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Allen Balik, The Wine Exchange: Intriguing wines in a beautiful spot
The Wine Exchange

Allen Balik, The Wine Exchange: Intriguing wines in a beautiful spot

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Since 1980, my wife Barbara and I have made an annual ski trip to Vail where a few years ago we were introduced to an incredible vinous find by a good friend and Vail local. We recently returned from Vail where we once again enjoyed a visit to the unique wine bar, Root & Flower, a joint passion of Jeremy Campbell and Samantha Biszantz, that’s become the happening place in Vail Village for an international ski crowd and eager-to-learn locals.

Jeremy enthusiastically introduces wine lovers to an eclectic range of rare and hard-to-find wines from both well known and relatively obscure growing areas around the world. The list of about 50 wines is divided into categories from Crisp & Clean to Elegance & Grace, Rustic & Complex along with Underappreciated & Misunderstood among other descriptive and engaging titles.

In every category, there is a familiar choice or two so guests have a frame of reference of what to expect when trying new and exotic wines that definitely form the backbone of the list. It’s rare that I peruse a wine list and am unfamiliar with more than half of the names, producers, varietals and/or growing regions. But that’s been the case at Root & Flower on each of our several visits, which is exactly what makes it such an adventure.

This year, we had a chance to spend some extra time with Jeremy who has been involved in restaurant wine selections for almost 25 years and is currently completing his Master Sommelier exams. The list is a testament to Jeremy’s countless hours spent researching his choices, making his selections and only then exploring how he can secure the wines from those few Colorado distributors brave enough to source them.

In January, Jeremy took us on an exploration of the list’s various categories and pulled several very special personal choices not yet included on the list. We started with a selection of whites with each expressing a distinctive personality, then traversed a range of reds and ended the journey with several unique fortified treasures.

2017 Collestefano Verdicchio di Matelica is a classic example of Italy’s Marche region with crisp acidity and a clean and refreshing mouthfeel. The 2016 Vassaltis Santorini Assyrtiko was an eye-opening expression of this grape from Greece that surprisingly exhibited intense weight in combination with its traditional more delicate profile of minerality and salinity. To finish the flight, we enjoyed a 2017 Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray “Cuvee de Silex” that is labeled as Sec-Tendre with slightly more sweetness than Sec (dry) but not quite to the level of Demi-Sec (semi-sweet). A great discovery from an area I’ve long admired.

Moving on to some reds, we began with 2016 Quinta de Sales Dâo Tinto from Portugal that was correctly described by Jeremy as “savory black fruits in a bowl of granite.” We next traveled to Australia’s Barossa Valley with a 2016 Sucette Grenache from 150-year-old vines growing in sand and embracing a true Old World character. Then, on to Uruguay for the 2016 Bodega Garzón Tannat, a bold rich wine from what has become the country’s signature grape and some say could be the next Malbec (of Argentina fame).

Next, we stepped into the “fortified” world with two Grenache offerings from the south of France. A “Ruby-like” Vial-Magneres Banyuls and an aged “Tawny-like” 1976 Riveyrac Riversaltes. Both were true to their styles with a nod toward Port but definitely possessing a Grenache twist.

Concluding our adventure with Jeremy and his eloquent descriptions of each wine, its story and its heritage, we enjoyed two Sherries. Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castillo Amontillado was on the younger side with about 10 years in barrel. To contrast we had the Osborne “Capuchino” Palo Cortado VORS that came from a solera dating to 1790. The component wines of the blend spent a minimum of 30 years in barrel with most closer to 70 years. Quite a treat to end an incredible vinous tour in the glass!

Root & Flower has become a “must” for us when visiting Vail, and my sincere hope is that more “Jeremys” will appear in different markets so all of us can share these unique adventures more often and closer to home.

My Feb. 15 column “Terroir’s multiple interpretations” garnered several comments and interesting observations. The two below — one by an experienced vintner/grower and the other by an international chef — reflect the general messages I received.

Paul—Your excellent piece on terroir could serve as a mini primmer on the subject. Yes, some claim that terroir’s impact is antidotal or even apocryphal, but I am certain that none of them have spent time in a vineyard to observe the unmistakable interaction of a vine and its terroir.

Stan—I am sure that “terroir” is a deep and fascinating topic that I liken to the “ambiance” in a restaurant and defies the notion that “if it can’t be measured or proven, it doesn’t exist.” You cannot measure the ambience of a restaurant but if it’s a dead zone, it doesn’t matter how good the meal is, you won’t go back.

Share your experiences with other readers by commenting on this article with an email to me at

Allen Balik, a Napa resident, has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 35 years.

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