A crackling fire warms the room as couples and groups are escorted to their tables at the Ski Tip Lodge at Keystone. Each place is set with multiple wine glasses, grouped in cozy clusters of two or four. Servers flit about, pouring water and distributing menus of a la carte small plates to accompany the wine that is the centerpiece of the night’s event.
The theme for the evening is “Wines of Love,” appropriate for the recent holiday dedicated to the same, and it’s the first installment in a week of events devoted to vino as part of Keystone’s Savor the Slopes. The annual culinary festival celebrates the dining establishments at Keystone Resort, with affordably priced tastings scheduled for each day of the month of February.
Coming weeks will highlight spirits and craft beer, but for now, the focus is the ever-versatile grape, as Ski Tip sommelier Megan Morgan drifts from table to table pouring the first offering of the evening.
Wine of love
Morgan has been a part of the Ski Tip family since 1991 and has devoted her time to illuminating diners about wine for about seven years, she said. Her enthusiasm for her job is apparent as she speaks about each selection, encouraging the diners to visit each of the vineyards, if they are able, to truly experience the artfulness of the wines.
She starts with the Tiamo NV Prosecco from Italy. Tiamo translates as “I love you” in Italian, and the “NV” in the title denotes that this is a nonvintage wine, meaning the grapes used to make it were blended from multiple harvest years. Prosecco, Morgan said, is not the name of a particular grape but, rather, the name of a region.
“Just as what happened with Chianti in the 1970s, that region just started expanding and expanding and expanding,” Morgan said. As a result, the quality levels for grapes grown in the border areas declined and the region was demarcated.
The Tiamo is lightly effervescent and light straw in color, with a slightly sweet palate that’s low in acidity. Prosecco is a sparkling wine, but it’s made with a very different process from Champagne.
“Fermentation happens in a tank, instead of individual bottles,” Morgan said. “This removes the yeast, so rather than showcasing the yeast as you would with Champagne, it showcases the fruity, easy-drinking, sitting-on-the-patio — the very friendly qualities of Prosecco.”
From the heart
The next offering is the 2009 Il Cuore Chardonnay from Mendocino in Northern California. Though it’s domestically produced, the name of this wine is also Italian, meaning “The Heart,” and is a tribute to the Italian family that created it, putting their hearts into their winemaking.
The Il Cuore contains 96 percent chardonnay grapes, with the balance being viognier. Viognier is a varietal originally cultivated in the northern Rhone region of France, Morgan said, nearly lost to history at one point but saved and revived by Chateau Grillet and now planted throughout the word.
“Mendocino is known for producing chardonnays that have a nice little green apple bite to them,” Morgan said. “Less oak and more fruit — a great food cocktail.”
Morgan directs her audience to the apricot floral notes of the wine, which is fruit driven but not overly sweet, with alluring aromatics.
‘The Love Grass’
When in doubt about which wine to choose, trust your vintner. D’Arenberg “The Love Grass” Shiraz, 2010 McLaren Vale, comes from South Australia and is the wine of choice for somewhat eccentric third-generation winemaker and owner Chester Osborn, Morgan said.
“These vineyards are surrounded by a weed called the love grass,” Morgan said. “They name each of their wines, and they chose this name because they have different varietals surrounding it.”
Like the love grass around the vineyard, fragments of viognier, cabernet, merlot and even pinot noir, among others, encircle the 90 percent Shiraz base of this wine.
“All those different varietals act like the love grass, clinging on and making a more complete package,” Morgan said. “The blending grapes soften up the wine a little bit, so doesn’t have the strength, the power, that forced extraction (of other Shiraz).”
The fourth wine in the tour is named for a man, not a holiday, but still represents a loving tribute. The Terra Valentine Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, was named for the winemaker’s father, Valentine, who devoted his life to his work at the Valspar Corp., so that his children could rise up in the world, Morgan said.
“When you see the Spring Mountain District, key in that’s going to be a phenomenal cabernet sauvignon,” Morgan said. “You really have to drive up Spring Mountain to get to the winery. It’s an old stone winery; it’s said to be haunted. The grapes themselves — it’s all volcanic rock, so the grapes really struggle to do their best.”
The “Terra” in the name is a nod to the rocky terroir that helps define the cabernet sauvignon grapes that form 96 percent of this wine, rounded out with cabernet franc.
“This is a wine that needs dinner with it, but it fit our theme and it’s so delicious I thought you could suffer along with it,” Morgan said with a smile.
Lovers go to paradise
The final stop on our vinous journey is a gift, a fifth in a series intended to be four. The 2011 Quady “Elysium” Black Muscat is a product of Madera, Calif., from a producer that focuses almost entirely on dessert wines.
“Valentine’s Day is always about sweet, so a little sweet dessert wine is entirely appropriate,” Morgan said. “Elysium is the Greek word that means paradise, and they say that all lovers go to paradise, so that’s where we’re going.”
Black Muscat is a sweet table grape used as a dessert grape in Europe but not typically found in the United States. A touch of brandy is added partway through the fermentation of this wine, leaving behind sugar and lightly increasing the alcohol content, Morgan said.
The tiny tulip of ambrosial liquid provides the perfect parting note to the evening.