Exploring with Paula

Tuscan Sun Wines

For anyone who is a “chick flick” aficionado you know about the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” based on Frances Mayes’ book. I was privileged to meet Frances last week (gave her a copy of my book!!) and taste her new line of wines from the Tuscany region. While I have to stay true to my Colorado wines, I did want you to know about these new wines making their debut in the Denver area.

Here is some info….Denver-based Curious Cork Imports has partnered with Frances Mayes, the bestselling author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” to create Tuscan Sun Wines, which bring Mayes’ magic touch to the world of wine. Comprised of seven exquisite wines produced in Italy and around Tuscany and hand selected by Mayes herself, each Tuscan Sun Wine embodies a different concept that touches on the Tuscan lifestyle. The wines were launched in Cortona, Italy, in July and make their U.S. debut today.


“These wines bring to life a sense of wonder through simple joysthat my life in Italy has given me,” said Mayes. “I hope that by bringing them home to the U.S. that everyone can share a taste of the many pleasures I’ve enjoyed in Italy.”


The Tuscan Sun Wines include four reds and two whites. A Prosecco is scheduled to join the lineup in 2014. Each wine has an Italian name and an English translation and each showcases the unmistakable vision of Frances Mayes that has become an international phenomenon since the publication of Under the Tuscan Sun:


·         Pensiero (A little gift) 100% Pinot Grigio, IGT Vignetti Delle Dolimiti

·         Abbraccio (An embrace) 45% Trebbiano, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Grechetto, IGT Toscana

·         Sentiero alla Casa (Path to the house) 60% Sangiovese, 20% Montepulciano, 20% Ciliegiolo, IGT Toscana

·         Permesso (May I come in?) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, IGT Delle Venezie

·         Tondo Tondo (Just perfect) 100% Sangiovese, IGT Toscana

·         Auguri (My best to you) 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, IGT Toscana

·         Toccare le Stelle (Touch the stars) 100% DOC Prosecco – coming in 2014

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Winery Visit – Black Forest Meadery

What is a fermented beverage that is older than wine and is said to date back to the Vikings? If you answered “mead” you would be correct. Mead is neither a wine nor a beer, but rather its own beverage whose main ingredients are honey, water and yeast. I had the privilege to visit with Adam and Shawna Shapiro, owners of Black Forest Meadery, and they gave me the 411 on mead production. (By the way, if you haven’t visited the Black Forest area since the fire, its amazing to see the devastation!!)

Since honey is the critical ingredient in mead, lets start there. The Shapiros are proud that their honey is 100% Colorado and obtain it from 2 local producers. Honey, and therefore the eventual mead, is totally affected by where the bees gather their pollen. Clover-based honey is actually lighter and makes sweeter meads. Bees “hanging out” in wildflowers provide a different flavor in the honey and usually a dryer style mead. Adam said his mead “is a local drink, from local producers and offers a taste of Colorado in each bottle.”

There are two fermentation cycles. The first is the primary fermentation where yeast is added to the water and honey. In addition to the type of honey used, the type of yeast used also influences the mead’s taste. Secondary fermentation occurs as the mead sits in stainless steel tanks for 2-3 weeks. The Shapiro’s do not filter their meads so they “re-rack” the mead (changing it from one tank to another) to remove the sediment. Black Forest ages their meads for about 9 months, although you can age it for 3-4 months and then bottle it.

Black Forest makes 4 different meads… Their “Forest” and “Woods” are dry and their “Merry Chokeberry” and “Melody” are sweet. Over the next few years they plan to incorporate fruit meads into their line, using peaches, plums and cherries from their own orchards. Black Forest is a family owned and operated meadery as well as a small farm where they raise animals and have an orchard and vineyard. Their label depicts their property and includes their sentiments of “enjoy [their meads] with friends and quality sunsets.”

To taste and enjoy their meads you basically have 3 options….stop by their tasting room, which originally was a church, Thursday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. (they ask you to call ahead), at the Colorado Farm & Arts Market in Colorado Springs and at various wine festivals. So open up your mind and palate to a different taste experience and try a mead soon!

