Every September for the past eight years, Colorado winemakers have submitted their best bottles for judging at the state’s Governor’s Cup wine competition. Esteemed judges gather in Denver to taste them all; this year’s 15 judges included three Masters of Wine (one of them was me!), two Master Sommeliers, and several well-established wine writers, tastemakers, and regional vino experts.

We wanted to find very best Colorado wines on the market, of course, but also to provide valuable feedback that would, hopefully, help with the continued improvement of the Centennial State wine industry. 49 of the state’s roughly 150 licensed wineries submitted their wines for judgment, with a total of 344 entries—up nearly 84 percent since 2014—ranging from reds (nearly half) to whites (about a quarter) to ciders, meads, and dessert and fruit wines. Interestingly, there were only six sparklers, a category some believe has strong potential to thrive here in Colorado, as evidenced by the Infinite Monkey Theorem’s 2013 Bubbles Universe, which was included in the Governor’s Collection last year.

Before I reveal the 13 winning wines, here are a few key takeaways from this year’s showing:

  • Colorado Cabernet Franc is delicious! The best this year emphasized the varietal’s more elegant side (typically found in the Loire of France), with little to no new oak obscuring its gorgeous fruit
  • Colorado Merlot is wildly unique—the skins develop an intriguing array of spice from high altitude training that makes for complex, haunting wines
  • Syrah, Petit Verdot, Bordeaux blends, Rieslings, and Gewürztraminer all consistently finished strong
  • Teroldego, an Italian red variety, is a lesser-seen grape that makes for delightful Centennial State wines
  • Seven of the thirteen winners came from just three wineries: Bookcliff Vineyards, Colterris, and Carlson Vineyard

Now, without further ado, here are the 13 winning 2018 ‘Governor’s Collection’ wines:

  • Bookcliff Vineyards (Boulder) – 2016 Tempranillo, Colorado
  • Carlson Vineyard (Palisade) – 2017 Sweet Gewürztraminer, Grand Valley AVA
  • Carlson Vineyards (Palisade) – Plum Wine (made from 100 percent Grand Valley plums)
  • Bookcliff Vineyards (Boulder) – 2015 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Colorado
  • Colterris (Palisade) – 2017 “Coral” White Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA
  • The Infinite Monkey Theorem (Denver) – 2016 Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA
  • Monkshood Cellars (Minturn) – 2016 Syrah, Grand Valley AVA
  • Colterris (Palisade) – 2016 Petit Verdot, Grand Valley AVA
  • Snowy Peaks Winery (Estes Park) – 2016 Elevé (a Rhône-style red blend), Grand Valley AVA
  • Whitewater Hill Vineyards (Grand Junction) – 2017 Riesling, Grand Valley AVA
  • Red Fox Cellars (Palisade) – 2016 Teroldego, Grand Valley AVA
  • Colorado Cellars (Palisade) – 1999 Port, Colorado
  • Colterris (Palisade) – 2016 “Estate Selection, Riverside Vineyard” Merlot, Grand Valley

Since I last judged the Governor’s Cup a few years ago, Colorado winemakers have clearly been hard at work. Our wineries have been refining their techniques, raising standards in their cellars, bringing in experienced people, gaining a better understanding of our incredibly challenging climate, and figuring out which grapes work better than others. All of that effort is certainly showing in the bottle.

One of these 13 wines will take home the Best in Show award on November 8 at Colorado UncorkedTickets range from $45 to $75, and include tastes of all of the wines mentioned here. 7 p.m., History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway