, just as eagerly, hoping to hell that some of the not-so-appealing attributes we'd come across might have been addressed.
As the spotlight on locally made vino continues to shine ever brighter (Colorado plays host to the fourth annual Drink Local Wine conference this week, followed by the return of the Colorado Urban Winefest in June and the inaugural Front Range Wine Festival in August), we'll bet you're wondering whether all that guzzling of local hooch -- ahem, research -- would have us ready to change our tune about the state of our state's wines. Consider our tune changed: Read on for the juice on which Colorado winemakers are especially worthy of your Drink Local Wine week -- make that any week -- love:
1. Creekside Cellars: Although we'd sampled their bottles before, we got real serious about our exploration of rock-star winemaker Michelle Cleveland's wine after swooning over her bad-ass expression of cabernet franc at last fall's Denver International Wine Festival. A subsequent visit to the winery and tasting room in Evergreen (so worth the drive, people) confirmed something we'd long suspected about Cleveland: the fact that she might just be the hardest-working winemaker in Colorado. Presiding over all production aspects for the nine wines produced by the label (six reds and three whites), she still manages to find the time to network tirelessly not only on behalf of Creekside, but for every other local wine producer, too. Savvy use of social media (where she's launched the campaign #SimplyFranc, aimed at naming cab franc the official state grape) and routine appearances at practically every wine-related event on the Front Range are destined to bring Creekside Cellars the respect -- and the revenues -- the label so richly deserves. Must-try bottle: Creekside Cellars Cabernet Franc 2007 ($30), which features dusty cherry, licorice and earthy aromas followed by more cherry, spice and oak tannins in the mouth.
2. Canyon Wind Cellars: Chief among our observations last year was our lament about the lack of savvy marketing techniques being employed by some of the more entrenched Colorado wine producers. See, even though many local wineries have cultivated a set of loyal followers simply due to winery foot traffic, we worried about their ability to reach urban markets -- or consumers who were skeptical about Colorado wines -- without mixing up their strategy a bit. Since then, we've been blown away by the winery's increased focus on branding of late. They've launched a gorgeous, user-friendly website, unveiled a sexy, updated label design and fully embraced the Twitterverse. Meanwhile, winemaker Jay Christianson found the time to launch his passion project (and a second Canyon Wind label) in the form of Anemoi wines, named for the mythical Greek gods of wind and the incarnation of full-throttled, new-world winemaking Christianson is crazy for. Must-try bottle: Canyon Winds 47-Ten Red ($13), a lip-smacking blend of cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, merlot, syrah, cabernet franc and petit verdot; if you're feeling flush, spring for the Anemoi Boreas 2009 ($40), a ballsy red Bordeaux blend.
3. Boulder Creek Winery: We've been fans of these guys (er, make that guys and girl -- Jackie Thompson is the principal winemaker in the family) for a minute now, so the fact that they're making truly fantastic juice isn't news to us. What we hadn't initially realized was how passionate this winery is about...food. A quick perusal of their (also recently upgraded) website reveals a slew of barrel tasting dinners, restaurant events and festival appearances had our mouths watering -- because the only thing we love more than great wine is the marriage of said wine with great food. Wisely pairing up with some of the region's best-loved venues (Luca d'Italia, Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar and Flagstaff House, to name a few), shows that Boulder Creek knows what somms have been preaching forever: the fact that one of the best ways to make people giddy for wine is to serve it with a dish that complements it perfectly. Must try bottle: Boulder Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($24): Bold, spicy dark berry fruit, toasty oak and muscle-bound tannins are a perfect match for an equally brawny menu pairing -- try it with a blue-cheese-topped burger and experience food-and-wine nirvana.
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