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Winery Visit – Sweetheart City Wines

During my sommelier class I found it interesting that winemaking is often passed down from generation to generation in Europe, something we really don’t see much of here in the United States. So its exciting to hear that a nephew of Clyde and June Spero (Spero Winery) has opened his own winery in Loveland.  Nephew Jack Cantley, his wife Lindsay and partners David and Kathy Burks are the owners of Sweetheart City Wines. Jack and David “have been making beer and wine for years and decided to turn their hobby into something they could pass down to their kids.” In fact one of Jack’s earliest memories is making wine with his great grandfather.

Since the partners have lived in the area for over 25 years, and wanted to add that “romantic flare” to their wines, Loveland was the ideal location. I also learned that Loveland is a good place for growing certain grapes as the area used to have cherry, peach and apricot orchards.

Currently the winery operation is located at 6295 Bluff Lane, but by spring/summer of 2014 a new facility and tasting room will be located just west of town on Hwy 34 by Glade Road. See picture below for an architect’s rendering of the entire project which will also include executive offices, a private residence, venue for weddings as well as acres and acres of vineyards. Next spring 690 vines, primarily muscat, frontenac and maricot, will be planted and in the future the partners are hoping to plant cab franc and tempranillo grapes.

Currently Sweetheart City is sourcing their grapes from California, as they’ve done since their first production in 2009. They are currently working with vineyards in Colorado for a 2013 vintage. But we will have to wait until at least 2015 for those wines as Sweetheart City ages all their reds in barrel for 2 years.  The best way to view all their wines is on their website….click here for the link.

Most liquor stores in Loveland are carrying Sweetheart City wines and if you would like to taste or purchase wines at the current location just set up an appointment by calling 970-593-8563 or 970-214-3948.  They are specializing in red wines and are “committed to deliver hand-crafted wine with a romantic flare…and [their wines] are made to pair with good friends, good food  and of course someone special.” As their label says “Nel vino c e amoré” (In wine there is love)…so stop on by the winery for a taste of wine and a little love!





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Winery Visit – Ryker’s Cellars

Owner and winemaker Ryker Brandt of Ryker’s Cellars may be the newest winery in Colorado, but his wines don’t taste like someone just starting out, as they reflect his years of cellar experience. Ryker’s wine career began in 2002 in California’s Santa Cruz Valley where he spent 6 years beginning as a volunteer during crush season and leaving as cellar master. It was there that he fell in love with white wines produced with Austrian and German varietals. Meeting up with a friend during a high school reunion Ryker packed up his bags and moved back to Colorado.

Sticking with the wine business he worked for several wineries and wine stores in the area, all the while obtaining his winery license, warehouse space and producing wine. In June he joined the wineries of Colorado Winery Row, and it is here that he is producing his delicious wines.

He gets his grapes from both CA and CO, but I must point out that he gets GRAPES, not just juice from these areas to make his wine. I must admit I was unaware that actual grapes came in from other states as opposed to just juice. Ryker receives CA grapes in 1,000 lb boxes that were picked one morning, chilled to 30 degrees, put on a truck, and within 24 hours arrive at his production facility. His American Red Wine is currently made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Syrah all from CA. He feels the Cab provides the body, the Merlot the fruitiness, and the Petit Syrah an incredible inky purple color with spice.

Ryker’s Cellars’ whites include an American Chardonnay (CA grapes) and a Viognier and Riesling, both using Colorado grapes. Ryker says his “whites never see an oak barrel” and that is why his Chardonnay is light, fruity and unoaked tasting. The Viognier is rich and fruity with hints of caramel and butterscotch, and his Riesling is dry and filled with green apple and citrus, and is a perfect pairing with spicy food.

Ryker’s Cellar’s label (see pic below) incorporates both Colorado and Denver in particular. His future plans are to incorporate more and more CO grapes in his wines and plans to add a Mead and a fruit wine into his offerings. Stop by his tasting room / production facility Thursday-Saturday (or call for an appointment other times), say hi to mascot Ushi, and enjoy some delicious wines.

