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Three reasons why Colorado wines still suck (and three Colorado winemakers who are getting it right)

Last month we attended the first annual Colorado Winefest - Denver, and for the first time tasted a number of truly delicious, locally produced wines we could recommend to you without pause. So you can certainly understand how we were legitimately fired up about an already scheduled wine-tasting trip to Palisade & Grand Junction this past weekend; after all, we'd have the chance to try even more of the fantastic wine being made right in our own back yard, and return to Denver more enthusiastic than ever about the local juice. Wow, were we ever wrong. While there were a few notable exceptions, the fact of the matter is that most of the juice we sampled only served to reinforce our previously held belief that a good bit of the wine made in our state kinda blows.

Now before you get all indignant and start crying about how we're besmirching the reputations of the Western Slope winemakers who have busted their asses to bolster our economy and lay the foundation for us to even have a wine industry, please believe that nothing would make us happier than to be able to give props to these hardworking men and women for all that they've done to put Colorado wines on the map. But let's face it: Most Colorado wines aren't exactly flying off the shelves at Argonaut. And after our recent trip, we're starting see a pattern that just might explain why that's the case. Read up for our take on what's keeping Colorado from setting the wine world on fire, and to learn which of our local boys are making good.

Colorado Wine Fail #1: Overpricing

There's an old adage that goes "you get what you pay for." So what's up with all these barely drinkable Colorado wines selling north of $20, or, in the most shocking cases, more than $30? Loving wine as much as we do, we're more than happy to pay top dollar for a wine that's worth it (regardless of where it's from). But it's pretty insulting when we drop that kind of cash only to be underwhelmed by a bottle that lacks the finesse and winemaking expertise of a similarly priced offering from California or France (where they've got anywhere from forty to several hundred years' more wine-making cred than Colorado does under their belts). Colorado winemaker who's getting this right? Two Rivers Winery. The peeps behind this Grand Junction-based winery have established a pricing scheme that's completely appropriate for the wines they're producing -- which is to say, wines from a label that's less than a dozen years old, made using grapes sourced from various Western Slope growers, by a twenty-something-year-old winemaker. The average price for one of their wines, perfect for Tuesday-night drinking, is around $13. Our favorite bottling? The oh-so-drinkable Two Rivers Syrah 2009 ($12.50), featuring lush berry aromas and tasting of a summertime blueberry pie, edged with spicy tannins.

Colorado Wine Fail #2: Invisible marketing

Every one of us is a sucker for a good slogan, a catchy jingle or an eye-catching logo. Marketing is the fuel that gasses up the engine of our wallets, so when times are tight, the brands that get this right tend to snag what's left of our oh-so-precious disposable income. Sadly, most Colorado wineries don't have either the budget or the foresight to leverage marketing to its fullest extent, which explains why most of you have never even heard of the majority of Colorado winemakers (never mind actually purchased any of their juice). Colorado winemaker who's getting this right? The Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery.

We don't have any hard, statistical data to back up our assertion, but our gut tells us these guys have it figured out based largely on the notion that if there's one made-in-Colorado wine brand you've been inundated with lately (via local restaurant wine lists, Twitter feeds and Facebook), it's IMT's. In little more than two years, winemaker-slash-marketing wunderkind Ben Parsons has blazed a trail across the metro Denver wine scene, scoring prized placements on top restaurants' by-the-glass lists, orchestrating tasting and special events at retail liquor stores and wine bars, and hosting the most interesting Santa Fe First Friday Art Walk event to happen in, well, ever, in the form of a monthly party/rave on the patio he built next to his Quonset hut-based winery. The Infinite Monkey Theorem's latest cheeky marketing move? Having the sheer temerity to release a canned, sparkling version of one of its wines, the Infinite Monkey Theorem Sparkling Black Muscat ($7, 250 ml can). Haters are scoffing at the move, but I guarantee that you will see people in Denver drinking this wine (hey, if IMT sells even a few cases of these cans, it'll be a major victory for the wine industry, because pretty much no one drinks muscat). The bottom line is this: Parsons has actually figured out how to make Colorado wine seem cool.

Colorado Wine Fail #3: Inconsistent quality

The best news about the wines we tasted last weekend is that there were a handful of truly fantastic expressions of classic Rhône and Bordeaux-based varietals. The not-so-great news? That we had to suffer through still more undrinkable glasses of viognier, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc than we'd care to admit. Many Western Slope vintners are still in that unfortunate-but-necessary trial-and-error stage, where experimentation with different grape varietals, growing techniques and winemaking must occur until that magical combination of all three results in an effortlessly drinkable wine. Colorado winemaker who's getting this right? Canyon Wind Cellars. While we can't say that we adored every one of these estate-made wines, the muscular reds were among the best we've sampled in a while. The Canyon Wind Petit Verdot 2008 ($26) delivered earthy, woody aromas and luscious mouthfuls of in-your-face blackberry fruit laced with just enough spicy juniper to keep things interesting. In short, a delicious example of all that Colorado wines can (and -- let's hope -- will eventually) be.