Five Colorado wines (finally!) worth drinking by the case

Have you ever gotten the impression that Colorado wines kinda suck? If you're really, really honest with yourself, you probably answered yes - and you're not the only person who feels that way. A glance at the wine list of many of Denver's top-rated dining destinations routinely reveals fewer Colorado-based bottlings than you can count on one hand. So what's up with the lack of local vino love? Well, you might chalk it up to the rep the Front Range has gotten for producing cloying, amateurish wines that lack finesse. While a few select Colorado winemakers have racked up some pretty dedicated followers (The Infinite Monkey Theorem, Balistreri Vineyards and Garfield Estates, among them), most others remain relatively unknown. Thankfully, a few smart, enterprising Colorado wine industry vets realized that the only way to spread the word would be to orchestrate a hip, fun, Denver-based event to showcase the best bottles from nearly fifty Colorado winemakers, all under one roof. Which brings us to subject of this week's post: the absolutely fantastic wines we tasted at last weekend's inaugural Colorado Winefest.

An inspired spin-off of the original, Palisade-based festival held every September, the Denver event was spread out over three days and featured a series of events hosted at Northfield at Stapleton. The juice-laden fest served as a fundraiser for the trade organization of grape growers and winemakers of Colorado known as CAVE (Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology), and one hundred percent of the proceeds from the fest goes toward education, seminars, research and equipment purchases to improve the grape growing and winemaking of Colorado wines.

Read on for our picks of the top Colorado bottles.

Zephyr Cellars Cabernet Franc Rosé 2010 ($14): Loving rosé as much as we do, our standards for what makes a great one are pretty high. Thankfully, this offering from the Loveland-based Zephyr Cellars did not disappoint; we loved the soft, creamy strawberries on the nose which gave way to a refreshingly tart finish. The cab franc lent an edge of green tobacco and a bit of alluring spice to balance the tender fruit, making this rosé a bit more complex than some, yet still utterly delightful.

Guy Drew Gewürztraminer 2009 ($16): For the handful of you who actually consume gewürztraminer on a regular basis, this wine will remind you of the trocken style gewürz produced in Germany and Austria, thanks to its crisp finish and stony minerality. For those of you feeling a bit daunted by a grape you're still working to pronounce properly, find courage in the knowledge that this particular offering is as fresh and invigorating as a warm summer breeze. Classic, gorgeous aromas of just-bloomed roses and spicy-sweet lychee fruit are just the teaser for what will follow: a mouthful of juicy, ripe peaches kissed with honey and highlighted by plenty of acidity. A stunning expression of this oft-underappreciated varietal.

Bookcliff Vineyards Grand Valley Reserve Syrah 2009 ($14): Colorado has long been known for producing classic Rhône varietals like syrah, which thrive in our mountain soils. Unfortunately, some local winemakers have a tendency to produce wines from this grape in an overblown, blowsy style with ridiculously high alcohol levels. Bookcliff Vineyards has bucked this trend to deliver an elegant wine full of deep blackberry fruit laced with hints of cocoa. Powerful yet lush, the wine achieves tremendous balance (despite alcohol levels of 15.3 percent), which equals love in a glass.

Balistreri Vineyards Colorado Petite Syrah 2009 ($30): Balistreri continues to win our hearts as well as our taste buds with this stellar petite syrah (which may also be referred to as petite sirah, but must never be confused with syrah). Voluptuous, earthy, and chock-full of spicy black pepper and ripe fig flavors, this wine packs serious flavor punch that's perfect for those who seek a lustier style of wine. Desperate to be paired up with a protein of equal stature, pour this lovely wine with your Fourth of July barbecue steak and burger-based menu.

Whitewater Hill Vineyards Zero Below Late Harvest Chardonnay 2009 ($30): If you look forward to the delivery of Palisade peaches every summer with mouthwatering anticipation, this late harvest (aka dessert) wine was tailor-made for you. Lip-smackingly delicious, tasting of bushels of peaches and brown sugar-slicked nectarines, it's best enjoyed with a dessert of equally fruity provenance; a blackberry and stone fruit crisp, topped with vanilla bean gelato would be heavenly. Feeling a bit more adventurous? Serve it with your next Chinese takeout meal of spicy orange-glazed chicken and get ready to swoon.

Now that you're officially fired up for Colorado wines, check out the upcoming Colorado Mountain Winefest.

For more information on the Colorado wines reviewed above, check out their websites for tasting room locations, online ordering options and retail store locations:

Zephyr Cellars: Guy Drew Vineyards: Bookcliff Vineyards: Balistreri Vineyards: Whitewater Hills Vineyards:

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Kendra Anderson