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Passion in pinot paradise


Aaron Foster and Todd Rocchio

This is a straight-up love letter to Todd Rocchio, wine director at Elways. I'll trust his wife's A-okay with that.

Here's the first thing I love about Todd: Despite the fact that he's got one of the most enviable jobs in the Colorado wine biz - his Elways' clientele knows their wine and is willing to pay for it, plus he gets to drink most any wine on the planet - he keeps it real.

A few weeks ago, Todd and Elway's sommelier, Aaron Foster, hosted me and a pal to a private wine sampling. This special moment afforded me the unusual opportunity to ask Todd, "What's your best wine-buying advice, your best kept wine-buying secret. What do you drink at home?"

"It's about the $20 bottle," he said. "That's a good price point. There are a lot of excellent wines in that price range. That's what I drink."

Halleluiah Brother! Isn't that what we've all been waiting to hear all of our wine-drinking lives? Forget the Silver Oaks, les Côtes du Rhônes and the pricey Barolos! The world is full, as all of us regular wine-drinking folk have known for years, of very decent, even grand wines priced at that sweet spot of not too horrid, yet not Boomsfarmy-cheap.

There's more to the story. A few weeks before that Elways sampling, I hit Portland, Oregon, with my best wine-drinking gal-pal. We had one mission: to drink our way through the best Oregon wines we could find.

On a whim, we stopped at a bistro that immediately pointed us out-of-staters to a half-bottle of Domaine Druin Pinot Noir. $39 for half a bottle! we gasped and then dutifully inhaled it. Our knees grew languid, weak with pleasure; it so flavorful, so silky I nearly wept. We drove straight to the winery, deep in the lush Oregon forests (mountains of woods that host over 300 wineries for god's sake) and tasted some more (back home at Argonauts we bought up several bottles).

Which brings me to the second thing I love about Todd Rocchio. He and Aaron have built a wine list that hosts probably more Oregon wines than any other place in the state. So when he poured my sampling of four glasses of red, he said, "Three of these are Oregon Pinot Noirs. One hails from California. It's not a test or a trick question. Just drink."

And I did. Twenty minutes in, each of the four glasses distinguishes itself in delicious and delightful ways, but one grabbed my heart. It turned out to be the Domaine Druin (produced by a fourth-generation Burgundy wine-making family, by the way)!

Oregon Pinot Noirs may be the best thing that's ever happened to me. They may also be the best thing that could ever happen to your wine drinking habits. The long Oregon wine story short is that Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grape varieties to be cultivated for the purpose of making wine, and is one of the most revered wines crafted today. Pinot Noir is the grape of the red wines of Burgundy, and the Pinot Noirs of Oregon are today considered world class.

Good picks include those from Willamette Valley, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley, and Rogue Valley. However, I've had two beautiful wines from the Yamhill Valley area, so experiment. The state produces over 1.5 million cases a year.

The point is this: You can simply stop the Syrah, the Cabernet Sauvignon, even the Barolo binges you've enjoyed in the past and completely cop to the Oregon Pinot Noir. And when you're really feeling indulgent go have Todd and Aaron pour you whatever they think best.

It's called Pinot Paradise.

One Winning Wine Tasting

Engineers Without Borders (www.ewbdenver.org ) will host a wine tasting and silent auction on November 3, 2011, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Museo De Las Americas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, Colo. Museo De Las Americas is a beautiful museum located in the heart of the Santa Fe Arts District, dedicated t o promoting and preserving Latin culture. Tickets are $45 and includes museum entrance, a variety of wines and appetizers. An iPad and hiking and golfing gear are available at the silent auction and all proceeds will benefit ongoing water and sanitation projects in Togo, Ecuador, and Madagascar.
Tickets are $45 and available at www.brownpapertickets.com

Weird Wine Trivia

Why do people clink their glasses before drinking a toast?

It used to be common for someone to try to kill an enemy by offering him a poisoned drink.

To prove to a guest that a drink was safe, it became customary for a guest to pour a small amount of his drink into the glass of the host. Both men would drink it simultaneously.

When a guest trusted his host, he would then just touch or clink the host's glass with his own.

Drinking Improves Thinking in Older Women

Women who enjoy a drink of beer or wine daily have sharper minds into old age than women who abstain, US researchers reported. The report, based on a study of nearly 12,500 nurses, adds to the apparent benefits of light to moderate drinking, which can also prevent heart disease and stroke. "Our study suggests that moderate consumption might provide older women some cognitive benefits," said Dr. Francine Grodstein of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, who worked on the study.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Grodstein and colleagues said they found that drinkers aged 70 to 81 were 20 percent less likely to experience a decline in their thinking skills over a two year period than women who did not drink at all.
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