Two days in the life of a wine journalist in Denver

Contributing Columnist

So what is it like to be a wine writer based in Denver? Perhaps the best part for me is that Colorado now boasts the second highest per-capita wine consumption of any state in the union (Nevada is first because of Las Vegas). In addition, recent legal changes such as allowing Sunday liquor sales and being able to take unfinished bottles purchased in a restaurant home (as long as resealed) have made a big difference in how we’re perceived nationally. Thus, because of the increasing friendliness of our state to the wine lifestyle, we are now being exposed to many experiences that previously had been reserved for denizens of the east and west coasts only.


What follows is a description of two consecutive memorable days within the past month in Denver, not like every day but certainly not unique, either. One event was trade-only, the other open to the public. Each ably demonstrates Colorado’s growing ability to attract top beverage-focused talent on national sales tours.

Gentleman Max

The inestimable Maximilian Riedel is an intriguing mixture of Austrian aristocrat and stand-up comic in the mold of Steven “they say the world is a small place but I wouldn’t want to paint it” Wright. Recently he flew into Denver to lead a wine glass seminar that was open to the public. Metropolitan State University hosted the event in their beautiful new auditorium, the host wine store was Argonaut Wine & Liquor (www.argonautliquor.com) and the wine sponsor was Southern Wine & Spirits.


The basic kit for each attendee consisted of three Riedel XL crystal glasses of various sizes and shapes to hold pinot noir, syrah and cabernet, respectively, three small cups of wine (one of each variety), a dump cup (for spitting out the wine, a necessity in this sort of setting), some white and dark chocolate and a bottle of water. Maximilian proceeded to lead us through a progressive tasting of each wine in each glass, nine combinations in total. From first to last he led a discussion on how the various glass shapes influenced smell and, as aroma creates 90 percent of the sense of taste, the palate, as well. The small bites of chocolate also surprised (who knew that white chocolate paired so well with pinot noir?) but the focus was clearly on wine’s interaction with its container.

Max, who was trained in Murano, Italy as a glassmaker, designs and sells more than 60,000,000 glasses each year. He’s also quite a character (much like his father Georg) and kept zinging one-liners as he deftly moved the crowd through his program. My favorite was that wine glasses are like many musical instruments in that you put them to your lips and then communicate.

When I sat down with him for a one-on-one after the tasting he told me that he loved Colorado. “It’s much like my homeland of Austria in climate, especially the mountains. And there are so many knowledgeable wine drinkers here!” But he admitted that the altitude sometimes threw off his tasting abilities, something that I could find little evidence of during the seminar.

Gregory the Negociant

What do Provence, the Languedoc and Roussillon have in common other than their southern French locations? Hecht & Bannier (H&B) wines, which are created and produced by founders Gregory Hecht (whom I met the day after the Riedel seminar at an industry-only tasting and lunch at Row 14 in Denver) and François Bannier. H&B is a “negociant,” the French term for a wine merchant who assembles the production of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under his own name.

But first a quick geography lesson. All three of the previously mentioned provinces are in the south of France. They mostly have a Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot, dry summers, mild winters, little snow, and abundant sunshine. The winds are an important feature, particularly the mistral, cold and dry, which blows down the Rhone Valley and often reaches a velocity of more than 100 kilometers per hour.

Provence extends from the left bank of the lower Rhone River on the west to the Italian border on the east. The great majority of its wines are rosés and the characteristic grape is mourvèdre, used most famously in the reds of Bandol. The Languedoc consists of the modern-day régions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées. Today it produces more than a third of all grapes in France and is a major contributor to the French wine surplus (sometimes referred to as a lake). Roussillon is one of the historical counties of the former Principality of Catalonia.

I found Gregory Hecht to be as delightful as Maximilian Riedel but in a slightly more earthbound way. Max is heir to a long tradition of craft, well-suited to his task but already a rock star. Gregory is also doing well: his wines are being imported to the U.S. by Frederick-Wildman, one of the best in the trade. H&B is clearly on an upward path through the wine-drenched, label-crowded counties of southern France. But it is a first-generation business, and Gregory’s earnest demeanor reflected that. Nonetheless, I found both men charming and fun. Each is, as my friend Paul David of Winepairings.biz (Denver’s own wine concierge service) likes to say, “one of us.”

It’s a Tough Life

I guess my real point is that these weren’t the only beverage-focused events held in Denver that week or even that day. In my opinion, this upsurge in our attractiveness for such events is directly due to changes in Colorado alcoholic beverage laws have led national and international marketing firms to take our state more seriously as a place to sell their products. And, because of Colorado’s increasing prominence in the nation’s beverage discourse, in my opinion the best is yet to come.

I’d like to start by letting you know about upcoming events in Colorado that, like the Riedel seminar, are open to the public. If you want to publicize your similar event please send the details to BentheWineBerg@coloradostatesman.com.

Hecht & Bannier Tasting Notes
(750mL bottles unless otherwise indicated)

Rosé

Hecht & Bannier Rosé Cotes de Provence 2012
(Provence, France) $19
Composed of grenache and cinsault. It is bright pink in color, smells of pink grapefruit, and tastes of green grapes and breadfruit. The finish is high and long.

Hecht & Bannier Rosé Languedoc 2012
(Languedoc, France) $12
Strawberry tinted and smells of clementine, but on the tongue it’s all about cranberry and red plum.

Red

Hecht & Bannier Languedoc 2011
(Languedoc, France) $15
This red wine looks like a black plum. Graphite and black raisin dominate the nose while more black plum and cherry take the finish to a very high level.

Hecht & Bannier Bandol 2009
(Provence, France) $40
This red looks like crystalline blood and noses dark chocolate and blackberry. Sweet, dark cherry and salty orange line the broad, refined palate.

Hecht & Bannier Faugeres Languedoc-Roussillon 2010
(Languedoc, France) $38
The Faugeres Languedoc-Roussillon from eastern Languedoc tints dark red and smells like nothing less than porky blueberries. Black rock salinity and deep red cherry show big at the end.

Hecht & Bannier Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2010
(Roussillon, France) $26
As befits such an area of mixed personality, the H&B Cotes du Roussillon Villages red wine is more black than red. Plum, mint, and blacktop lead to black pepper and cranberry on a firm, long finish. Very enjoyable and not at all expensive.

Riedel Seminar Tasting Notes
(750mL bottles unless otherwise indicated)

Red

Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyard Sonoma Coast 2009
(Sonoma County, California) $40
Brooding and quite woody at first, with firmly planted underbrush, wild raspberry, anise, and cinnamon leading to a flinty finish.

Qupé Syrah Sawyer Lindquist 2009
(Edna Valley, California) $36
Glossy and deep with notes of white pepper, dried cherry, and black plum. The finish is bold and long with a hint of mint.

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
(Napa Valley, California) $54
Very firm and chalky dry, but as it sits in the glass strands of dried raisin, roasted sage, mocha and cedar emerge. Would revisit in five years minimum.

Certified sommelier and unfilteredunfined.com editor-in-chief Ben Weinberg JD, MBA, pens Weinberg’s Wine Tech in Sommelier Journal and has written for the Daily Beast, Worth Magazine, The World of Fine Wine, Wine Enthusiast, and The Tasting Panel Magazine, where he is the Rocky Mountain Editor. He also leads luxurious, behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s most famous wine regions via WineOnTheRoad.com.
Ben can be reached at BentheWineBerg@coloradostatesman.com