Tasting Colorado wine with Master Sommelier Richard Betts

Every few years Richard Betts, one of just a 118 Master Sommeliers in North America (from the esteemed Court of Master Sommeliers), tastes through some Colorado wines to peek into the local industry. We got him to sample six wines from five Colorado producers this past fall, looking for his honest opinions.

The Boulder resident has one of the best palates in the business, having worked as wine director for the crazy good Montagna at the Little Nell before branching off into a wine- and mezcal-making career (Betts & Scholl and Sombra, among the labels he formed).

On this day, he liked four of the winemakers — “We’re at 80 percent here. That’s pretty good,” Betts says. “It’s what I expected.” — and called many wines “pretty.” If he had the ear of a local winemaker, he’d tell them to use less oak, keep it affordable and grow what’s most appropriate to Colorado’s climate.

But don’t take his word for it. Really. “I really believe people should trust their own palate and not what some talking head says or writers,” he says.

Betts’ tasting notes:

Boulder Creek 2010 Viognier ($16)
“It’s a pretty Viongier. I feel like there’s a tendency in a lot of areas to push Viognier to this extreme ripeness where it just becomes super expressive but along with that very clumsy. This doesn’t show that, which is nice. I mean it’s still carrying 14.2 percent (alcohol), but it doesn’t feel it. I wouldn’t have guessed that without reading the label. It doesn’t feel out sized or out of balance in any way. It’s actually pretty nice. There’s a peach thing in there, an orange blossom kind of thing. The lees stick out. So it has a pizza dough quality. It’s fine, it’s impressive, it’s delicious. I don’t think you would say, “oh this is Colorado or it’s not good. It’s a nice wine.” Food ideas: ”Fish for sure would be nice. Lighter chicken dishes. Indian food could be really fun. Not too spicy, though.”

Stone Cottage Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir ($25; 0.5 liter)
“I have two impressions of this. First, look it’s pretty pleasant. It’s not super devolped in a fruit sense. It’s more about cranberry and raspberry, and it really takes a second seat to these mulled wine spices like cinnamon and cedar and clove. It’s pretty, that spicy and turciary front. It’s a nice change up. I am guessing the lack of fruit speaks to abbreviated hang time. The grapes just weren’t out there long enough to get it together. And there’s a little roasted quality. I would serve it a little bit cooler. I wouldn’t be even afraid to put it in the fridge, pull it out with four big glasses and knock it down with a big meal and a bunch of friends. Hell yeah. It would be super fun.” Food ideas: “You can drink this with pretty much anything except tomato sauce. All the fish. All the birds. Red meats.”

Boulder Creek Winery 2009 Syrah ($22)
“You know, the Syrah fruit is really pretty today. It’s showing, I’m guessing, it’s American oak. It’s showing it pretty predominantly today. It’s a big part of the whole. It has this coconut thing on the nose and the finish is dominated by dill, to me. So, on the plus side I love the price; I think that’s great. I love the fruits there. So let it be a grocery wine and nail it, and don’t hit it over the head with all this oak. Objectively, yes it’s a well made wine, and I like the price. Subjectively, I say, ‘wow there’s really pretty fruit in there, but I can’t get at it.’ It’s a serious, everyday wine. Seriously for everyday. It’s kinda fun; it’s not for me because of the wood.”

Sutcliffe Vineyards 2008 Down Canyon blend ($27)
“Pretty. If you put this in front of a lot of people they wouldn’t think Colorado, they’d think California. It’s aromatic, it’s toned, it’s floral, it’s pretty. It smells varietal. It’s nice when it smells like the grape it’s made from. On the palate, it’s also nice. It tastes good, similar to the nose. It tastes a little short on the finish where it dries up a little bit. The tannins dry out a little and there’s this interesting tension. You don’t feel like its all one thing in your mouth; it feels like sort of the minority part of the volume doing a majority of the drying out. So it’s less successful on the palate, but I think it’s the most delicious thing we’ve tasted so far.”

Bethlehem Wine Cellars 2008 Third Cuvee ($18)
“That’s gross. You know what it tastes like? That $5 Costco wine. I hate to be mean. There’s like a little 7 percent of it that’s slightly sexy, the Cab Franc part. Then there’s 43 percent of the Cab Franc part that’s just damn green and under ripe. It’s getting a little better as it spends some time in the glass, but it’s still not a lot of fun. It’s stewy and tomato leafy. There might be a plumy, a little chocolate in the back beat. Some people may love this, and who am I to say. I really believe people should trust their own palate and not what some talking head says or writers. It’s totally void of any sex appeal whatsoever. It’s just kind of yucky. Sorry.”