This week, At Your Pace Freestyle Cycling Adventures had the chance to interview Master Sommelier and former pro-cyclist Bobby Stuckey. Stuckey owns Frasca Food & Wine on Boulder’s Pearl Street mall and in 2008 was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, Frasca Food and Wine was nominated for Outstanding Wine Service and won the prestigious award in 2013. When he is not at Frasca’s he can be found running through Colorado’s beautiful mountains, teaching Master Sommelier classes, or hopping on a plane headed to a new vineyard.
Our readers are avid cyclists with a knack for adventure and new experiences. As a Master Sommelier and former pro-cyclist, could you shed some light on what our riders should be looking for on their first visit to a vineyard and first experience wine-tasting?
I think the first thing people should do if they are going wine tasting in the Western Slope, Burgundy, or Napa Valley – and people don’t spend enough time on this – is to do a tiny bit of homework on your own before you go. Meaning two things: read about where you are going to go to get a lay of the land. So, in the tasting room when they talk about a geographic area or an AVA, which is an American Viticultural Area, you have some context.
I always look at it like this: if I go to the Love, and I’m not a huge art person, I’m totally going to be overwhelmed and there’s not a big sticky factor, meaning things don’t sink in as much. But if I went to the library ahead of time and said, “ I’m going to read about these three Impressionists,” and I go into that section and read up about them, I’ll have a much more successful sticky factor. So read about the area you are going to and figure out what they might be known for. Then, spend one night at home, go to the wine shop and buy the type of wine from the region you are going to so you can have context.
I think a lot of people don’t realize that wine is so dependent on the varietal, where it’s grown, and how it’s grown. It’s kind of like food. If you’ve never had spicy food before and you go to Arizona and eat a lot of Mexican food it might kind of blow you away at first if you’ve never spent your whole life eating anything spicy. And wine is the exact same way. I mean that’s what makes wine so special and exciting. It’s not like a distilled beverage or beer where you can make a Belgium style in Colorado and it tastes like what you would have in Belgium. With wine, it’s not going to happen.
What was the first wine you ever tasted? Do you remember it?
Yeah, I tasted so much wine as a kid. My folks were into drinking wine and I worked as a busboy at restaurants and even though I was underage, I would get opportunities to taste wine. I don’t think it was more of an ah-ha moment. I always hear about these people that say, “I drank a 78 La Tache.” I didn’t have a moment like that. I don’t really believe in those moments because you gotta have a context to have that moment. But the one thing I think I did have an ah-ha moment was watching wine class as a busboy. Getting to see the by-the-glass wine described as, I don’t know, a Blanc Comte Chardonnay that was big in the late 80s. The way one buyer would describe the head in a certain way and it showed up like that. That was much more of an ah-ha moment to me. I was like, WOW, wine can speak a different language based on the varietal, based on the place!
I have heard you talk about Tom Coffman in the past. How did he influence your career path or have you delve more into the world of wine?
He is the gentleman I was talking about. He was the guy that would hold these great wine classes that gave me the ah-ha moments. Watching the class, I would be like, “Oh yeah! I get it! That interests me.” He had, in the early and mid part of my career, a great influence. Plus, if you are going to be in the restaurant business wine is a really fascinating thing that is part of it.
What drew you to the restaurant business as opposed to other career paths?
I think part of the reason I stayed was because it was probably the only business I was good at. There are a lot of things about me that might come across as handicaps in the modern world; it could be me being A.D.D. or being severely dyslexic. But all these things worked out really well in the restaurant business. They ended up being gifts in the restaurant business where they might be hindrances in other businesses.
To me, a Saturday night almost looks like it is happening in slow-motion. Everything is happening for a reason and it all really makes complete sense. Someone who is from a different background and different skill set could be wildly intelligent and successful, could walk into that room (a restaurant) and maybe none of that would make sense. No matter how hard they would work on it, it would never become comfortable for them.
