Colorado wine: Wineries, tasting rooms and more
Dry, off-dry or medium-sweet? Apple/pear, citrus or tropical? Baked bread? Bitter? Acidic? Oaky?
I stared, perplexed, at these and other wine descriptions printed on the piece of paper in front of me at The Little Nell’s Wine Bar on a sunny afternoon this summer. I sniffed, sipped and swallowed the splash of mystery white wine in my glass for a second time, then peered at the page-long list of adjectives again, trying my best to determine what, exactly, I was smelling and tasting.
Eventually, I had to write down my guess (chardonnay) before moving on to the other three unknown wines in my queue. All told, I correctly identified two of the four wine styles on the same test taken by would-be sommeliers hoping to prove their deductive tasting abilities and become certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, the global group that sets widely accepted standards for wine professionals.
The Aspen hotel’s new blind tasting experience, led by one of its staffers, was a fun, laid-back way to learn about wine without even realizing it. Wine can be pretentious and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. And with Colorado’s wine industry growing each year, it’s a good time to demystify this tasty, wildly diverse beverage made from fermented grapes and get up to speed on all of its nuances, from ground to glass.
From formal courses to casual tastings you can book with friends, here are some of the best ways to learn about wine in Colorado.
Try a sensory tasting
If you’ve ever wondered how wine experts can somehow magically detect notes of “freshly cut grass” or “toasted bread” from a glass of wine, when all you can taste and smell is, well, wine, you’re not alone. This is a super tricky skill to learn, one that takes sommeliers years and years of practice to master. But you have to start somewhere, and Carboy Winery’s sensory tastings can help.
Offered at their Denver and Littleton locations, the tastings are led by wine club manager and corporate trainer, Kellen Brewer, who walks participants through how to identify different smells and flavors in wines. To do this, he uses a special kit that’s full of little vials of smells like vanilla, lemon, smoke and caramel.
“Most sommeliers will tell you the best way to learn how to identify certain smells is to go down the produce aisle at the grocery store and just smell things,” said Kevin Webber, Carboy’s CEO. “This kit just makes that easier.
More info: carboywinery.com or 720-617-9410
Blend your own wine
While wandering up and down the vast wine aisles at the liquor store, maybe you’ve noticed labels that say something like “red blend.” In fact, many popular types of wine are actually an amalgamation of different grape varietals, expertly selected by the winemaker to achieve the desired flavors and aromas. You can re-create this step — and learn something about your own palate in the process — by blending your own wine.
At The Hillside Vineyard in Fort Collins, a winemaker will help you choose between five different wines to make your own blend (then help you bottle and label it to take home!). Breckenridge’s Continental Divide Winery offers a similar two-hour blending experience with four pure red wine varietals; participants make their own custom blend, then bottle, cork and label it to take home. But be forewarned: You might enjoy your session so much that you decide to quit your job and take up winemaking full time, like Continental Divide founders Jeffrey and Ana Maltzman did.
“My introduction to winemaking began 25 years ago when my wife and I did a blending experience at a winery in Napa,” said Jeffrey Maltzman. “That experience truly changed our lives. We had so much fun that we began making wine ourselves.”
More info: thehillsidevineyard.com or 970-520-2617; breckwinery.com or 970-771-3443
Go back to school
Of course, one of the best ways to learn about wine is to go back to school. If you’re really serious about understanding wine, head to Grand Junction, where Western Colorado Community College (a division of Colorado Mesa University) offers a viticulture and enology associate degree program, the first of its kind in Colorado.
Led by Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, an award-winning Colorado winemaker with more than 20 years of experience, the program includes hands-on and classroom-based courses in sensory analysis, winemaking, lab analysis, viticulture, fermentation and wine marketing, among others. On top of the associate degree, the college also offers technical certificates that take just one or two semesters to complete; Baldwin-Eaton also teaches seminars at festivals and through the university’s continuing education program.
For something a little more casual, Denver’s Noble Riot offers an array of hour-long “Wine School” classes at its RiNo wine bar. Noble Riot’s classes promise to cut through any “high brow nonsense” associated with wine, according to co-owner and sommelier Scott Mattson. Popular offerings include “Wine 101,” a monthly session that covers how wine is made, how to taste wine for structure and acidity, how to detect secondary flavors and more.
Other courses are more specific, going in-depth on certain wine styles (like natural wine) or specific wine regions (like Italy’s Valle d’Aosta).
“Our team felt like Denver needed a place where people from all backgrounds could come in and get fired up about wine,” said Mattson. “The goal with our education program is to offer great content taught in a non-pretentious, relatable way, creating a comfortable space for our guests to discover and fall in love with all kinds of wine.”
More info: coloradomesa.edu/wccc/programs/viticulture-enology.html or 970-255-2600; nobleriot.com/ or 303-993-5330
Visit a winery
On a recent visit to Grand Junction, Two Rivers Winery and Chateau owner Bob Witham shared some easy-to-remember tips and tricks for figuring out which types of acid are present in a particular wine. Though he doesn’t offer formal classes or lessons to individual wine-drinkers, Witham and the team at his tasting room are more than happy to casually share insights while you sip on a glass or try some of their offerings, as are nearly all winery owners and staffers across the state.
Visiting your local liquor store is another good option.
“I recommend finding a retail liquor store that offers a good Colorado selection and that has staff who are helpful and share similar preferences as you do,” said Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, which also offers educational resources on its website. “Ask those professionals for guidance and insight. Many liquor stores also offer seminars and training.”
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