We recently saw something on a Denver restaurant wine list that made us do a double take: A total of eleven -- you read that right, eleven -- Colorado wines available by the glass. Crazy, right? It gets even crazier: Four of those local wines were from a single producer, and it's one we're betting you've never even heard of: Sutcliffe Vineyards.
So how exactly did this Cortez-based winery land these prized wine list placements, at a spot better known for a heavy craft beer program and a Headbanger's Ball-inspired playlist, no less? Because Sutcliffe is making some damn fine juice.
And it's putting out quite the variety of fine juice, too. Sutcliffe Vineyards offers a little something for everyone, from a not-so-classic Bordeaux blend to a few eclectic reds rarely seen in varietal form. Former restaurateur-turned winery owner/founder John Sutcliffe is endlessly passionate about leveraging old school techniques and -- go figure -- making extraordinarily food-friendly wines. He's instilled that credo in winemaker Joe Buckle, who coaxes a mix of estate grown, Palisade-sourced and even a little Napa Valley fruit into unique bottlings with a decidedly modern, highly drinkable bent. Intrigued, we sat down and tasted through most of Sutcliffe's lineup to see if the random glasses we'd sampled (and loved) here and there were a fluke -- or foreshadowing of even more goodness from a completely slept-on producer. Herewith, our picks for the five most fantastic bottles you should try:
Sutcliffe Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2010 ($22): This is nearly a dead ringer for a Provençal (our all-time favorite rosé-producing region) pink, so we'll just cut to the chase and tell you that we love it. And you will too. It smells absolutely delightful, like a freshly-spun mound of strawberry cotton candy that leads the way for just-picked strawberry fruit flavor in the glass. Do not let the presence of snow on the ground dissuade you from drinking rosé -- pink wine is always right when paired with a plate of salumi or a country paté.
Sutcliffe Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay 2010 ($20): We were so not expecting to love this wine. That's because we can count the number of Colorado-made chards we've enjoyed on one hand -- and still have all of our fingers left over. Sutcliffe starts with fruit sourced from Napa's Oak Knoll district, then crafts it into a clean-drinking offering that showcases a surprising amount of acidity, along with fresh pear and honeycrisp apple. You may want to rethink that song you've been singing about how "you're so over chardonnay" right about now, because wines like this one are about to inspire a full-fledged chard revival.
Sutcliffe Vineyards Cinsault 2010 ($22): If you're squinting at the word right in front of "2010" (pronounced "san-so") that's because you've likely never had the pleasure of sampling a varietal wine made from this grape. Cinsault typically shows up in blended wines from France's Rhône Valley, but in this incarnation, it might remind you of a bright, juicy old world pinot noir or Beaujolais. Talk about love at first sight: A soft pink outer rim morphs into a vibrant, plum-colored core that seems to deepen in intensity after several minutes in the glass. A few swirls of the glass releases fragrant violet and bright cherry aromas (more good omens) -- and the first taste seals the deal -- tart cranberry, pomegranate and cherry fruit that's all wrapped up in a blanket of toasty spice. Another sure sign that this wine absolutely rocks? It's on the list at Frasca Food & Wine.
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Sutcliffe Vineyards Grenache 2009 ($20): One of the best things about Sutcliffe wines is that they're never quite what you think they're gonna be. New world grenache can suffer from any number of issues: heavy handed oaking, less-than-ideal acidity levels or alarmingly high alcohol content. Thankfully we've been spared any of these and were surprised instead to discover an elegant, effortlessly easy drinking wine. Sutcliffe scored even more points with us for incorporating a few of the classic old world grenache qualities we crave, like spicy cassis and juniper berries.
Sutcliffe Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($25): Finding a cab we're genuinely excited to drink happens about as often as scoring a near-the-entrance parking space at Whole Foods. In other words, never. Another gander at the label on this one confirmed that was precisely what we were enjoying -- and not the riserva Rioja our first sip conjured up. Aged for two years in French oak before spending another five months becoming even more delicious in the bottle, we found this youthful vintage utterly ready to drink -- and drink often. Complex aromas of cocoa, dark berry fruit and coffee set the stage perfectly for the boisterous berry fruit and black pepper that glided across our palates. And while we usually prefer to enjoy our tannic reds with a big hunk of something beefy, in this case the only thing we wanted was another giant glass of this fantastic wine.