In its 15 years, the Wines of Colorado has likely done as much as any state Wine Industry Development Board initiative to show visitors that we aren't a bunch of backward bumpkins with barrels. We're serious growers with two federally designated American Viticultural Areas, microclimates capable of great things in the right hands.
In the Cascade outfit's sharp tasting room, where 70-plus wineries are represented, owner Marv Parliament will pour you free samples of a daily-changing vino array sans pretense. He's as much of a drink-what-you-like guy as I've ever met, and even if we agree that some cough syrup-tasting, fruit-enhanced top-sellers aren't Colorado's best ambassadors, we are pleasantly surprised to relish a Meadery of the Rockies chocolate cherry satin dessert offering.
Whatever your speed, a glass is only $6.95, while bottles fall in the $18 to $22 range. It's a smart, entirely wine-focused model backed by a proficient, mom-and-pop-caliber comfort food menu that boasts tourist-friendly draws such as buffalo meat items. And in season, a stellar creek-side patio makes for yet another visitor-wowing show of Colorado beauty.
All that's on the south side of Fountain Avenue, the Pikes Peak Highway turnoff. But across the street, Parliament recently realized one of his dreams: opening of The Winery at Pikes Peak, an event space, tasting room, coffee bar and ice cream shop within 8,000 square feet of renovated adobe architecture. In what was originally a grocery store built in the '20s, the wine sipping continues with pours from each of the six new Winery at Pikes Peak labels produced by Grand Junction's Two Rivers Winery, made special for this venue.
My favorite of the batch is the Parliament Blend of syrah and cabernet. But at this time of year, beyond the hyper-sweet Riesling, very American-oak-forward Chardonnay and their cohorts, you'll also find a Glühwein-like warm mulled drink made from the likeable, rosé-esque Rosie C (a Riesling/Merlot blend) amped by a wassail spice mix (sold onsite) from Ouray. It's a comfort given the cellar-temperature chill of the room on a slow sales day.
After our sampling, we fight sugar with sugar at Sweet*Tooth (the ice cream/coffee component), creating a custom shake ($7) from one of eight rotating Josh & John's flavors. Parliament's amiable daughter-in-law Genny takes our Dutch Chocolate choice with Barista Espresso and eggnog syrup shots, and adds half-and-half plus malt powder; our experiment balances out for a superlative straw-sucking experience on the drive home.
When we return to the restaurant proper for food, dishes hit and miss with the same frequency as some of the featured wineries. For apps, a portobello mushroom cap next to decent hummus ($9.95) feels small for its price, but respectably bursts with pesto and balsamic flavor. By contrast, bulbs of smoked garlic ($6.95) with flatbread crackers lack characteristic bite and pungency, for dull dipping into olive oil.
Marv's Buffalo Chili ($6.95) has depth and body but cries out for salt and a touch of some acidic element. (P.S. Strain the bay leaves out.) But a special-of-the-day green chili ($5.95) is gorgeously smoky and spicy — hickory smoke informs several menu items like pork and turkey — failing only in a shockingly ice-cold tortilla garnish.
Buffalo lasagna ($13.95) boasts heft but lacks the basic seasoning to pop. Salt and pepper alone, plus some cumin and whatnot here and there, would go a long way in this kitchen, as further proven by the should-kick-ass buffalo wine burger ($10.95): Its onions, mushrooms and green chilies sog the bottom bun while confoundingly lending little flavor or heat. Tame tatonka.
Raspberry chipotle chicken ($12.95) leans too hard on that sugary, smoky accoutrement to fix the flavorless chicken. But surprisingly, our Trout Almandine ($14.95) comes spot-on with crispy skin and flesh plus full flavors, not needing a dill-heavy creamy relish at all.
Dessert gains ground as well via an exemplary, giant four-layer carrot cake slice (feeds up to four, $9.95) with big spice and great icing, and a proficient pecan pie ($6.95) that could use a few more nuts to balance the super-sweet filling.
As for our second visit, genuine warmth on our greeter's part, plus a willingness to make many of the above items to-go, saves full disappointment when we show up an hour prior to closing — having called ahead to verify times — only to find the operation shutting down. I get the whole slow-night thing, but destination-drives especially should honor hours, especially those that, inconsistencies aside, are so worthy of being a tourist destination.