Early January found me rummaging through my wine cellar (which is cleverly disguised as the basement laundry room) and remembering the wines I had the pleasure of enjoying in 2013.
I can remember for two reasons: One, I keep decent (though not great) notes. The best note-taker I’ve ever witnessed in person is the multi-talented author and Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, whom I once followed around (no, honest, I wasn’t stalking her) in the Grand Tasting Tent at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen.
Never before had I witnessed anyone who could move at a fast pace tasting 100 different wines, write incisive and accurate notes and still make it back to the St. Regis Hotel in time for her presentation to a packed house.
Second, I save lots of empty bottles, which means the recycle guy will have his hands full sometime later this winter but they serve as physical reminders of what those bottles once held.
Did I have a favorite? Maybe it was one of the brilliant Italian wines – the 2005 Castel Giocondo Brunello di Montalcino, or the 2005 Arnaldo – Caprai 2005 Sagrantino di Montefalco, or the 2007 Rocche Costamagna Rocche dell”Annunziatia Barolo.
Or was it French, maybe something simple yet elegant, such as the 2009 Domaine Lucien Jacob Les Toussaints?
Was it one of the mind-blowing German Reislings shared by Rielsing-meister Paul Grieco at last summer’s Food & Wine Classic?
Or, perhaps, it was closer to home, such as the memorable 2011 Tempranillo from Eames Petersen in Paonia, a thoughtful, expressive wine, much like the winemaker himself, enjoyed with dear company and a room full of joy.
Asking an ecumenical and wide-ranging wine drinker “Which was your favorite wine?” is like asking Father Flanagan, “Which is your favorite child?”
It’s neither an unfair nor unanswerable question but the world of wine is immense, not only in breadth but depth, a virtual (in every sense of the word) ocean of grape juice.
It’s as my friend and Jedi Master of blogging Alfonso Cevola wrote about his first (vinous) love, the wines of Italy: There is no easy way to understand wines without plunging forward.
“As for the mystery of Italian wine, lately some of the fog has lifted,” wrote Cevola in his much-read blog, “On the Wine Trail in Italy.” “But every time I think I get a handle on it, another perplexing clue surfaces.
“I’m okay with that, but in my day job, the task of trying to make something that can be very complicated into something easily explainable and understandable is still a big order.”
It’s a task all serious wine drinkers understand.
So I stand surrounded by wine bottles, some empty, some still full of the promises made many harvests ago in countries around the world.
And I smile at the challenge of new discoveries.
Wine writer Fred Tasker, now retired from the Miami Herald but still writing about wines via McClatchy-Tribune News Service, recently noted that Americans drank more wine last year for the 19th year in a row, up 2 percent to 360 million 12-bottle cases, according to wine consultants Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates.
And second, Americans love American wine: California makes 58 percent of all the wine we drink. That’s not surprising, considering California produces about 90 percent of all U.S. wine.
That’s 207.7 million cases worth an estimated $22 billion in retail sales. Colorado can’t quite match those numbers, producing 141,000 cases in fiscal year 2013 with reported sales of $28.2 million (up $9.1 million from 2012) and an economic impact of $144 million.
However, a study recently released by Colorado State University, from which the above Colorado wine statistics were taken, says Colorado wines are grabbing an increasing market share, up last year to 5.48 percent of total wine sales in Colorado. That means that for every $20 spent on wine in Colorado, $1 goes to a Colorado wine.
And second, that Coloradans, on average, drink 3.1 gallons of wine per year, 24 percent more than the national average.
Why Colorado, whose 5.1-million population ranks 22nd, would consume more wine per capita than California, Texas, or any of the 19 other larger states, may be that we attract tourists not afraid to open their wallets for wine.
“The tourist business is so big and attracts so many people to Colorado and particularly to the big three resorts of Aspen, Vail and Telluride,” said Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. “Just in those three areas there is an awful lot of wine consumed.”
That’s not to say other resort areas, such as Crested Butte, Summit County, Steamboat and Winter Park don’t pour their share of wines, but it’s really in the highest-money markets where most of the juice gets shared.
“Those three markets really change and elevate the rest of the Colorado wine market,” Caskey said.
That almost-5.5 percent of the market share is a 1.66 percent increase over 2012. Part of that growth, among many reasons, has to do with more wineries, particularly Western Slope wineries, finding shelf space in Front Range liquor stores and restaurants.
This helps build that market share on the populous Front Range, which is good, but also means some of those Denver-Boulder-Colorado Springs wine drinkers might not visit the Western Slope as often.
In past years, I’ve heard visitors here for the Colorado Mountain Winefest and the Grand Valley Winery Association’s annual barrel tasting say they make several trips each year to the Grand Valley and elsewhere to stock up on wines unavailable on the Front Range.
But this year several local wineries said their tasting room visits in 2013 were down compared to years past.
That indicates some wine buyers are finding their favorite Colorado wines closer to home, not needing those four or five trips across the Divide to fill their cellars.
However, that doesn’t mean the Grand Valley will lose its appeal for wine lovers.
Tickets for the 2014 Barrel Into Spring tasting, sponsored by the Grand Valley Winery Association, went on sale Jan. 1 and four days later 75 tickets had been snapped up.
Bob Witham, owner of Two Rivers Winery and Chateau and secretary of the winery association, said he expects both weekends (April 26–27 and May 17–18) to sell their allotments of 350 tickets each. (Tickets cost $70 per person. Information: 241-3155 or here).
This tells Cassidee Shull, executive director of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology, that the Western Slope will continue to draw people eager to share the experience of visiting their favorite wineries.
“We offer them the destination weekends and the events in the vineyards that they can’t get anywhere else,” Shull said. “Maybe they don’t come here as many times each year as they did before Colorado wines were so available but that doesn’t mean they will stop coming. It’s these unique adventures and the excitement of things like tasting the wine where it’s made and meeting the winemaker that will bring these people back every year.”