| Booze |

Eleven stellar pinot noirs (and eight rock-star winemakers) mark the Pinot Posse's return to Denver

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Our wait was finally over. Last night, exactly 365 days after our first, utterly unforgettable evening with eight über-talented winemakers known as the Pinot Posse, we saddled up and ventured into the wilds of the Denver Tech Center for another wine-drenched homage to pinot noir. And believe it when we say that every minute of that wait was worth it, for Colorado wine importer/certified pinot junkie John Salamanski and his band of vino brethren once again threw down one helluva party. We managed to quaff a total of eleven singularly special glasses of pinot, paired masterfully with a hearty, game-heavy menu from Ya Ya's executive chef Aaron Whitcomb -- and lived to tell the tale.

Thirsty yet? Peep the wine- and food-fueled porn from the seventh annual Pinot Posse event:

Ya Ya's vast bar area made for the perfect meet-and-greet space, where we happily sipped three starter wines and mingled with the convivial Posse members. A mix of restaurant staff and pros from Highland wine shop Mondo Vino poured a trio of palate-whetting pinots, the first of which was the Owen Roe "Crawford Beck" Pinot Gris 2010 ($20). Fresh pear aromas followed by a mouthful of tingling acidity reminded us that a new-world pinot gris doesn't always have the round, juicy style we've come to expect. "I make my pinot gris bone-dry, so it's the perfect companion for food," explained winemaker David O'Reilly.

Next to fill our glass was Jim Prosser's sleek, lean, J.K. Carriere "Vin Glass" White Pinot Noir 2010 ($20). Having swooned over this wine at last year's event, we found the most recent vintage equally thrilling (and ot re-confirmed our belief that it's never too cold outside for a delicious glass of rosé).

Our final intro wine took an entirely different approach to pink pinot: The Point Concepcion Pinot Grigio Rosé 2010 ($18) delivered so much lush, ripe berry fruit flavor, had we been blind-tasting we'd never have pegged it as a blush wine. Taking our seats, we delightedly discovered how beautifully each of these three decidedly lighter pinots paired with our first solid food of the night: a single, just-as-good-as-it-sounds black truffle beignet. Just. Wow. And with that, the onslaught of full-throttled pinot noir began in earnest. First up: the J.K. Carriere Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008 ($42). The wine's aromas of dusty earth, tobacco leaves and soft cherry fruit set the stage nicely for a palate featuring barely-ripe cherry and cola nut. Poured alongside whisper-thin buffalo carpaccio with smoked chanterelles, Oregon black truffles and nasturtium leaf, this was destined to become one of the standout match-ups of the night. Nearly the stylistic opposite of the first pinot, Andrew Vingiello's A.P. Vin 'Clos Pepe Vineyards' Pinot Noir 2010 ($50) arrived next, and showcased just how many miles there are between Oregon's Willamette Valley and California's Santa Rita Hills appellations. A Santa Barbara pinot fanatic's dream, this put all kinds of sweet-tart yet spicy action in the glass (think a handful of Craisins followed by a few Twizzlers). A salty kiss from the prosciutto-wrapped quail drummette we nibbled between sips was all we needed to fall even more in love with this pairing. When evaluating several wines of the same variety in a single sitting, it can be tough to truly distinguish the nuanced differences of each without tasting them side by side. Imagine, then, our delight at the chance to taste two pinots with the third course, which featured Whitcomb's perfectly seared ostrich loin, accompanied by smoked bone marrow gnocchi, salsify and Bing cherry. Both wines offered as companions hailed from Sonoma -- the Keefer Ranch Russian River Pinot Noir 2009 ($42) held its own alongside a single-vineyard offering (made by none other than the winner of Wine Spectator's 2011 Wine of the Year), the Kosta Browne 'Gap's Crown' Sonoma Pinot Noir 2009 ($75). These wines tied with our top picks of the night, and showcased the yin and yang of Pinot Posse winemaking. The Keefer Ranch opened with the most gorgeous nose that reminded us of a just-picked bouquet of violets, followed by dark cherry and hints of black licorice.The best word to describe the palate? Stunning -- equal parts voluptuous, elegant and ladylike. Sampling the Kosta Browne afterward was like meeting the Keefer Ranch pinot's trash-talking older brother: It smelled of smoky earth, flint, dark chocolate and even more dark cherry fruit. Both wines scored huge points for delivering that sometimes-elusive new world pinot quality -- an ideal balance of acid and tannin, fruit and earth. The second of the three double-header pairings arrived next -- and blew our minds with two wildly unique and utterly dazzling aroma profiles. The Loring Wine Company 'Rosella's Vineyard' Pinot Noir 2010 ($46) blasted us with notes of roasted and smoked poblano, followed by the scent of freshly baked, spicy cherry pie. By contrast, the August West 'Graham Vineyard' Pinot Noir 2010 ($45) smelled of our favorite thing on this planet, bacon, directly after which we couldn't help but notice the distinct aroma of Red Hots. But everything made a lot more sense after our first bite of the fourth plated course -- seared rabbit loin, served with bacon pierogi (aha!), hazelnuts and cinnamon. The smoky, spicy wines stood right up to every flavor on the plate -- while the super-boozy alcohol percentages officially kicked our pinot buzz into high gear. Just as we started to fear for our palates (and our livers), the final savory course and dueling pinots arrived at the table. Keeping with the event's theme of meat, game and more meaty game, we were presented with a beautiful slice of antelope loin, resting atop a puree of white beans and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. And in keeping with the night's progression of light- to full-bodied wines, we closed with the biggest, baddest pinots poured thus far. Willamette Valley's pinot prince O'Reilly served up his Owen Roe 'The Kilmore Vineyard' Pinot Noir 2010 ($42), while Santa Barbara's Peter Cargasacchi plied us with the Cargasacchi Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2008 ($40). We savored the opportunity to compare what many view as Owen Roe's Burgundian-style pinot right next to Cargasacchi's 100 percent Dijon clone offering -- which would triumph? In the end, it was a split decision, but there was no doubt that both were big winners in the aromatics department, with the Owen Roe showcasing spicy ginger snaps, then bright cherry fruit, while the Cargasacchi served up such elements as dried herbs, game and overripe raspberry.

Another year, another powerhouse Pinot Posse event under our belts.

Want to experience the Pinot Posse firsthand? Space is still available for this week's remaining events:

Wednesday, January 18: Six89 689 Main Street, Carbondale 970-963-6890

Thursday, January 19: Café Diva 1855 Ski Time Square Drive, Steamboat Springs 970-871-0508

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