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Winery Visit – Allis Ranch Winery

Allis Ranch Winery (and Ruby Trust Cellars) are the only two wineries in Colorado that can boast famed wine author and critic Robert Parker has tasted their wines.  So how did owner and winemaker of Allis Ranch, David Rhyne, get him to do the tasting?? Through a fund-raising event, David bought a ticket to enjoy dinner with Parker in September 2012 and boldly brought along his wine. Parker said he would taste the wine, but would be very honest about his findings. He was pleasantly surprised, impressed with a Colorado wine and actually tweeted about his thoughts! Yeah, Colorado and Allis Ranch!!

So what impressive wines is Allis Ranch producing?? Viognier, Grenache, Syrah and Rosé…all Rhone varietals and in the Rhone style of wine production. David believes that Colorado’s hot days, cool nights and altitude are similar to the Southern Rhone area of France. He cold soaks his grapes for 3 days (which extracts color) and uses a long maceration process to produce deep, inky dark red wines. He also believes his wines do best aging a long time in oak. He likes the French oak to bring out the vanilla and sweetness of the grapes and likes American oak to enhance the black pepper spice in his Syrah.

David uses Old World techniques to produce his wines, making big wines and then taming them down in oak. His philosophy is to “have the grapes’ express themselves naturally and believes in producing only high quality wine.”  All his grapes are sourced from the Western Slope of Colorado, and primarily from 3 vineyards. Viognier is the only white; his Margaret’s Rosé is dry; 2 Husky Syrah is named after his dogs – Allis and Strider; his Reserve Syrah is incredible; and the Grenache is top of the line and only 1 barrel is produced per year when the grapes are available.

What’s really cool about visiting Allis Ranch is the drive there from Sedalia and winding up at the tasting room, which is a 1910 Sears Roebuck “kit” home. It was brought by train to the area and then built in 1923. Allis Ranch is named after Pat Allis, who was the latest land owner. When she died in 1995 she sold the land to Colorado Open Lands, a non-profit, who divided the ranch into 10 – 35 acre lots with 440 acres of open space. David and his wife Margaret (who by the way is the wine labels’ creator) did some “swapping” for the kit home, totally refurbished it and now use it for the winery’s production facility and tasting room.

Allis Ranch Winery is by appointment only for groups of 10 or more, so get a group together and head out for a tasting of some incredibly delicious Colorado wines!!



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Winery Visit – Water2Wine-Centennial

Its the old question of “how does one buy a winery?” The joke is if you want to make $1 million operating a winery you start with $2 million!” In the case of the Sample family, they were purchasing bottles of wine thinking that their favorite winery was about to close its doors. After enjoying a few glasses of wine one of the family members came up with the idea of buying the winery themselves, and well, the rest is history. The family is comprised of Chip and Deb (mom and dad), their four children (Melissa, Jessica, Scott and Elizabeth) and their significant others (Kevin, Jason and Josh). Everyone helps out including a few grandkids, but its Josh that acts as general manager and Chip is there full-time. Having taken over Water2Wine-Centennial, the family couldn’t be happier!

Water2Wine is a franchised operation that acts as an independent corporation. Their grapes are sourced from 14 different countries and 2 USA states – California and Washington.  The “grapes” come as grape juice and Water2Wine then begins the fermentation process in 6 gallon batches. After 1.5 months and a variety of steps the wine is ready for bottling. The wines are processed to be drunk within 3 years because only a minimal amount of sulfites is added to the wine. Water2Wine boasts lower sulfites in their wine as well as no histamines. Currently they offer ~90 different wines and soon are hoping to have that number closer to 100. Their wines include whites, reds, regular and flavored port-style wines and ice-style wines.

One of the cool things about Water2Wine is that you can make your own wine there! Spouses, families, organizations and about-to-be-marrieds find this a great idea as they can make their own custom label for their own wine, plus be able to learn the entire process of making wine. From your own 6 gallon carboy you get 28 bottles, and the cost ranges from $240-$480 total. You can also just make your own custom label and place it on one of Water2Wine’s bottles (or a case!). This is another great idea for gifts, weddings and for businesses to give to their clients.

