Exploring with Paula

Wine Studies – Pinot Gris

If people were asked to name the most consumed white wine, I’m sure they would answer: Chardonnay. This grape is so versatile, can grow in just about any wine region, and I’m sure has been sampled by anyone reading my blog. Therefore, I’m going to skip over Chardonnay and talk about Chardonnay’s competitor….Pinot Gris/Grigio.

Pinot Gris is a mutation of Pinot Noir and has a long history in eastern France. But in the Old World (considered Europe’s wine regions) it is Italy who stands out as a top producer of Pinot Gris (for them, Grigio). In the New World (any wine region outside of Europe) it is Oregon that has replaced many of its Chardonnay vines with Pinot Gris, and of course California is a top producer as well.

The wine can be quite diverse based on its terrior (refers to the natural effects of land, soil, climate, growing season, and conditions in a particular area) and the winemaker. In the glass, the color ranges from almost clear to a light gold. On the nose, its aromas can be subtle to pronounced. Aromas can range from delicate apple or pear fruit smells to more complex aromas of mineral, honeysuckle and musk. On the palate those aromas can come alive and also include apricot, peach, and tropical fruits. The wine can vary from medium to high acidity, usually with medium body, and most are produced dry.

I compared 4 wines. In my experience, tasting 4-5 wines from various regions offers the ability to experience the diversity (or similarity) in the grape and the winemakers’ styles. Unfortunately Colorado is not a big producer of Pinot Gris, so I sampled wines from northeastern Italy, Wiliamette, OR (I was never sure how to pronounce this until I saw a t-shirt that said “It’s Willamette, dammit”!), and Monterey County and Sonoma Coast, CA. It was quite interesting the variety of the wines.

Here are my results…the wine from Italy received the #1 spot. It balanced both earthy and fruit tastes with minerality, was dry with medium body, high acidity, and offered complexity (more flavors representing themselves after swallowing). Next were the 2 wines from CA, although the Somona wine offered more crisp acidity and well-balanced fruit and mineral tastes, and I felt was complex for a CA Pinot Gris, which can sometimes be soft on the palate without a lot of tastes and aromas. With OR being a top USA producer, I was surprised that its wine came in last. The reasoning behind its last place finish, was that it tasted more like a Chardonnay than a Pinot Gris. What is interesting to note, is that legally a wine only has to contain 75% of the grape on the label, so maybe the other 25% was Chardonnay, and that is what stood out in the flavors?? In defense of Oregon’s Pinot Gris, while in OR a few years ago I sampled some phenomenal wines and believed them to be quite delicious.

So try a sampling of Pinot Gris for yourself and let me know your thoughts!

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WINE STUDIES – Getting Organzied

Over the past few months I have continued my exploration and studies about wine. Several years ago I had decided to learn more about wines instead of simply enjoying them and that is what actually began my journey to writing Exploring Colorado Wineries – Guidebook & Journal. Between organizing the first and second editions of the book, I earned my Level 2 Sommelier certification and enjoyed that learning experience. I thought it would be fun, and hopefully interesting to you, to blog about my new wine studies. So throughout 2016 I will be sharing my experiences with you.

In my opinion, the first “rule” of wine study is TO TAKE NOTES so you can reference and remember what you have tasted. It is important to create a “tasting journal” that acts as your library of information and a “tasting form” so you can evaluate each wine in the same manner.

My “TASTING JOURNAL” is a 3-ring binder divided into several sections. Each division represents a major wine region of the world. My tabs are: France, Italy, Germany, Spain/Portugal, Other Old World, Australia, South America, Other New World, and USA, which is again divided into Colorado, NW area (CA, OR, WA) and Other USA. You can further divide each section into Reds and Whites if you choose. Within the region, I alphabetize each wine tasted by its grape. While this may seem overkill it helps me be able to locate tasted wines and information easily.

If you think the sections in my journal are overly organized, wait til you learn about my “TASTING FORM!” This is a combination of a form from my original studies as well as the form used by the International Sommelier Guild, where I took my course. The most important aspect of your “tasting form” is to use the same form with each wine you taste so your recordings and observations are consistent.

The first part of the form has basic information – Grape, Region, Vineyard, Year, Alcohol %, Date Purchased, Where Purchased, and Price. This information can be extremely helpful if you want to purchase that wine again. I also have an open area where I paste the label. There are 2 types of labels – those that easily come off the bottle when soaked in a little warm water and those that are made of paper and just rip. You will soon discover which labels are easily removed and which are not! I always make a photocopy of the label prior to trying to remove it from the bottle.

