"Better bring your car," said my friend Stewart, who works for the Aspen Times. "I have a box of wine for you." It was a sampling of wines from Woody Creek Cellars. You've probably never heard of Woody Creek Cellars. The Colorado winery is the epitome of local. It sells its wines only in the Aspen area, but some of the better restaurants have it, and all the wine shops do.
Stewart is friends with Kevin Doyle, a onetime waiter who in 2000 started up Woody Creek Cellars on a shoestring. I have tasted a sample occasionally at the Saturday Farmer's Market, where Doyle sometimes has a stand. The wines were always pleasant, but frankly I never saw the need to buy a bottle. Maybe I was wrong. So I dragooned my friend Mark, who has enough good wine glasses and better cellar conditions than my non-air-conditioned apartment, into tasting them with me. I dropped the case off at his house and he got them to the right temperature. We set up a tasting with him for Sunday afternoon.
He beat me to the punch by opening a bottle of the Chardonnay as we cut up vegetables for a quick dinner before a concert Saturday. I was pleasantly surprised. The well-knit wine had a lovely texture, delicate flavors of apple and spice, hinting at lemon as the finish lingered with some real minerality. Not quite outstanding, but at $12.50 it put to shame most of what you can buy for under $15. We drank it with our basil-strewn heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and it worked beautifully.
I would like to report that all the wines were that good, but the only one Mark and I agreed we would buy and drink again is the 2004 Merlot. It had lovely cherry and plum flavors, and was better knit than the 2003 and 2005. It finished with some fruit and charm. Non-blind, I rated both it and the Chardonnay at 88 points. It goes for $15.
The 2004 Cabernet was the best of several vintages he put in the sample case, but it was a step behind the Merlot on charm. The'05 Merlot and Cab tasted overripe and slightly off balance. I didn't like the Sangiovese and Pinot Noir at all, but the 2005 Tempranillo showed rich texture and the one-note plum flavors persisted well. Maybe 86 points.
Doyle is a seat-of-the-pants winemaker who disdains chemistry. "If one wine is too soft, I blend in a vineyard from a higher elevation that has more acidity," he said over grilled chicken and beef tacos at Stewart's house. Although he has a post office box address in Woody Creek, not far from Aspen, he makes the wines at a rudimentary facility in Austin, Colo., closer to Grand Junction, where most of Colorado's grape growing occurs. Doyle has no vineyards, but he buys from a string of growers on the western slope of the Rockies.
Most of the Colorado wines I have tasted from there show nice, pleasant character, but for the same money, I can think of lots of other wines I would rather drink. Doyle's Chardonnay and the one Merlot gave me pause. Maybe I should be drinking local, at least for some of the time that I am in summer residence in Colorado.
Greg — July 27, 2007 2:27pm ET
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