In addition to the winery, the tasting room is available for special events. During regular business hours there is no charge to use the facility for your meetings, events, etc. For after hours events there is a small charge. Water2Wine also has several regularly scheduled and special events. “Grapes and Graffiti” involves drinking wine while painting on canvas or a wine glass. Executive sommelier Lauryn offers wine and food pairing classes and 1 Wednesday per month is their “Uncork & Unwine” event.  They are currently toying with the idea of a “Dance Night” with instructional dancing and wine sampling.

Water2Wine is a great place to stop on by for wine tasting or one of their events!


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Wine and Food Pairing – Part 5

The final segment in my 5 Part series on Food/Wine Pairing is all about SPICE! Think about the last time you had a spicy Mexican dish or an Oriental dish with lots of red chili peppers. You certainly wouldn’t think about pairing those dishes with a full-bodied, high tannin red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon. So why not??? Its because alcohol intensifies spice and makes the dish seem even hotter on your palate. So Rule #5 is….alcohol intensifies spice.

So what is a good wine to pair with a spicy dish??  A good rule of thumb is use a wine that is lower in alcohol, such as a Gewurztraminer, Riesling or a Moscato. Normally these wines range in alcohol from 8-10%, but not always, so you need to check the label. Most wines produced in the USA average 12-14% alcohol, so that lower percentage of alcohol can help reduce your mouth’s perception of the spiciness in your dish.  A fruit wine (a wine made from fruit not grapes) tends to be lower in alcohol as well and would be a good choice to pair with a spicy dish.

Another good rule of thumb is to use a wine that tends towards the sweeter side. The sweetness in the wine can help decrease your palate’s sensitivity to the spices in your meal. Again, Gewurztraminer or a Riesling works well, although remember that these wines can be made in both sweet and dry styles. A light-bodied Rosé works well too if you are leaning towards a red wine accompaniment or a red fruit wine, like cherry can be a good pairing. And don’t forget about France’s Beaujolais Noveau (Gamay), which is very light-bodied and produced to drink young.

I hope you have enjoyed and learned something from my Wine/Food Pairing series and have been using and practicing the rules to create delicious meals paired with just the right wine. Salute!

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Wine and Food Pairing – Part 4

I’ve just returned from my high school reunion in Niagara Falls, NY where the ethnic majority is Italian (being German I was definitely a minority). So its somewhat  ironic that Rule #4 is Think Regionally!!  Growing up in Niagara Falls, red table wine seemed a staple at all the Italian restaurants and pizza places, and being young and “wine inexperienced” I had no idea what a correct wine/food pairing the restaurants were offering. Being German my father would pick dandelions and then make his own wine from them, pairing it with pork chops and sauerkraut. I must admit the Italians’ red wine was WAY better!!

How the “Think Regionally” concept originated is actually quite simple….Wine was produced in the area to complement the food that was grown/prepared there or food/dishes were created to complement the wine/grapes of the region. As examples, when we think of Italy we think of pasta and Sangiovese (remember Chianti is a region not a grape), or in Germany we think of Riesling with a pork dish, or in the USA we think of Oregon’s Pinot Noir with fresh salmon from the area.

When you are planning your next wine / food pairing dinner, think about where the food originates from / what the ethnicity of the dish is, and purchase either a wine from that region/country or a grape that is grown in that area. Enjoy!!!

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Wine and Food Pairing – Part 3

In Part 1 and 2 of my “5 Part series on Wine/Food Pairing” we discussed Rule #1 – Balance and Rule #2 – Dominant Flavor. Next we will examine Rule #3 – Think Your Senses. There are 3 top sensations you should be aware of when you pair food and wine. They are acidity, tannins and sugar.

