Wine, salsa and watermelons please locals

Without the proper climate and growing season, it's difficult to grow grapes in Northwest Colorado.

But the Moffat County Fair wine tasting provided proof that creative and unique wines can be made from fresh, local products.

Dandelion, rhubarb, black cherries and watermelon were only a few of the flavors sommelier Mike Lang tasted early Saturday afternoon in the exhibit hall.

Lang, who has been a wine expert at L'apogee in Steamboat Springs for 11 years, said wine tasting is extremely subjective.

"Everyone's palate is different," he said. "It depends on what kind of food I've eaten today and what kind of mood I'm in."

Usually, wine contests include several different opinions combined, but only two tasters sat in the exhibit hall, staring at the jewel-colored liquids in their glasses, sniffing and smiling as they sampled the wide array of flavors.

"It's just fun," he said. "I don't want anyone to lose. All of these people are trying to make wine and that's great. That's what we want."

There were several categories, based on the products used, but one of the champions was a dandelion wine and another was a sweet watermelon wine.

Lang encouraged the public to taste all of the winners, especially the latter.

"It tastes like a watermelon Jolly Rancher," he said.

Some like it hot

As the wine tasters finished letting the public taste the unique wines, the judges table was immediately turned over for the salsa contest.

A southwestern print tablecloth, inflatable cacti and bowls of tortilla chips decorated the table in the exhibit hall.

About 20 onlookers, salsa makers and aficionados alike, watched as the three judges tasted salsas in the fruit and vegetable categories, occasionally fanning themselves when the jalapeños got the best of them.

"I think the judges will dock me because I made mine too hot," said Eli Vesely, of Craig, who had entered his recipe into the vegetable category.

Vesely, who loves to cook, has been making salsa for a long time. He said the keys to a good salsa are using different kinds of peppers - he likes banana peppers - and a little bit of sugar to bring out the flavors.

Although he didn't place this year, Vesely had a piece of advice for anyone looking to make a good dip for their next backyard party.

"Just make it hot so they'll remember it," he said.

Watermelon champions

Two-year-old Jolene Rhyne sat at the picnic table, squeezed between children more than four times her age.

She turned around to give her father, Greg, a toothy smile before an official yelled, "Go!"

As the children around her attacked the juicy slices of watermelon sitting in front of them, Jolene nonchalantly picked up a small slice and began nibbling at it.

"She is the slowest eater ever," her mother laughed, snapping pictures.

Although Jolene barely finished one piece, some of the other contestants in the watermelon eating contest gobbled down five or six slices in a minute, looking slightly sick as they left the table with red juice soaking the front of their shirts.

Ten-year-old Tyler Slaugh won the championship in his under-12 age group and received the $15 grand prize.

He said he competed because he was hungry.

"I just ate as fast as I could," he said.

The adult category showed that one can be a watermelon-eating champion at any age.

Chandra Borlin won the second place prize of $10 with six and a half slices during a sudden death "eat-off."

"I just like watermelon," she said, trying to wash off her hands. "They used to have a pie-eating contest and that was gross. I lost that."

Jason Wheeler, who was cajoled into competing by his wife, managed to keep his white shirt juice-free despite making it deep into the second round.

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