The remainder of the form is the tasting descriptions. Color, Aroma/Bouquet, and Taste are the main items. When describing Taste try to be as specific as possible. List all the fruit tastes, other tastes (like chocolate, smoky, grassy, floral), whether the wine is sweet or dry, high or low in tannin or acidity, and what is its body. Then give the wine a grade (using either an A-F or 1-5 system) and the date you tasted it. I also have a section for Overall Comments. If you have my book, in the Tasting Section I provide a list of descriptive words to assist you, or the Wine Aroma Wheel can be helpful as well. If you want to be even more descriptive you can add information about the wine’s balance, complexity, trueness to type, and what food the wine would pair with.

So get yourself organized, create your binder and your tasting form, and begin YOUR wine studies. The next blog will be about Viognier…one of Colorado’s signature grapes.

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Winery Visit – Colorado Cider Company (part 2)

PART TWO OF MY BLOG ON CIDER
As winemakers say, “you can’t make a great wine without starting with great grapes.” The same philosophy holds true for ciders…it’s all about the apples! While we think about making cider from grocery store apples, these dessert or eating apples are not the variety that makes good cider. What actually determines an appropriate cider apple is the amount of tannin, acid, and sugar associated with the apple variety. Here are the 4 major types and a quickie overview of their characteristics:
Sweets – low in tannin, low in acid and high in sugar
Bitter Sweets – high in tannin
Sharpes – high in acid
Bitter Sharpes – mix of tannin and acid

Years ago, dessert apples were primarily limited to a certain geographic region or area, but sophisticated transportation methods and longer shelf life offered wider availability to people. Cider apples were not ever shipped widely and were mostly connected to geographic regions. Then with Prohibition, the cider apples disappeared mainly because of their unpalatable eating flavor. Now though, with the expanding cider industry we are back to seeing a more localized growing and production operation for cider apples.

As I mentioned in Part One, Colorado Cider Company gets the majority of its apples from Colorado, but depending on the harvest may also need to source from Washington, Oregon, Utah and/or Idaho. As with grapes, the two largest areas for apple orchards in Colorado are the Grand Valley and the West Elks area (Hotchkiss, Paonia, and Cedaredge). An interesting fact I learned from Brad is that it takes about ~11 pounds of apples to make 1 gallon of juice, and with Colorado Cider producing the equivalent of 30,000 cases….that is a lot of apples!

In my book, Exploring Colorado Wineries, I discuss how a grape becomes a wine, so here is a brief overview of how Colorado Cider Company turns an apple into cider.
#1. Like grapes, apples are picked or harvested in the fall. BTW – almost all cider is a blend of apples.
#2. The apples are then crushed and pressed, like grapes.
#3. The apples are now in juice form, without the skins.
#4. Fermentation takes place, usually in stainless steel tanks, with yeast being added. The most common yeast used is a white wine yeast that acts as a “workhorse” but imparts no flavor. The juice is fermented completely dry.
#5. The juice goes through a racking and fining process that removes most of the sediments and yeasts.
#6. The juice is then filtered.
#7. A little sugar (usually apple juice) is added back in. This determines whether the cider will be dry, off-dry or sweet.
#8. The cider is bottled and capped with a crown cap (like a beer bottle).
#9. The bottled cider is pasteurized in a water bath, which varies depending on the time in the bath versus the temperature of the water.
#10. The company labels are placed on the bottle.

#11 is the best part….drinking the cider! Ciders are processed to be consumed immediately but have ~1 year shelf life. This is a lower shelf life due to less alcohol, than like wine.

Hopefully I have spiked your interest about ciders and you will venture out to explore and enjoy Colorado Cider Company and other cideries around our state!!

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Winery Visit – Colorado Cider Company (part 1)

PART ONE OF MY BLOG ABOUT CIDER:
A little history lesson….Who would ever connect cider with Julius Caesar?? Written history tells us that when the Romans invaded Britain they discovered the locals drinking cider and found the beverage to be quite enjoyable. The first apple seeds from Europe were brought over and planted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s. Then, as cities expanded, cider (and beer) was considered safer to drink than water. But then Prohibition came along and consumption of any alcoholic beverage was greatly decreased. It’s actually only been in the past few decades that cider has seen a renewed emergence in the USA, although the UK and many parts of Europe never experienced a decline in consumption.

