I had lunch last week at Cafe Niebaum-Coppola in Palo Alto. I wanted to try the pizza, since the cafe is one of just 12 U.S. restaurants named to the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana. Seemed prestigious, but...eh. It was about as good as any pizza I've had so far. Which is to say, not as good as I had expected. We have had pizza from Pauline's and Pizza Express and so far, nothing to write home about. Haven't yet made it to A-16. Suggestions are welcome.
After lunch, I went back to the office to face 12 Thanksgiving desserts, 2 salads, and some beef tacos, all of which needed tasting and rating for a recipe contest and a wine club premium, respectively. This part of the job? It's tough. Just a bite or two each, and I'll skip dinner tonight, but on days like this it's impossible to not feel like a fatted calf, sacrificed to the glory of food writing.
Which brings me to Colorado. Bad transition.
We had incredible food on our Colorado wine tour. Delicous, abundant food. Tell a chef that 10 wine and food writers are coming to the restaurant and s/he's going to aim for the bleachers, so we had exactly one meal with fewer than 6 courses. Follow the just-two-bites rule all you want, but you won't be getting up from that table for at least 2 hours. It can, at times, feel like an endurance test.
My trip was sponsored by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board to introduce food and wine writers to their growing wine trade. At the moment, there are about 60 wineries around the state, concentrated within the two AVAs (American Viticultural Areas): Grand Valley and West Elks. Boosters point to the region's warm days, cool nights, abundant sunshine, and well-drained soil. New Mexico has had some success with sparkling wines, so why not Colorado? In fact, grapes were grown all over the Western Slope more than 100 years ago, but the vines were torn out during Prohibition and replaced with peach trees, which thrived and became quite famous. Western Slope peaches are even served on Air Force One. What a waste of a good peach.
We visited 8 wineries and tasted wines from about 15-20 more (my notes get a little slurry). A lot of wine for three days. The verdict? Well, there's tremendous momentum here, and I felt lucky to be on the first-ever CO wine tour. I can't wait to see what the landscape will look like 5 and 10 years from now. The wines were mixed, but there were some real stand-outs and some terrific bargains. The vines are relatively young, growers are still figuring out which grapes thrive in each zone, and vinification methods vary. But the winemakers are a passionate, committed bunch, carving a wine industry out of high desert orchard land, despite the perils. Everyone had a bad frost story to tell. And they're seeing some success with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and fruit wines.
Some of my favorites, in no particular order:
1) Two Rivers Cabernet Sauvignon
2) Graystone Winery Port
3) Boulder Creek Riesling
4) Canyon Wind Rosé
5) The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey Merlot Reserve
6) Spero Cherry Wine (like bottled cherry pie)
7) Carlson Vineyard Gewurtztraminer
8) Garfield Estates S2
9) Stoney Mesa's Ptarmigan Vineyards line
10) Trail Ridge Lemberger (yes, Lemberger)
I also fell in love with the cheeses from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy. Check 'em out!