Ruby red syrah from last fall's harvest glistens as the Grande River Vineyards winemaker extracts a wine thief from an oak barrel and deposits a sample in a glass. The annual Grand Valley Winery Association Spring Barrel Tasting weekend begins with a swirl, sniff and sip. Eight wineries welcome participants to discover the nuances of winemaking and aging. Each winery expertly pairs foods with its featured Colorado wines, tantalizing appreciative palates. Be ready to savor delicious tidbits like peppered tenderloin paired with the Grande Valley syrah or dark chocolate and a dash of port.
Ticket purchasers receive random assignments to their first winery where each receives a Weekend Passport, map and souvenir wine glass. After that, attendees participate at their leisure, spending as much time as desired at each destination. The Passport also serves as a 15% discount coupon for wine purchases during the festival.
Located on the north bank of the Colorado River, the vineyards of Canyon Wind Cellars bask in warm sunny days and evenings cooled by canyon breezes, conditions ideal for fruit ripening. At Colorado's only underground wine cellars, winemaker Robert Pepi shares the intense flavors of hot climate reds - syrah and cabernet - as staff from the Colorado Culinary Academy serve chicken skewers and beef hot off the grill.
Surrounded by barrels, tubing and airlocks, the owner of De Beque Canyon Winery, Bennett Price, shares his love of the winemaking process. Price and his wife Davy established many of the Grand Valley vineyards before founding their own winery in 1997. Davy oversees a buffet table of delectable edibles: salmon spread with capers, mushrooms in wine sauce, polenta with Gorgonzola, matching food flavors to the wines as we sample viognier, Gewurztraminer, claret, tempranillo, malbel and syrah.
A summer picnic atmosphere envelops Carlson Vineyards. Amiable host Parker Carlson fills a plate of delicacies catered by il Bistro Italiano. "Now take a bite of lamb... try this with the duck," Carlson leads a group through an orderly tasting. Keep an eye out for special discoveries like a dessert wine with a hint of orange labeled "Fat Cat Muscat."
At Plum Creek Cellars a blending table offers insight into the complicated balance of fine wines. First up is a 100% merlot, followed by blends with 10% cabernet franc and 10% cabernet sauvignon -- a lesson in varietal characteristics. Samples of wines aged in oak barrels from France, Hungary and the United States demonstrate nuances of viticulture.
Sunday morning starts with a visit to Two Rivers Winery and Chateau. Below the red sandstone cliffs of Colorado National Monument, Colorado's only destination winery welcomes overnight guests to the French country-style Chateau. While sampling chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and Riesling I vow to return for a weekend getaway.
A remodeled historic barn serves as winemaking facility and hayloft tasting room at Garfield Estates. While sipping Fume Blanc, merlot and cabernet franc, one food choice disappears by the handfuls: herbed roasted almonds. Owner Jeff Carr shares the recipe while taking orders for blanc and franc.
As with a fine dinner, the weekend concludes with a classic port at Graystone Vineyards. Silver trays of nuts and confections and crystal decanters add elegance to Barbara Maurer's tasting room. The gregarious owner/winemaker has received national and international recognition for the boutique-style winery.
The rewards of Spring Barrel Tasting last throughout the year, and you'll have a fond memory and a great story every time you open a bottle of local wine, and recall the food pairings - a memorable weekend in "Colorado's Wine Country."
If you go:
Barrel Into Spring occurs in April and May, although specific dates vary annually. For more information on the Grand Valley Winery Association, visit www.grandvalleywine.com.