Before written records and histories, there were legends surrounding the origins of wine. One ancient Persian fable attributes the discovery of wine to a princess who had fallen out of favor in court. She was so distraught, she attempted to end her life by ingesting spoiled grapes she thought were poisonous. The fermented fruit was so intoxicating that she enjoyed it until she lost consciousness. When she awoke, her troubles seemed far away, and she reestablished her good graces with the king. They figured this was a pretty good elixir to keep around.
Here in modern-day Colorado, beer is arguably held in the highest regard. But Colorado Springs has a full spectrum of venues and opportunities to enhance your relationship with vino as well. Whether you’re looking for an introduction to wine or access to collections that will impress the most sophisticated oenophile, you’re in luck. Get started here with tips from local sommeliers; then drop by and let the somms take you further.
Start With the Bubbles
When attending a wine tasting or sitting down to dinner, start with higher acidity wines—think crisp varietals such as Champagne, sauvignon blanc or riesling.
“The perfect way to wake up the palate is with bubbles,” says Jared Kadzikowski, sommelier at The Club at Flying Horse. “Wines with high acid make you salivate more and make you hungry. It preps you to move into bigger wines.”
Beginning here will cleanse your palette of that earlier afternoon snack and allow you to fully taste what you’re drinking.
“Always start light, crisp, acidic and work your way into those big, full-bodied reds,” Kadzikowski says.
“It may sound cliche, but what grows together goes together,” Kadzikowski says. “Wine from a specific geographic location pairs with food grown in that region.”
We naturally equate beer with a burger in a local pub. In the same way, choose clear connections for wine, such as French Burgundy with coq au vin, or pasta with a traditional, Italian Chianti.
“Things that are really salty like chips and dip with sweet wines are so good,” Kadzikowski says. “Sweet and salty!”
What about dessert? “As long as your dessert wine is sweeter than your dessert, you are good to go.”
Think of Champagne as the perfect aperitif to start and port, sherry or Madeira as a digestif to end the meal.
“When you put [wine and food] together and get that perfect pairing, it can send people to the moon and back,” Kadzikowski says.
Join a Club
A wine club can allow you to compare wines from all over the world side by side.
“I want to give people a chance to taste wines that they wouldn’t just walk in and buy off the shelf,” says Dirk Stamp, owner of The Wine Seller and guest sommelier at The Margarita at Pine Creek.
“I believe a lot in experiential type learning. I don’t like to preach to people about, you should like this style,” Stamp says. “Like what you like, but know why you like it and why it works with different things. What do you like about wine and how it feels and tastes in your mouth?”
Stamp likes to create customer profiles and slowly guide people toward a more authentic wine experience. He jokingly refers to his Wine of the Month Club as “forced experimentation.” Two bottles, at varying price points, come with some knowledge and a recipe.
“We throw some curveballs, and this is where you get the opportunity to learn a little bit more,” Stamp says. “Our job is to keep giving learning opportunities, and let them figure it out.”
Want the full experience? Stamp participates in multiple wine dinners each month. “The right wines in the right perspective are sometimes more interesting in the context of a meal,” he says.
It all comes down to building on experience.
Pull Up a Chair at a Wine Bar
If multicourse meals or ongoing clubs seem out of reach, then explore a local wine bar.
“Enjoying wine doesn’t have to be a fine-dining experience,” says Sharon Erale-Palmer, owner and sommelier of Swirl Wine Bar in Manitou Springs. Casual, approachable and eclectic, the entire vibe of Swirl proves it.
“We want to provide interesting wines without spending a pretty penny,” Erale-Palmer says.
She begins by asking patrons, “What have you had that you liked?” But that’s only the starting point.
“We can be very grape-centric,” Erale-Palmer says. “We learn to like or dislike based on varietal, but grapes have their own personality at birth [and] change over time and due to the winemaker. If you don’t try anything outside of that, you’ll never develop your palate.”
Try This at Home
Another comfortable way to introduce yourself and others to new wines is to create your own in-home tasting or dinner. The resounding sentiment among sommeliers is to keep it simple.
“Keep it small: four to five wines, starting with a sparkling, maybe two white, two red,” Swirl’s Erale-Palmer says. “Too much wine, and you’ll blow your palate. Start with pure blends, approachable, known grapes, like 100-percent cabernet sauvignon.”
Chris West, owner and creator of Colorado Wine Events, recommends including reference points. “Train your nose to find the notes by offering cups of leather, lemon, berries, lavender,” he says. “Wine tickles memory cells.”
Those comparisons can be entertaining and enlightening. And you may feel more emboldened to share tasting notes in a familiar environment among trusted friends.
But Don’t Forget the Food
Jocelyne Fay, a Pikes Peak culinary arts graduate, chef de cuisine at the International Wine and Spirits Guild and master sommelier candidate specializes in private dinners and wine pairings.
“Wine and food should be a good marriage,” she says. “Depending on the wine, depending on the food, together you can taste something totally different. Most European wines are meant
to be drunk with food. That’s their culture.”
Keep It Fun
“Make wine fun, and do something outside of what you’d normally do,” Flying Horse’s Kadzikowski says. “You will never know it all. Wine is constantly evolving, and so is your palate.”
“It is intimidating at the beginning, and everyone’s taste buds are different,” says Fay. “The more you study, the less you know.”
“Even master sommeliers can learn something new, and we have to constantly keep up,” Erale-Palmer says.
So draw from your own experiences, and raise a glass. Swirl it. Smell it. Gaze at it. Remember that wine, even for the most knowledgeable connoisseur, is a truly humbling subject—and an enjoyable journey.
Elevate Your Tasting Tips
Read more about vino tips and tricks from the pros here.
Learn about THE WINE FESTIVAL OF COLORADO SPRINGS