For us in Colorado, we should be glad that owners Brad and Kathe of Colorado Cider Company decided to begin their operation in the metro Denver area! Back in 1988 Brad worked for Wynkoop Brewery (and we all know the history there) and also worked with Coppersmith Brewery of Ft. Collins producing beer and cider. Brad and Kathe actually lived in Buenos Aires for a few years, opening up a brewery there. When they moved back to the USA, it was cider that called them, not beer…we should be glad of that fact, too! Colorado Cider produces delicious ciders that are refreshing and enjoyable, not like the typical, overly sweet national brands you get in liquor stores.

Many people believe cider to be a sweet, apple-juicy beverage, but Colorado Cider disproves that point with their numerous cider options. They produce 9 varieties and a few seasonals. Their “Glider Cider” line offers 3 choices of off-dry, dry, and cherry and comes in a 4-pack. My personal favorite is their “Grasshop-Ah” with notes of citrus and flavors of light hops that also comes in a 4-pack. The other ciders include PomeMel, Ol’Stumpy, Pearsnickety (made with CO Bartlett pears), Uvana (a 50/50 blend of CO wine grapes and apples) and Newtown Pippin (made from American Heirloom apples). A new product to be released soon is a bourbon barrel-aged cider, like an apple port, called Pommeau….I can’t wait to try that one!!

The cidery’s majority of apples, fruit, and wine grapes comes from Colorado. In fact, all the fruit is pressed in Palisade and then a tanker truck delivers about 5500 gallons of juice to their production facility and tasting room in Denver. In addition to sourcing fruit from other orchards, Brad and Kathe are looking forward to the 2016 harvest when they will produce ciders using apples from their own 3000-tree orchard located in Hotchkiss.

Stay tuned for PART TWO of my blog about cider when I discuss apple varieties and production…but in the meantime, visit Colorado Cider Company’s tasting room so you can discover for yourself the tasty selection of ciders available. Explore and Enjoy!

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New Mexico Wineries

Having visited 98% of Colorado’s wineries, I decided to explore some of New Mexico’s wineries and sample their wines. It was an interesting visit and I was impressed with several of them. The state is basically divided into two zones – Northern and Southern. I explored the Northern section visiting wineries around Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque. I also coordinated my visit with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which was absolutely incredible and something that had been on my bucket list!

The NM Wine & Grape Growers Association publishes a nice little pamphlet with a map and listing of the wineries. You can also obtain information from its website….click here for the link. The pamphlet is a very useful tool, although nothing like my Colorado guidebook!! I stopped at 11 wineries, and only 2 did not charge for the tasting. On average it was a $6 fee for 6 tastings of 1 oz pours. The tasting rooms also supplied you with a handout for taking notes….a VERY useful tool and something I recommend anytime you taste wine!!

Like Colorado, grapes are grown all across the state, with the majority coming from Deming (near Las Cruces) in the southern part of NM. What was very interesting to learn is the Spanish influence that permeates their wine industry. In fact, history shows that NM was producing wine for 150 years before California and the first vines were actually planted in 1629 by a Franciscan monk. There are currently over 60 wineries and tasting rooms in the state that produce almost 1 million gallons of wine per year.

Since I don’t have to be “politically correct” regarding NM wineries/wines, I will offer my opinion on the wineries we visited (see pictures for winery names). My favorite for both the wines and the tasting room was Casa Abril Vineyards and Winery. Owner/grape grower/winemaker Raymond Vigil loves to talk and share his enthusiasm for his wines, which I thought were outstanding. My next favorite was Casa Rondeña Winery. Their wines were also outstanding and their tasting room area and grounds offered places to sit and enjoy their wines in a tranquil setting. I would give Don Quixote Winery & Distillery, Estrella del Norte Vineyard, La Chiripada Winery, St. Clair Winery & Bistro, and Vivác Winery a “definitely stop and taste.”

Since the New Mexico wineries are only a 6-8 hour drive, they make for a fun 3 to 4 day adventure to explore and enjoy!

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Winery Visit – The Infinite Monkey Theorem

There is always room for debate when it comes to “Being #1” …whether it’s in sports, cities or international wineries, but if I were a betting person, I would say that The Infinite Monkey Theorem (TIMT) is the #1 largest winery in Colorado. At a production rate of 40,000 cases, that is a substantial amount of wine! Owner and winemaker Ben Parsons has initiated many unique and cutting edge ideas into his winery and wine production, enabling him to garner that #1 spot. First, I would start with the winery’s name….TIMT is not named after the owner or an area, but an interesting theory. Click here if you want more info on that. Second, Ben says his winery doesn’t have a tasting room, but rather a “taproom.” Next is the location….an “urban winery” founded with a sense of community and situated in the RiNo District, currently the hottest and most vibrant area in Denver.

