Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. HayesAspen Times Weekly

It may be too obvious and too pretentious to say in print that, as a wine writer, I had a vintage year. And yet, I will go there. Because the people I met and the places I went in my wine-scribe travels made 2010 the best vintage of my writing life.It began in January in Aspen, when I skied with one of the world’s legendary winemakers. Donald Ziraldo, the creator of Inniskillin Icewine and unquestionably the most important person in the short history of Canadian wine, is, as you might guess, a powerful powder skier. During three days of turns he shared tales of his past as a winemaking pioneer, resurrecting an old-world wine style in a quintessential, new-world winemaking region. Afterwards he shared a taste of his future, a luscious, glass of the eponymous Ziraldo Icewine that he now makes from grapes grown near the place where his wine journey began decades ago, on Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula.Before the snow had melted, it was off to Napa for a column on Duckhorn’s “Elevated Experience.” The journey began with a brisk, early-morning run through sacred ground, the Three Palms Vineyard, birthplace of the iconic Duckhorn Merlot in 1978. We then toured both the original Duckhorn Farm House property in St. Helena and the winemakers’ newer incarnation, the contemporary Paraduxx Winery on the Silverado Trail. Ryan Moore, Duckhorn’s manager of retail operations, introduced us to the future of wine tourism.In the spring it was an overnight flight across the international dateline to Australia. I had been in Adelaide less than 24 hours when, serendipitously, I found myself at Penfolds historic Magill Estate Winery with Peter Gago, the fourth man in history to lead the making of Australia’s most famous wine, Grange. Here I tasted not just the recently released, Shiraz-based 2005 Grange, but the entire spectrum of Gago’s current and few past releases. More than a tasting, it was an entry to the history of Australian wines.A second Syrah was the wine-tasting highlight of my summer. This time the venue was Red Mountain, and the subject of one of my columns graciously opened a wine from France that I would likely never have tasted had he not been so generous. The wine was a 1990 “Ermitage” Cuvee Cathelin from the house of Jean Louis Chave. Those who read the column perhaps noticed the purple spittle on the side of my mouth from all of my gushing. A few days later, once again serendipitously, I met the man himself, winemaker Jean Louis Chave, here in Aspen at the Food & Wine Classic. Again, I gushed.When the leaves changed and the harvest began in America (a very late harvest after a very cool year), I again traveled to Napa. This time I spent three days with third-generation Napa legend Michael Martini at his state-of-the-art winery and, even more special for me, at the tippy-top of the famed Monte Rosso vineyard in Sonoma. This was home turf for Martini and the experience was akin to walking center field with Mickey Mantle.Once the snow fell again, I had what may have been my favorite tasting experience of the year capped by an O’Henry ending. It began with the opening of the new IWM Cellars in the Little Nell arcade here in Aspen. Chris Deas, managing director of the Aspen IWM, was kind enough to set up to a tasting of “orange wines” at the flagship Italian Wine Merchants shop in New York. There, we tasted and, more impressively, experienced the opening of Ales Kristancic’s Movia Puro Ros. This sparkling wine, made in Italy, must be opened upside down in a tank of water to disgorge the yeast that Kristancic leaves in the bottle. If you want to know more, Google the article.Anyway, it was an amazing experience. Cut to two weeks later and the tiny Green Goddess restaurant in New Orleans, a place that has an amazing selection of wines and a cadre of obsessive wine and spirits professionals. As I sat, sipping a perfect Sazerac, I spied a bottle on the top shelf. It was a Movia Puro Ros, a bottle I had never seen anywhere other than the IWM tasting. I asked about it.”Yeah, the bartender said. “You have to open it upside down and underwater,” he explained. “We opened it a couple of months ago on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the whole staff had a taste. It kinda’ seemed appropriate.”Full circle in a vintage year.Cheers.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@wineink.com.