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7 Winning Wine Lists in Denver/Boulder

By Ruth Tobias
November 20, 2013
Photo by: Christopher Cina

Beer is Colorado’s lifeblood, and small-batch spirits flow just as freely. But wine? Not so much, at least when it comes to the sort of carefully curated list, brimming with boutique producers, that the craft-brew and cocktail buffs enjoy all over town.

Still, there are restaurateurs out there who look out for us oenophiles - and we’re not just talking about the sommeliers who stock stellar bottles by the thousands at special-occasion destinations like Frasca Food and Wine, Barolo Grill or the Flagstaff House. Here are a few fine examples.

  • Photo by: Christopher Cina

    The Truffle Table

    “I really want the beverage list to reflect the way we approach cheese,” says Miguel Vera, general manager at the LoHi wine bar owned by Rob and Karin Lawler, founders of The Truffle Cheese Shop in Cherry Creek. “We’ve created a niche for ourselves by going with the old-world classics; the value’s with the guys over in Europe who’ve been doing it a long time. Then we fill in the gaps with local and new-world cheese. But these are small-batch, artisanal products that come and go, so the wine list changes constantly too; you can come in from one day to the next and there’ll be a whole different selection” - nearly 30 in all by the glass, including sherry, port and other fortified wines, supplemented with 10-plus offerings by the bottle.

    Amid the Spanish Mencias, Austrian Zwiegelts and Basilicatan Grecos, admits Vera, “the wine list can seem esoteric and intimidating to some. But our whole goal is to get across to people that wine, like cheese, is really a simple, traditional product.” Case in point: the Château Saint-Eulalie Minervois La Liviniere from Languedoc-Roussillon. “That’s a whole lot of words - but it’s been our best-seller. It’s big and bold, especially for an old-world wine, with a ton of dried blueberries, vanilla, and cocoa. Now that’s it’s fall, we have a lot of people asking for Syrah, and it’s fun to be able to answer that question with a Rhône blend of that caliber.” It’s even more fun to drink that answer alongside a cheese from southern France: “The rule that ‘if it grows together, it goes together’ does apply here,” Vera promises.

    2556 15th St.; 303-455-9463

  • Photo by: Christopher Cina

    Table 6

    As owner-sommelier of this established neighborhood gem, Aaron Forman has long been fighting the good fight on behalf of Denver wine drinkers with a daily tweaked, globe-spanning and just-plain-fun selection of finds. Better still, he fights fair: not a bottle hits the $100 mark, and most are much less. Which makes Table 6 the perfect place to take a chance on up-and-coming regions like New York’s Finger Lakes, Germany’s Nahe or Slovenia, where producers like Movia are gaining a cult following, before everybody else catches on and the asking price soars.

    Of course, there’s also a scrapbook-bound reserve list bursting with all the Ramey Cabs and Gaja Brunellos a higher roller could hope for. But we’d just as soon grab a glass of the “Wacky, Delicious Wine of the Night” and discover the next world-class vintner for all of nine bucks.

    609 Corona St.; 303-831-8800

  • Photo by: Christopher Cina

    Black Cat Farm - Table - Bistro

    Off Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, this sparkling hideaway-in-plain-sight is on our short list for intimate gastronomic rendezvous - thanks as much to its highly engaging general manager/beverage director Dev Ranjan as to chef-owner Eric Skokan and the seductive, innovative cuisine he creates largely from his own farm. Ranjan’s romance with small, serious producers from around the world is reflected in a list that can fluctuate from 200 to 400 selections at any given time, because “a lot of what we bring in, we only get two or three bottles of. I seek out rare wines, older vintages - things of which there isn’t that much available.”

    Take grower (aka récoltant-manipulant) champagnes, which come not from the glamorous international houses but the little guys who do the hard work in the vineyards. Direct shipment from France comes but once a year - and this just happens to be the week they arrive, according to Ranjan. Or take a little-known white blend like the Camin Larredya Jurançon La Part Davan from Southwest France, which he’s serving alongside a dish on the current tasting menu - poached baby octopus with roasted magenta turnips, bacon lardons and serrano chiles. “It’s the kind of thing no one would ever order on its own. But when we put it in a context that commands a lot of respect, like a tasting menu, and we can tell guests its story while we’re pouring it, we have so many people going, ‘What was that?’” And then there's exquisite vintage Madeira: Ranjan recently came into “a huge amount that we’re offering by the glass,” including a 1922 d’Oliveira that he calls “an experience of a lifetime. It goes on for minutes and minutes.” 

    Speaking of by-the-glass options, Black Cat recently installed a Coravin system, which allows them to showcase exceptional wines you’d typically only find by the bottle - be it a 1996 Sauternes or a 2010 Bruno Clair Vosne-Romanée. Granted, the latter, at $35 a pop, is “expensive, but if you want to get the best single glass of wine you’re going to get in your life, you can get it here,” he guarantees.