Acidity is present in both food and wine. In food, the best way to describe acidity is to think tomatoes…we all know that taste sensation. Acidity is also found in wine, primarily white wines. This is the crisp, refreshing feeling in your mouth, and what makes your mouth salivate. When pairing a wine with tomatoes, your wine should “stand up” to the acidity, and red wines are the number 1 choice for this pairing. Full-bodied reds such as Barbera, Sangiovese, Merlot or even a Zinfandel are excellent choices. If your wine does not “stand up” to the acidity level, it will feel bland or flabby in your mouth. For white wines, Sauvignon Blanc, a dry Riesling or a Chenin Blanc make excellent choices.

So we’ve all heard about tannins, but what are they really? Tannins are naturally found in the skins and seeds (pips) of grapes. Because red grapes are fermented with their skins, tannins appear in red wines. The winemaker also has a hand in how much/how little tannin will finally occur in the wine based on the length of time the grapes are fermented with their skins as well as the type of grape(s) the winemaker is using. Example – Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have thick skins, therefore naturally the wine will have more tannins. Pinot Noir grapes have thin skins, therefore providing less natural tannins.

While acidity makes our mouth water, it is the tannins that make our mouth pucker or feel dry. A high tannin wine can be an excellent choice when pairing it with a food that contains protein (red meat as an example), fats or salt. Who hasn’t heard the pairing of a Cabernet Sauvignon with a steak?? For something different, try a Cabernet Franc (one of Colorado’s signature grapes) with your next red meat dish!

Have you ever had Champagne with chocolate and wondered why it didn’t pair well?? The answer lies in the sugar, both in the wine and in the food.  Most Americans drink a dry, brut Champagne and are missing the understanding of  Rule #3 and sugar, which is….”your wine should always be as sweet as your dessert.”  Keeping that rule in mind, a late-harvest wine, fruit wine, ice wine or port pair very well with dessert.

Colorado makes great late-harvest wines because the growers can keep the grapes on the vines longer to increase the brix (sugar content) in the grapes. Colorado also makes excellent fruit wines (wine made from fruit such as cherries, peaches, strawberries instead of grapes). Ice wine is very popular where I grew up in Niagara Falls, NY. Across the border in the Niagara Peninsula, they are famous for their ice wine, where the grapes actually have to be picked frozen to be called a true ice wine. BTW, commercial freezers work well when you can’t freeze them on the vines! And don’t forget one of my favorites…port-style wines (only wine from Portugal can be called a “Port”), as nothing says “dessert” like something chocolate with a port!

So think your senses and enjoy wine/food pairings following rule #3!

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Winery Visit – Mesa Winds Farm & Winery

As we enjoy a glass of wine most of us never think about what came before and the process involved to take a grape and turn it into wine.  Not so for owner and winemaker Philip “Wink” Davis and his wife, Maxine “Max” Eisele of Mesa Winds Farm & Winery. For them they “believe delicious wine starts in the soil, and with good soil you have healthy plants, which produce exceptionally good grapes.” They also practice the philosophy of “letting the grapes express themselves in the wine and use minimal intervention throughout the vintage process.” Mesa Winds’ fruit production is certified organic and they practice biodynamic farming. Only the grapes they grow are used to produce their wines.

Moving from Colorado Springs 8 years ago Max and Wink obtained a farm in Hotchkiss, which had 1 acre of Pinot Noir grapes planted. Due to a virus with those vines, they removed them and planted 6 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier. FYI – these are the grapes of the Champagne and Burgundy regions of France. In fact, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are the 3 grapes that are used to produce a “true Champagne” from Champagne. Mesa Winds uses Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chambourcin to create their Rosé wine, a light-bodied, dry wine with fruity essence.

In addition to their Rosé wine, they are also selling their 2011 Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris, which is from their first vintage. Their 2012 Peach wine comes from their peach orchard, and is a great wine to serve as an aperitif  or as a dessert wine.

Being a “new kid on the block” their distribution is limited, so my suggestion is to stop by their tasting room between mid-May and mid-October. They are open every Saturday and Sunday between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. You can also purchase their wines at Delicious Orchards in Paonia and Coal Train Liquors in Colorado Springs. Wink is just about to bottle his 2012 Pinot Gris, so stop on by the winery for a sampling of Mesa Winds delicious wines.

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