Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Neighbors to the South--Balistreri Vineyards

Though I have been focusing on “local” wine-related businesses (remember, I live in Wyoming, so my “neighborhood” is very, very large!), I made a trip to see my neighbors in nearby Colorado.  Last weekend, Denver hosted its own International Wine Festival, and because of my schedule, I couldn’t attend any of the activities.  However, I had to get some wine-ing done in Denver since so many others were!  Therefore, I planned my own wine tour of Denver.  The weather tried to hamper my small group's spirits, but the Colorado wines did not!  I sipped at three wineries, but my first stop, Balistreri Vineyards, proved to be a great place to begin. 

The rain was just beginning to turn to slush in the air when we pulled into the parking lot.  As we walked into the open, airy tasting room and saw the tasting bar, we quickly forgot about the chill outside.  Grandson Mason Balistreri was our tasting guide to lead us through EIGHTEEN wines—three whites, four desserts, and eleven reds.  All of these tastes were at no cost; the Balistreris just want everyone to experience their wines.  Missing one would miss part of what the winery is all about. 

We started sipping on the whites, which were some of the most unique wines I have ever tasted.  Balistreri uses only the natural yeast from the grapes and does no filtering or fining, so the color of these whites was deep and golden.  Both the Chardonnay and the Riesling were nothing that one would expect from the typical wines made from these grapes.  The Viognier, the third white, goes through Lees treatment, making it unique as well.  All of these wines were made from Colorado-grown grapes from the western part of the state.

After a quick snack of the crackers and cheese available in the tasting room for all who come to visit, we started swirling the reds in our glasses.  Some of the reds were made from California grapes—a Zinfandel, a Merlot, and a Cabernet; however, my favorites were the wines made from Colorado-grown fruit with Balistreri’s unique production techniques!  I loved the Colorado Little Feet Merlot.  The wine was a very smooth Merlot with oak and berries, but honestly, I also loved the premise of the name of this wine.  This Merlot was stomped by the “little feet” of children who attended the Festival Italiano that vintage year (for this wine 2011). This was one of the most unique and memorable labeling and production ideas ever.  I wish my children would have been able to stomp some grapes when their feet were still little! 

My next memorable red was also Mason Balestreri’s favorite red wine, the 2011 Colorado Syrah.  This had a great peppery scent, yet was filled with a big berry taste.  Finally, I greatly enjoyed the 2010 Colorado Cabernet Sauvignon, grown from Whitewater Hill Vineyard.  Wet leather smells with the berry flavors were all balanced with a long, pleasant finish.  My Cab-drinking husband will love this wine when we open the bottle I purchased! 

We had tasted at Balistreri for almost two hours, but we still were not done--we had dessert wines to sip.  There was a traditional style Ruby port, a late-harvest Zinfandel, and even a Colorado cherry wine, but my choice was the late-harvest Merlot from Colorado grapes.   Yes, this was a very sweet wine, but it was not too sweet, kind of like the Goldilocks of dessert wines. 

At this point, my tasting partners and I had worked up quite an appetite, so we stayed to enjoy the bistro at Balistreri.  The menu was filled with delightful soups, salads, sandwiches, breads, and cheeses.  I had the squash soup (since it was a chilly day) and the grilled pear salad.  My partners both had the chicken sandwich and raved about the sun-dried tomato mayo. 

Finally, we were ready to head to the next winery on our tour of Denver, knowing that the experience at Balistreri would be hard to top. 

Before we left, I had a conversation with the winemaker, John Balistreri.  At first, he was not impressed with my sommelier title.  I was a bit taken aback, since most of the time when I mention this, wineries are pleased.  However, after Mr. Balistreri explained why, I understood his viewpoint.  He commiserated with me about the fact that some of the most formal members and sommeliers of the wine community in Colorado do not support local Colorado wine, instead opting to give awards to wines from other areas and producers.  This backwards home-town loyalty is proven when Colorado wines win awards at other wine competitions, but not at the one hosted in the state.  I can attest to the quality of the wines Colorado winemakers are producing, helping me to see John’s side of the story. 

As I walked back into the cold from the well-designed tasting room facility, I vowed to come back in less inclement weather so I could enjoy the outdoor seating areas the winery boasts.  I also vowed to spread the word of Colorado wines and hoped to break Mr. Balistreri’s idea of formally trained sommeliers.  I love locally owned, grown, and produced products.  As a wine industry, we must not be such wine snobs that we miss the wines that are literally right under our noses.  So, my neighbors to the south, keep up the good work.  I will be back!