To expand on the innovations at TIMT, one must include what the winery is doing with its wine. At the taproom you can purchase 12 wines on tap and/or purchase growlers to go. Ben is also putting his wine in cans, something he began doing in 2011, and was the second USA winery to use this form of container for wine. (BTW – Francis Ford Coppola’s “Sophie” was the first and there are now 8 wineries using cans). And if you have flown on Frontier Airlines recently you know that you can purchase TIMT’s wine in a can onboard. TIMT cans 4 types of wine….Chardonnay, Merlot, Rosé and Moscato; and for us outdoor enthusiasts having wine in a can is a great idea!

TIMT takes about 220,000 tons of Colorado fruit and puts approximately 3/4 of it in bottles and 1/4 into kegs. They have 50,000 cases of wine in cans from fruit sourced from California. I don’t have room in my blog to discuss all of TIMT’s wines, so here is an overview of a few…. Whites: a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon white, Bordeaux-style blend in a bottle, an off-dry Riesling also in a bottle, and a rich, full-bodied Viognier in kegs. For Reds: the Cab Franc tastes of black currents, green chili, Sorrento peppers, and violets and received a 90 from Wine Enthusiast magazine and the Syrah, with concentrated dark fruits received an 89 in Wine Spectator. Those ratings are a nice testament to any winery, here or abroad!

November 16, 2015 will be another landmark date for TIMT as it opens up another winery in Austin, TX. But for those of us in Colorado, a visit to TIMT in RiNo is a great experience, especially May through October when you can enjoy its wines sitting on the patio with friends and/or family and also partake in dinner from the food trucks. I must admit that I get annoyed with all the articles on Colorado beer, so it was wonderful to see that Ben was named in the top “40 Under 40” article in Wine Enthusiast….way to go!!

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Winery Visit – Kingman Estates Winery

The question is….how do you begin a winery and 3 years later are ranked eighth largest winery in Colorado (according to the Denver Business Journal)? The answer is….ask Doug and Karen, owners of Kingman Estate Winery… for that is exactly what they have done! They will tell you their secret “is one customer at a time to build your reputation.” They also believe it is not about selling wine, but about selling a relationship and experience. And I would also have to interject to say it is also about the winemaking! I first met Doug and Karen at a wine festival back in 2012 and I think they have participated in every wine festival in our state since then!! Festivals, numerous liquor stores, and their Tasting Room (and production facility) near I-25 / 58th are where you can purchase their wonderful wines.

Kingman Winery sources the majority of its grapes from Palisade, as long as it’s a good producing year. As winemaker, Doug prefers Colorado grapes because he believes the grapes aren’t quite as fruity as California’s grapes and provide a more intense flavor due to our soil and climate. The winery will be producing 9 wines for 2015….4 whites, 4 reds and their blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Riesling that is called Marv’ lous 1680. Marv’lous is one of their top sellers and, in my opinion, a delicious wine. While interviewing Doug I also tasted his Viogner and Riesling, both of which I would rate as winners!

Doug is on the Colorado Wine Industry Board and his goal, and that of the CWIB, is to increase the visibility of Colorado wines/wineries. In fact the new logo is “Raise a Local Glass.” This board and that of CAVE (Colorado Association of Viticulture and Enology) assist Colorado’s grape growers and winemakers. Many people don’t know that we have a state viticulturist and an enologist to provide assistance to farmers and wineries with growing grapes and making wine. CAVE also organizes the Mountain Wine Festival that is held in Palisade every year. (BTW – mark September 17, 2016 on your calendar for that wine festival!).

Kingman has a great Wine Club that offers “Quarterly Pick-Up Parties” and a “Fall Customer Appreciation Event.” On 11/14/15 and 12/31/15 they are having a Winemaker’s Dinner combining their wines and the skills of Chef Connie Ruel (see picture below for 11/14 menu). Future Winemaker’s Dinners are planned for every two months. This is an incredible opportunity to pair delicious wines with delicious food….what could be better?? So….explore and enjoy!

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Winery Visit – Legacy Vineyards

I’m always telling people to attend some of Colorado’s wine festivals as it’s a perfect way to sample wines from numerous wineries all at one time. Well, I just found out about a “wine festival” that is happening year round…..it’s called Legacy Vineyards! Located at the west end of downtown Littleton, Legacy pours about 50 different wines from over 20 Colorado wineries. Owner Michael and his daughter, Brittany, have done the research for you and sampled wines from all around the state and then picked what they believe to be the best of the best. So Legacy is a great place to sample and purchase Colorado wines!

