Like it or not, for years people have habitually lumped wines from Colorado into its own special (read: inferior) category of domestic winemaking. Bottles from other, more mainstream wine-producing regions in the U.S., like California, Oregon, and Washington State, seem to score all the props, while the Centennial state gets virtually no love.
We'll readily admit that we've more or less agreed with some of the not-so-favorable reviews of our local juice; having said that, we've also opined that much of the problem seems to stem from a lack of effective marketing and distribution of the tasty wine that we know for a fact is being made right in our very back yards. Well, color us delighted to report that in recent months we've discovered quite a few bottles we'd never need to discount by proclaiming any of them "fantastic...for a Colorado wine." These five wines are fantastic, period -- and just what you'll want to savor during this week's onslaught of snow.
Jack Rabbit Hill Pinot Noir NV ($8.50/glass): When we showed up to a tasting at the brand-spankin' new Russell's Smoke House last Saturday afternoon, the last thing we expected was to wash down all that slow-cooked meat with a choice of four keg wines. But scarf and slurp we did, starting with this surprisingly nuanced, highly drinkable pinot noir blend sourced for the 'cue joint by North Fork Valley producer Jack Rabbit Hill. Like the Infinite Monkey Theorem's "Monkey Shine" keg wine, Jack Rabbit Hill owner/winemaker Lance Hanson plucked this already-in-the-can Willamette Valley pinot blend from the Oregon bulk-wine market in order to pour it at a smokin' price courtesy of Russell's keg program. Crazy-good pinot for less than $10 a glass? Please and thank you.
Alfred Eames Cellars Pinot Noir 2008 ($20): Of all the beleaguered varietals Colorado producers have attempted to parlay into a popular wine, perhaps none have yielded results as inconsistent as pinot noir. No wonder, given the notoriously fickle, prone-to-rot nature of this particular grape. But somehow, super-under-the-radar Paonia winemaker Alfred Eames has turned out a delicious pinot that you can pour with pride. If your palate tends toward Old World stylings, the generous yet balanced acidity and slightly gamey aromas we savored with each sip will be right up your alley. Serve it alongside a dinner of roast chicken and mashed potatoes, and you won't mind being housebound in the least.
Bookcliff Vineyards Grand Valley 'Friday's Folly' Red NV ($6/glass, $13 retail): The second red keg-wine option offered at Russell's Smoke House was no less alluring than the first, but that's where the similarities end. Bookcliff Vineyards, an early player in Colorado's keg-wine market, is serving up a funky blend of locally sourced merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet franc, frontenac (a French hybrid grown in eastern Colorado), and a touch of orange muscat, all coaxed and coalesced into one sassy bottle of wine. The only thing we loved more about this wine than its deliciousness was discovering that we could buy it in bottles (make that cases) to enjoy from the comfort of our own couch. Say hello to your new, perfect-for-a-Wednesday-night wine.
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Mesa Park Vineyards Grand Valley Cabernet Franc Reserve ($20): Cabernet franc is probably the Colorado varietal we love better than any other. There's just something about our soil, climate and winemaking that continually seem to coax consistently lovely expressions out of this classic Bordeaux blending grape. Mesa Park's take was a bit throatier than others we've tried, serving up bold, spicy berry fruit flavors layered with hints of tobacco and astringent pine. The perfect culinary soulmate for such a full-throttle wine? Lamb, as in: leg of, chops or burgers topped with feta.
Bookcliff Vineyards Grand Valley Reserve Syrah 2009 ($25): We'd be lying if we tried to pretend this sultry syrah was anything other than the hands-down favorite pick of our little Colorado wine-drinking binge. In fact, as soon as we inhaled one whiff of its spicy blackberry and ripe plum aromas, we knew we'd be smitten. If Bookcliff's easy drinking "Friday's Folly" red blend is a wine to start a flirtation with, their reserve syrah is gonna be the deal-closer. A bottle of this (and the companion of your choice) might just be all you need to make it through this week's snow with a smile.