Food and Wine With Altitude
The Colorado Scene Capitalizes on Climate
Colorado's rapidly growing wine industry is filled with optimistic souls intent on wresting good wine from a tough environment. We tasted wines made on both sides of the Rocky Mountains, and the area around Grand Junction and directly south seemed to hold the most promise. Most of the winemakers are aiming for a Colorado style, in other words, not trying to be California or Europe, but trying to reflect the special influence their climate has on the wine.
Riesling is broadly planted, and the best I tasted was from Crooked Creek (www.guydrewvineyards.com), whose bone-dry wine was sweet scented and a bargain at $15. Its bright acidity worked perfectly with raw oysters. Chardonnay is the most widely planted white wine grape in Colorado. Most that I tasted need some work. The exception was Bookcliff Chardonnay ($12, www.bookcliffvineyards.com), a delicate, aromatic wine with some of the caramel flavors you usually find in expensive Burgundies.
The most prevalent grape in Colorado is Merlot all planted before Sideways, of course and the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey's Reserve Merlot ($25, www.abbeywinery.com) was a lovely example of the state's potential. Winemaker Matt Cookson, ex of Rombauer in Napa, is making dense, fruity Merlot. We had it with Strings Restaurant chef Bonnie Hopkins' delicious Grilled Pheasant With Sweet White Corn and Rocky Mountain Chanterelles, a fascinating play of sweetness, earthiness, and smoke that enhanced the wine's fruit.
My two favorite wines from Colorado were both surprises. Balistreri Syrah ($20, www.balistreriwine.com) is made without any filtering, and instead of carefully separating the stems and seeds from the grapes, they throw in everything and let it all ferment together. Then, no preservatives are added. The result is a wine that would appeal to folks who loved Sonoma Zinfandels back when farmers made them. Thick, intense, high-alcohol wines with enormous amounts of black pepper and teeth-staining concentration. Wow!
My other choice requires you to separate from the wine snob brigade. For Chardonnay makers all over the world, getting apple aromas in the wine is the Holy Grail. Mountain View Winery (www.mountainviewwinery.com) decided to be a little more direct in their pursuit one year when their Chardonnay crop was down. They added apple juice to their Chardonnay. The wine is called Ash Mesa ($12), and if you put it in a Burgundy bottle and serve it to your friends, they will oooh and aaah over the complex aromas and brilliant flavors. Of course, we all know that adding fruit juice to a wine means it's no longer acceptable to the wine Nazis. Fine. Leaves more for us.
Colorado chefs have started using local meats and vegetables with fierce local pride. One of the best examples came from Goose Sorenson of Solera Restaurant in Bolder. He made Striped Bass With Local Asparagus, Colorado Morels, and Grilled Ramps resting on an arugula purée. The morels and ramps were an elegant addition to the fish. The best dish we had while on this leg of the tour was courtesy of Wade Hageman, the chef at the Palace Arms Restaurant at the Brown Palace. He took the fine old Italian opera composer Rossini's idea for Tournedos, but used Great Range Bison. The lean meat was a perfect complement to the rich additions of foie gras and truffled Hollandaise.
Colorado has always been a tourist stop for its great outdoor sports and grand vistas. Now, it has world-class food and some superb wines to make the stay even nicer.