Food, wine and a little education

American Wine Society introduces wine from Argentina

By Kimberly Dean
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

One gorgeous Friday evening in September, the American Wine Society of Denver was celebrating its monthly wine tasting at the Cork House Wine Restaurant on Colfax near downtown. I have driven by there on occasion and was always curious about the venue with its seemingly dim interior and outdoor fenced-in seating. It had been mysterious to me until now, when I finally had a reason to go there.

I was invited to come and check things out by Bruce Janda of the Denver chapter, and was told to bring a guest. Having just met Natalie Guinovart, instructor at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) located on the Johnson & Wales University campus in Denver, and in need of some discerning taste buds to accompany me for the right perspective, I brought along my new friend in wine to explore with me. The wines we were going to taste were all from Argentina, and since Natalie had spent some time living there with her husband and some of his family, of course I thought she would add that “something” to the experience.

Natalie Guinovart, sommelier and teacher at the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, chats with Karim Mussi Saffie, Altocedro winemaker, at a recent American Wine Society of Denver tasting.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Karim Mussi Saffie, Altocedro winemaker, thanks the society for its interest in his wine.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Scott Curtis, left, with another wine enthusiast.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman

I was introduced to Bruce at the Governor’s Mansion wine tasting this summer. Curious as to what it was all about, I accepted his invitation to “kick the tires,” so to speak, of this unique wine education organization. First off, anyone can join, which is very inviting to those new to the business (or hobby) of wine. The American Wine Society is a national non-profit organization with a mission of “Promoting Appreciation of Wine through Education.” The American Wine Society is the “oldest and largest consumer based wine education organization in North America.” The AWS was “established for those who have a keen interest in wines and the wine culture,” according to its website and Bruce himself.

As for involvement in legislative issues, it is rare that the AWS takes a stand on anything political. However, when it comes to H.R. 5034, the organization feels very strongly. They feel that limiting access to wine from anywhere in the country is counterproductive. Their website clearly states, “In order for our members to learn about the wide variety of wines available, they need to have access to wines of their choosing from both large and small producers throughout the country.” It goes on to say, “AWS is against any legislation that would limit our members’ access by forcing them to purchase only wines that someone else chooses to make available.”

Right now, there are special licenses needed to sell and accept wines across state lines, and it can be very frustrating for self-distributing wineries to get their product out there without a distributor, which many of them cannot afford because it raises the price of their wine.

“Since H.R. 5034 appears ‘To support State based alcohol regulations…’ and thereby allows the possibility of limiting interstate commerce and preventing the direct shipment of wines to our members, the Board of Directors of the American Wine Society opposes passage of this bill.”

As I arrived on the scene at the Cork House, I noticed that my coverage of the Governor’s tasting was on display at the front of the room. Flattered, I was handed a glass of champagne, presumably to cleanse my palette. I said hello to members of the Society (with a capitol S), chose a seat (near the table with wine and a view of the room) for Natalie and myself and then proceeded to mingle.

Once Natalie arrived, I introduced her to several people, and she introduced me to Scott Curtis, general manager of Wine Cru, a local distributor who carries the wine we were to taste that evening. As Natalie talked with Karim Mussi Saffie, owner and winemaker of Altocedro Winery in Argentina, we helped to open bottles in order for them to breathe properly before the several dinner courses we were to experience. I honestly didn’t know there was going to be a formal tasting with creative dishes and talented pairing of courses. I was getting more excited the more I found out.

We invited Scott to sit with us. It seemed we were the youngest people in the room, which was surprising since wine has become so popular among the young professional set. Once seated and settled with a taste of the Tempranillo in front of us, which was more like a half glass of wine, we decided to simply sniff, swirl and sip.

The Tempranillo wine varietal sampled here was of a “single varietal,” meaning no other types of grapes were used. According to Karim they “used to blend it with Malbec until it was deemed good enough on its own.” On the Altocedro vineyard, they start the harvest with these grapes, since they are grown in a compact cluster, and easy to pick, which gives them an idea of the future quality of the wine. He recommends it with pasta or beef.

This evening the Tempranillo was served with a tapas dish of a whole sausage, sliced open with a sundried-tomato paste and a piece of cheese toast emerging from the center. Very creative. The wine was “very fruit-forward, easy to drink, and had an expressive mouth feel,” according to the winemaker. Natalie and Scott seemed to agree with the description, while I appreciated how well it was paired with the food. “This would be a great wedding wine,” Natalie said, a comment on how well it would seem to go with different types of food, and be pleasing to almost anyone.

The next three subsequent wines were all Malbecs, and they were all very different from each other. Fermented at low temperatures in concrete tanks, no additional yeast is added. They just let the wine do its thing. The 2008 Malbec is oaked, and the Grand Reserve, which is a new wine for them, is also fermented in barrels with a bit of 3 or 4 percent Sauvignon. That was my favorite, and paired with a lamb meatloaf and a mash of mushrooms and dates with some red sauce, I was in heaven.

Of course my favorite was the dessert of vanilla flan topped with apricots and shaved coconut. That was served with a sweet white wine and perfectly topped off the evening. I will be sure to contact Mayfair Liquors and put in my order for the Reserve at the very least.

It was nice to be invited to spend time with a group of people who just love wine and everything about it. You can never know everything, but you can try!