Author and Colorado wine expert Paula Mitchell tasted wine for the first time when she was 12 years old. It was her father’s dandelion wine.
“There was only one word to associate with that: yuck," Mitchell told a group of about 80 wine enthusiasts at a presentation on Colorado wines at the Lone Tree Library on July 30.
During her presentation, Mitchell shared her expertise and insights she gained from her travels to 98 percent of Colorado’s wineries and provided a brief history of wine making in Colorado, taking the audience on a virtual tour of vineyards and wineries in the six wine-growing regions throughout the state.
“Over the course of my life, I have enjoyed a lot of wine,” she said.
In 2011, Mitchell decided to turn her enjoyment of wine into a study, so she began reading about wine and earned a Level Two Sommelier, a study of wines and wine and food pairings.
Initially, her studies and tastings encompassed a broad range of wines from the North American West Coast to Europe, but she eventually realized that she was ignoring the wines in her own backyard, so she turned her attention to Colorado.
“Colorado is a boutique winery state, which means you have to go to the wineries themselves to taste all the wines that they produce,” Mitchell said. “You can get some in liquor stores, but it is such a small sampling.”
When she initially searched for a book on Colorado wines and wineries, the only guidebook she could find was a title published in 2002 when the state was home to 33 wineries, so she decided to write her own book about Colorado vineyards, which she first published in 2012.
Today, Colorado has 135 wineries, and Mitchell has published an updated, second edition of her book, “Exploring Colorado Wines: A Guidebook and Journal,” which includes directions to and details about Colorado’s wineries, cideries and meaderies.
Though unwilling to offer an opinion on which Colorado wine is the best, she did identify the grapes best suited for Colorado’s climate. Rieslings, chardonnays, and Viognier grapes tend to make the best white wines, and Colorado’s best red wines come from cabernet sauvignons, merlots, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, which is often used to smooth cabernet and merlot blends but is often bottled in Colorado as a stand-alone grape.
“If we, Colorado, were to have a signature grape, it would be Cabernet Franc. Like pinot noir is to Oregon, the Cabernet Franc is to Colorado,” Mitchell said.
Following her presentation, attendees were treated to a tasting of three wines produced by Purgatory Cellars Winery in Parker. Gary Tassler offered guests a sample of his winery’s Riesling, Zinfandel, and a unique Chardonnay aged in Amphora containers.
The use of the clay Amphora containers to store and ferment wines dates to the sixth century B.C. and gives the wine a unique flavor that differentiates it from traditional Chardonnays.