By Jacob Harkins | Local Winos Magazine editor
The average American wine experience consists of hopping in the car, motoring a few blocks to the wine shop, picking out a bottle, returning home, opening and enjoying.
While there’s nothing wrong with this level of instant gratification, a life without vintage wine is not worth drinking.
With a little bit of cash (or foresight and planning), it’s not terribly difficult to enjoy wines from premier regions of the world that are decades or more older. In Colorado, an industry that started producing wines (for the most part) only two decades ago, not so much.
That’s what made Max Ariza’s “Life of Wine” seminar as part of Colorado Mountain Winefest (Sept. 15) so appealing. It was an opportunity to explore five local wines with some relatively serious age on them — and compare them to a newer counterpart.
It was a topic that had me geeking out as soon as the Mountain Winefest seminar schedule was released. Prior to this tasting, my “old” Colorado wine consisted of three bottles:
- 1997 Canyon Wind Cellars Merlot
- 1998 Trail Ridge Winery Cabernet Franc
- 2003 Carslon Vineyards Riesling (a wine judged the best in the world in 2004)
From those experiences, I’ve begun to believe in the aging potential of the wines made in the Grand Valley. It seems Ariza has the same sentiments, but he was sure to point out that across the entire world, it’s really the only 1 percent of vineyards and winemakers in each region that produce wines that can age a decade or much longer.
“Only the best vineyards and the best grapes (age),” Ariza told the dozen gathered for the 10-wine vintage tasting. “Colorado, we’re gonna see.”
Ariza came by the old wines when a friend dropped off seven cases of Colorado selections, mostly from the 1990s. After tasting through the lot, he devised the seminar not as proof that every Colorado wine is age worthy, rather that the top few percent are certainly cellar worthy, just like every other region in the world.
“I’m going to show you every facet of aging; it isn’t always pretty,” Ariza says.
The proof of that statement came in flight 2, a comparison of Cabernet-based blends from Colorado Cellars, the longest continuous operating winery in the state. The 1999 version was likely back-blended with Lemberger, but the fruit dropped out of the wine during the Bush administration.
It was all acid and nuts and rather unpleasant, especially when paired with a respectable version from 2009.
The lesson here is not to say Colorado Cellars made a bad wine in 1999; it was just made with fruit and style much like 95 percent of the wines in the world, meaning it should be drank within a few years of release.
A 1997 Pinot Noir from Carlson Vineyards also fell in the “not-so-pretty,” category; the elegant flavors of the Pinot had long since disappeared.
But a 2000 Riesling also from the pioneering vintner Parker Carlson proved that Colorado has the grapes to last. This 12-year-old offering was a complex mix of honeycomb, peach and petrol. It’s sugars and acids have continued to dance together in the bottle over the last 10 years and its taste was perhaps the most remarkable flavoring I’ve enjoyed in a local wine to date.
The 1997 Plum Creek Winery Cabernet was the most lively of the old wines, showing delicious promise for a few years for those who might still have a case in the basement.
As we filed out of the two-hour lecture and tasting, the simple question that was poised by the topic was answered.
Can Colorado wines age?
But it has to be a wine from the right vintner, vintage and vineyard.
Turns out Colorado isn’t that much different from the rest of the world in that regard.
Tasting Notes from Life of Wine:
Carlson Vineyards 2010 Riesling (coming soon)
Colorado Cellars 1999 Red blend (coming soon)
Colorado Cellars 2009 red blend (coming soon)
Carlson Vineyards 1997 Pinot Noir (coming soon)
Carlson Vineyards 1999 Cougar Run Shiraz (coming soon)
Carlson Vineyards 2009 Cougar Run Shiraz (coming soon)
Plum Creek Winery 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (coming soon)
Plum Creek Winery 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (coming soon)