VinCo seminar working to help Colorado wine

Put 45 winemakers and grape growers in a room, pour a few samples of blind-tasted wines, and the only thing the 45 might agree on is to disagree.

That’s just about what was found last week when state enologist Steve Menke hosted his popular “Hedonistic Wine Tasting” seminar during VinCo 2011.

VinCo 2011 was the first, and hopefully not the last, joint venture between the Western Colorado Horticultural Society, the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, and the Colorado Association of Viticulturists and Enologists.

Whew, I could use a glass of wine for just remembering all that.

And please make it a Colorado Riesling, since that’s what most people liked during Menke’s seminar.

The hourlong seminar was aimed (and here I’m taking some liberties) at making wine drinkers more aware of why or why not wines are attractive to the individual palate.

This particular audience was a tougher crowd than most, since many of them are experienced winemakers and so already have an idea of what they want in a wine.

Plus, they casually throw out all these über-wine geek terms such as “tannin management,” “malolactic fermentation,” “bacillus characteristics” and “pH balance” until you wonder if they really enjoy wine or simply see it as the result of a chemical reaction.

Yes, they do, and yes, it is, but that’s not the point here.

Menke has been looking for that elusive characteristic hopefully found in Colorado wine that makes it stand out from others.

It’s not sure there even is one, but it could be a marvelous marketing tool as well as something that makes more people (meaning consumers) search out Colorado wines.

Menke’s charge is to help Colorado winemakers make better wine, which is as difficult as it sounds.

Pride, personalities and purses always enter into the equation, no matter when the wine is made, and Colorado is no different.

“It’s invaluable to seize every opportunity to taste Colorado wines against the rest of the world,” Menke told the winemakers, some of whom rarely drink anything but their own product.

American consumers, Menke said, are tending to move away from straight varietals toward blends, while Europeans, traditionally favoring blends, are showing more preference for single varietal wines.

“But you always blend to what (varietals) you have, not what you want,” Menke cautioned the winemakers and grape growers. “It determines not only the blend but also the percentage of the blend.”

So if you have a little bit of cabernet sauvignon and a whole lot of merlot, your choices are pretty limited.

Winemaker Guy Drew of McElmo Canyon near Cortez found himself making the best of his situation when blending his 2007 Metate, a blend of 66-percent cabernet sauvignon and 44 percent shiraz (syrah).

“I liked the cabernet enough to bottle it by itself but I didn’t think I’d like the syrah by itself,” Drew said. “So I decided to make this blend.”

The wine impressed the audience with its balance between bright red fruit and tannins from the cabernet and a bit of spice from the syrah.

Similarly, Doug Vogel of Reeder Mesa Winery made his prize-winning 2007 Land’s End Red, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, because “it’s what I had.”

“The fruit that year was very good,” Vogel said. “It was one of the best merlots I’ve ever made and that same merlot went into this.”

As for a Colorado-distinctive characteristic, maybe it’s going to be found in Riesling, which more and more is becoming a signature grape for the state.

During the last half of Menke’s seminar, he had the audience blind-tasting Rieslings from around the world.

This included a trio of Colorado Rieslings from Plum Creek Cellars in Palisade, Boulder Creek Winery (Boulder) and Zephyr Cellars (Fort Collins).

While one objective was to discover the similarities and dissimilarities among the Rieslings, something else was revealed.

Among the few people in the room to correctly identify the Colorado Rieslings from the Austrian, German, Washington state and other choices was Plum Creek winemaker Jenne Baldwin-Eaton.

“I think Colorado Rieslings have a certain minerality to them that stands out,” she said. “Think of wet slate or river rock, it’s that sort of character which I really like. I had to go back and taste them and sure enough, I knew which ones were from Colorado.”

Not everyone top-ranked the Colorado Rieslings, but that’s personal preference, not a judgment of one being better than the other.

But even thinking there is something unique about a Colorado wine, something that gives it an appeal of its own, is enough to give hope to an industry and to a consumer.

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(This entry was revised to reflect the involvement of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.)


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