Legacy Vineyards’ conception began as Michael and wife DeeDee traveled from Denver to Nevada every month stopping in the Grand Valley along the way to sample wines. Michael has always had a passion for gardening and began pursuing the possibility of growing grapes and opening a winery. But as DeeDee pointed out, Michael knew nothing about how to do this! So over the past 3 years he earned an online degree in viticulture (growing grapes) and is almost done with a degree in viniculture (making wine). He has also had the help and support of numerous Colorado grape growers and winemakers.

In addition to offering Colorado wines, Legacy is about to bottle its first wines called Red #1, Red #2 and Autumn Gold. Michael has purchased wine in bulk from many Colorado wineries to create Legacy’s own unique blended wines. Red #1 is a blend of what customers enjoyed the most and is a blend of 4 varietals. Red #2 they call “training wheels” and is a good introduction for white wine drinkers to move into red wines. Autumn Gold is a white, seasonal blend that is crisp, fruit-forward and refreshing.

Legacy uses “vineyard” in their name because they are growing their own grapes in places north and east of metro Denver. Who says you can’t grow grapes anywhere in Colorado!! These are cold-hardy, hybrid grapes….see blog about River Garden Winery for more info on cold-hardy grapes. The name Legacy is biblically inspired as Michael feels vineyard life and the life of a vine is similar to human life – both the struggles and the bearing of fruit. It is also his legacy to pass down something to his children.

A visit to Legacy Vineyards any time of the year is a great way to sample some of the best of Colorado wines! Explore & Enjoy!!

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PBS Show on Colorado Wines

Are you interested in finding out more about the Colorado wine industry? An educational adventure show called Hittin the Road and narrated by Donna Vessey aired an episode on wine. During this segment, Donna met with two grape growers and winemakers….Guy Drew of Guy Drew Vineyards located in Cortez and John Garlich of Bookcliff Vineyards in Boulder. She also interviewed Michelle Cleveland, winemaker at Creekside Cellars in Evergreen, Doug Caskey who is the Executive Director of the Colorado Wine Industry Board and myself, who provided information on the history of the Colorado wine industry. It is a very informative segment and an interesting way to improve your knowledge about our state’s grape growing and wine development. Click here for a link to watch the show.

Hittin the Road’s second season will begin in March, 2016 and feature 13 episodes. Click here for more information about the upcoming shows. In the meantime you can view all of first season’s shows on YouTube. Those shows discussed flying, bees, skydiving, rafting and many more fun adventures to experience here in Colorado.

We live in a wonderful state, so explore and enjoy!!

 

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Winery Visit – Point Blank Winery

Having reached the “it’s hard to believe, but I really am getting old” stage in my life, it was really refreshing to meet with owner Erin of Point Blank Winery. She is young, enthusiastic and pursuing a dream. I visited with Erin at her new winery in Centennial, just off Arapahoe Road, which is close to where she grew up. After attending college in California, she practiced making wine and earned her Level 2 sommelier certification, all with the thought of opening up a “micro-winery.” An embarrassing moment came during her sommelier class when she misspelled Pinot Blanc as Point Blank, which actually gave her the idea for the winery’s name!

Erin’s inspiration comes from all the micro-breweries…..she produces her wines as seasonal craft blends, just like a brewery would do. Her 3 wines called Owl, At Last and Classy Brass are all blends. She sources varietal grape concentrate from Lodi, CA and uses that to make her wines. She is a “one woman shop” and oversees all aspects of the winery herself. That is actually one reason she uses glass “corks.” While these cost a little more than traditional corks it enables her to quickly hand bottle without fear of oxidation.

So a little bit about the wines….Owl is Point Blank’s red blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabs Franc and Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. It is inspired by French wines and is off-dry, and like a Beaujolais has an autumn release. The white wine is called Classy Brass and is a blend of Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. It has tastes of green apple, tropical fruits and pineapple. The Rosé, called At Last, is a blend of Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc, which is not a typical production combination. It is off-dry and a nice balance for both sweet and dry wine drinkers.

Point Blank Winery is usually open on Saturdays from 1 – 6 p.m. for free tasting, but Erin says it’s always best to check the website. You can bring in your own food or have it delivered, a great way to enjoy Point Blank’s food-friendly wines. The winery is also available for private events, small parties, meetings or classes. Stop by and visit with Erin and enjoy her delicious wines.

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