    1964 13th St., Boulder; 303-444-5500

  • Photo by: Christopher Cina

    Fuel Cafe

    This RiNo pioneer is so effortlessly cool, one imagines chef-owner Bob Blair has to do little more than snap his fingers and, lo, escargot fritters or braised squid stuffed with wild rice and mushrooms magically appear alongside some bottle-of-the-moment like Ribolla Gialla or Trousseau. In fact, a lot of thought goes into the wine list as well as the menu. “We look for a couple main things when choosing wine,” says general manager Aaron Foster. “First, we want it to be varietally correct. If it’s Pinot Noir, we want it to taste like Pinot Noir. That fits our philosophy as a restaurant: we try to source as organically and locally as possible, because we want things to represent where they come from. Typicity is part of that. We respect what the product is and showcase it.

    “The second thing is that our guests respond when we push the envelope. So we try to balance interesting finds with more mainstream ones. Right now, among our reds by the glass, we have a Vranec from Macedonia, a Refosco from Venezia-Giulia and a Lagrein from Alto Adige. But of course, things are constantly changing; we rarely buy more than a case of anything. For instance, Broc Cellars only made 150 cases of its Carignan; we bought a case and a half, and that’s it. Only seven cases of the unfiltered, skin-fermented Dirty and Rowdy Sémillon even came into the state, and we got one.” All the more reason to fuel up here sooner rather than later, and often.

    3455 Ringsby Ct.; 303-296-4642

  • Photo by: Christopher Cina

    Axios Estiatorio

    Go ahead - ask Telly Topakas anything about Greek wine, anything at all. The owner of this Berkeley charmer holds forth on the subject with such clarity and passion that you’ll fall for your first sip before you even taste it, be it white Moschofilero (“super bright, almost puckeringly intense, lots of florals, peach and other stone fruits, with a tropical hint”) or red Xinomavro: “So acidic, so complex, with figs, olives, tar, mineral, violets - with some age on it, it’s dynamite.”

    But the list doesn’t end with terrific Greek (and Italian) table wines. The after-dinner selection runs from dessert pours like venerable, luscious Commandaria to ouzo and its lesser-known cousin, tsipouro. It’s “basically a Greek version of grappa,” he says, adding, “Our customers are looking for a unique experience” - right down to the notoriously acquired taste that is pine-resinated retsina.

    3901 Tennyson St.; 720-328-2225

  • Photo by: Ruth Tobias

    Trillium

    Sommeliers at your average bistro or trattoria have it easy: where the cuisine in question has evolved alongside viticultural traditions over centuries, pairings present themselves naturally. But a modern Scandinavian kitchen like Ryan Leinonen’s Trillium? That’s a whole different story. Pickles, pungent fish and the like simply don’t play nice with wine - in fact they kick sand in its face. 

    It’s a challenge that general manager Michael Ivey rises to admirably: “I try to find as many lighter, food-friendly, versatile wines as possible. Pinot Noir, Rhône varietals - things that aren’t going to overwhelm or be overwhelmed by the food. We do a lot with Riesling, especially dry Riesling, which really complements most of the seafood.” What’s more, the list is organized by flavor profile rather than region or varietal; categories like “Citrus, Chiles and Grass” and “Spice, Leather and Tobacco” “help people figure out exactly what they’re looking for,” he says - even something to accompany that pickled lake perch with horseradish-chive rouille.

    2134 Larimer St.; 303-379-9759

  • Photo by: Laurie Smith

    Panzano

    “We want to stay true to who we are,” says Josh Mayo, longtime general manager at this perennial favorite in the Hotel Monaco. “Chef Elise Wiggins’s food is northern Italian, and therefore the wine list is too, mostly.” Indeed, it’s an Italophile’s dream. Among the roughly 300 selections - all cataloged in detail on iPads for guests to browse at their leisure - are such beloved names as Alto Adige’s Abbazia di Novacella, Barolo’s Renato Ratti, Sardinia’s Sella & Mosca and numerous others, covering every region from the Veneto to Sicily. In short, the list is broad rather than deep: “We try not to have multiple wines of the same style from the same place, but rather to represent different styles, philosophies of winemaking and price points,” Mayo explains. Nearly 30 pours by the glass for mixing and matching in customized flights showcase that approach - but the delightful dry Lambrusco from Cleto Chiarli is our go-to time and again.

    909 17th St.; 303-296-3525

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Places Mentioned

Panzano

Italian • Central Business District

Food26 Decor24 Service25 Cost$44
 
 
 
Black Cat

Organic • Boulder

Food27 Decor23 Service26 Cost$56
 
 
 
Table 6

American • Alamo Placita

Food25 Decor22 Service24 Cost$45
 
 
 
Axios Estiatorio

Greek • Berkeley

Food24 Decor21 Service23 Cost$29
 
 
 
Trillium

Scandinavian • Ballpark

Food25 Decor19 Service24 Cost$39
 
 
 
Fuel Cafe

American • River North Art District

Food25 Decor20 Service24 Cost$42
 
 
 
 
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