Also, people who have what the typical world would call handicaps or disabilities actually end up being very gifted at other things. If you deal with dyslexia, like me, you work different muscles than someone else might.
Now back on the topic of wine – When tasting wine, what are the important things to look for?
Well, I think the first thing is if you like it. Then if you begin to see a trend of things you like or notice you enjoy, like a citrusy blend, then taste it a second time, third time. You find out it’s a high acid, medium bodied grape – maybe you find out that’s what you like. Then you have a varietal that is big, dark, and tannic and you don’t like it, make a mental note of that. Finding out what you like first is really important and easy to do, and it is okay if your palate changes as you continue your journey to wine. That’s what’s so fun! Find out what you like and delve into that.
Is there any particular place in your mouth that you are supposed to taste wine?
It really depends on being able to, unless you are only going to taste a couple wines, get comfortable with spitting. That’s probably a pretty good idea. Second, you don’t have to spit all of it. I like to save a little bit. Don’t spit it all out. I get a better context from that.
What is the benefit of spitting it out?
Well, I don’t know when the next great iconic adventure is going to happen. When the next bottle of wine someone opens might be something I’ve never had before. I really want the ability to find out. You’re naturally going to become fatigued or palate fatigued if you drink a couple glasses of wine because your senses lose focus.
Similarly to coffee beans in the perfume world, is there anything we can do to cleanse our palate?
Have a refreshing beverage between tasting appointments. Either a glass of champagne, beer, or sparkling water to reset the palate.
In your personal opinion, what makes a good wine?
I think the first thing is if the wine speaks to the place. Second, if it’s balanced. If it’s, for that varietal, showing great varietal character then it speaks to the place. We went through that huge movement in the 90s where everything had to be bigger and better. Or they thought it was better, but we lost varietal character. For example, if I am drinking Cabernet Sauvignon I want it to taste like Cabernet. From there you can see if it becomes a great wine. If it has incredible length. If it’s incredibly delicious. If it seems like it will have a long drinkability.
What makes a good vineyard tour in your opinion?
To me I’ve seen all shapes and sizes and it’s a different world here in the United States. We are the pros of setting up the user-friendly visitor tour where there is a tasting room, tasting room manager, all that. I personally am much more in love with the European model: where you’re just having a glass of wine with someone in their house, that grew the grapes, that made the wine, that pays the bills – all that in one. That might not come across as sexy to some and might not be a big beautiful winery with a big tasting room, but I prefer the more off the beaten track experiences.
Do you know of anything new and exciting coming from Colorado?
I don’t spend enough time over there tasting wine, it’s a big hole in my repertoire. I mean when we wake up in the morning at Frasca’s Food & Wine, we think of Friuli first, Northern Italy second, and then the rest of the world. The rest of the world even includes Tuscany and other parts of Italy. We are so specifically focused on that area that that’s where we spend our time away from the restaurant, too.
*Bobby Stuckey’s personal wine label Scarpetta Wine comes out of the Fruili area in Italy.
What is your favorite established vineyard?
One of my greatest vineyards to walk are the vineyards from Giacomo Conterno’s Cantina Conterno in Piemonte, Italy.
What about an up-and-coming area or vineyard?
One of the most up-and-coming areas, I think, is an area in the Northern Tali Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy. Where, like it or not, doesn’t matter what part of the political spectrum you are on, we are definitely dealing with global warming. Just check out any of the vineyards around the world. But the Northern part of the Colliver Orientalli I think is going to be, through global warming, a special place for Sauvignon Blanc.
If you could pair a wine with your favorite cycling route what would those two be?
That’s easy. I would go back to the Sauvignon Blanc area, Colliver Orientalli, and that is where I would start my ride. I would do the classic Zoncolan climb; in Italy it is one of the hardest climbs in Guilia.
What if your favorite beverage after a run or race?
Anchor Steam Beer.
What advice would you give to cyclists going on their first vineyard tour?
Relax and enjoy it.
*This article has been edited for and condensed for clarity.