FD: Wine Column April 22, 2009

Hybrid of wine and Gateway cuisine

Winemaker Yvon Gros and Gateway Canyons executive chef Terry Allen matched wits and talent Saturday, and everyone came out a winner.

Gros, who with his wife, Joanna Reckert, owns and operates Leroux Creek Inn and Vineyards near Hotchkiss, brought several of his latest releases to pair with Allen’s cuisine for a winemaker’s dinner Saturday at this impressive getaway resort, which is tucked into red rock canyons along the Dolores River.

Allen might not have had it easy, since Gros’ wines are based on two unfamiliar hybrids, Cayuga and Chambourcin. However, Allen, whose former stints include Aspen’s Little Nell and Aspen Meadows, was in fine style, wowing the audience with his creative menu.

Gros raises his grapes organically. His tale of using vinegar instead of chemical herbicides to knock down unwanted weeds always draws a chuckle.

“By the end of the day, I smell like a pickle,” he tells listeners.

Cayuga is an American white grape bred to ripen early and survive the short growing seasons of the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. It has some of the floral notes of Riesling and, like most cold-weather grapes,  good acidity.

Chambourcin is a mysterious French hybrid showing Old World roots with its thick skin, dark color and big tannins.

It’s popular east of the 100th meridian, and recently Gros experimented with pruning, leaf canopies and trellising to improve his crop.

“It’s late-ripening, something I didn’t know when I first started,” he said. “I would like to let it hang a bit longer to balance sugar and acidity, but sometimes we have an early frost and I have to pick it.”

He’s been adjusting his trellis system and leaf canopy to get more sunlight on the grapes but is cautious not to let the grape sunburn.

“We’re getting there,” he said. “It’s been a challenge but this can be a great grape.”

We also enjoyed the 2007 Rosé de Leroux, the Paonia cherry-based “My Cherry Amour” (think about that one) and the 2005 Apres Vous dessert wine.

Allen paired the Cayuga with a masa-fried Washington State oyster served in a shot glass with pico de gallo and the rosé with a grilled chorizo sausage, garlic shrimp and a portobello bruschetta with rosemary aioli.

“Rosés are enjoying a comeback,” commented Gros, enjoying how the spice and heft of the course fit perfectly with his chilled rosé. The wine is made from Chambourcin, the juice in contact with the skins only long enough to get the desired color.

Gros makes his rosé in a Spanish style — light, elegant, very dry— with a touch of the Provence.

“It’s a little more robust, and we’ve seen an increased demand for the wine,” said Gros.

His 2008 rosé will be released in early summer.

When he poured his My Cherry Amour alongside Allen’s crispy duck salad, there was some hesitation. Most fruit wines are too sweet, the fermentation stopped while sugar levels are high, resulting in a wine that’s little more than a simple blend of fermented fruit juice with an alcohol punch.

My Cherry Amour, however, was a delightful surprise, showing a knock-out aroma of ripe pie cherries, reminiscent of a summer day in the orchards around Paonia. Gros delicately balances that with a taste barely hinting of cherries, a palate-clearing acidity and an exceedingly pleasant dry finish.

It was, said Tammie Randall-Parker of Montrose, who celebrating her 20th anniversary with husband, Aaron Parker, the perfect pairing.

“I can’t believe how cherry this is,” she said. “I think it’s a perfect fit with the duck.”

The main course, a buffalo tenderloin with roasted fingerling potatoes, also was matched well against Gros’ 2006 Chambourcin with its red fruits and hint of ripe plum.

Gros expanded on his ever-continuing education in mastering this difficult grape and noted Chambourcin takes a while to develop in the bottle. He decanted the 2006 about 30 minutes before serving it.

“I blended 5 percent merlot to give a bit more fruit, and I think in a few years this will be perfect,” he said.

He sipped the dark red wine and smiled. “I like this wine. It’s easy to make good wine when you have good grapes.”

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