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The Copper Lounge
The Copper Lounge
Adam Larkey

Denver's Wine Renaissance Starts in Its Newest Bars

No one in this town blinks an eye at beer lists littered with goses and grisettes, gruits and gotlandsrickas. When local bartenders bust out kimchi picklebacks or amari so obscure born-and-bred Italians would shrug in confusion, Denver drinkers say, "Bring it on." So how is it that such a thrill-seeking lot shies away from adventurous wine programs?


It's one thing to point to the expense of bottles at fine-dining establishments. But at the casual level, folks like Fuel Cafe's Bob Blair, Table 6's Aaron Forman and Karin and Rob Lawler of the Truffle Table have long been proving that there's no good answer to the question. And lately, a few new bars have joined these neighborhood bistros to fight the good fight, seeing your Pinot Grigio and raising you one Trousseau Gris at a time. Here's their story-may it lead to many more chapters on the evolution of enophilia around Denver.

"A lot of people say, ‘How can you not have Cabernet or Malbec by the glass?' My feeling is, you can go literally anywhere and get those. If you like Cab, why don't you try this?" That's Emily Gold's philosophy, and she's sticking to it at PMG, the rustic little Boulder rendez-vous she opened in August. Though the particulars change constantly, the overall theme of her list reveals itself at a glance: staunchly Old World and heavier on bottles than by-the-glass options (a few dozen compared to about eight), it's built for the convivial long haul. That's because the wines of Europe tend to be lower in alcohol and higher in acidity, which means both that they won't knock you for a loop pronto and that they're especially food-friendly (cue Salvatore Proia's seasonal, Mediterranean-inspired menu of mostly small plates).

You're not just sitting at a table together; you're getting through a whole bottle of wine together, getting to know it better as it breathes and changes.

And buying by the bottle rather than the glass, Gold explains, facilitates "a shared experience. You're not just sitting at a table together; you're getting through a whole bottle of wine together, getting to know it better as it breathes and changes."

To those who are daunted by the thought of plunking down even, say, $36 to take a chance on an Austrian white like the Weingut Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Satz made with 17 different grapes, Gold reassures that "none of us here is interested in forcing people to like what we like. We're here to talk about what you like and make recommendations based on that," be it a "crowd-pleasing" Zweigelt-Blaufränkisch blend for the Pinot Noir drinker or Crémant du Jura for budget-minded bubbly lovers.

After all, says Mary Allison Wright, "Just because you're not familiar with the name of a grape or a region, it doesn't have to be a scary thing. At one point we didn't know what any of this stuff was either." By "we," she means herself and Mclain Hedges, who recently opened the super-groovy RiNo Yacht Club just steps from their liquor shop at the Source, the Proper Pour. And by "you," she means you-yes, you-needn't fret because you can't place Txakolina in Basque country or pinpoint Arneis as a Piedmontese variety. To prove it, her list eschews geographical markers in favor of charming, and far more helpful, descriptions like "wet rocks, pineapple, white pepper" and "prickly guava, strawberry fields forever." As she puts it, "I just want to show people how cool these wines are."

Think Sherry's just cooking wine for old British people," Wright jokes? Try it "and you'll say, ‘I had no idea.' Then we'll blow your minds further and say, ‘Try it with food.'

Yacht Club Wine List

Needless to say, the result is fiercely eclectic, offering a little bit of everything under the sun: a fizzy red and a pétillant natural (which means "naturally sparkling") here, an "orange" white that's seen skin contact there, plus a killer selection of fortified wines that includes several Sherries as well as luscious Madeiras. Think Sherry's just "cooking wine for old British people," Wright jokes? Try it "and you'll say, ‘I had no idea.' Then we'll blow your minds further and say, ‘Try it with food.'"

Like Gold, Wright puts a premium on easy-to-pair wines, not least because "we have this unique situation with Acorn where we don't know what's coming out on any given night." The rolling cart of mystery snacks from Steve Redzikowski and Bryan Dayton's acclaimed eatery only adds to the Yacht Club adventure, in short.

Speaking of delicious partnerships, the Cooper Lounge boasts a small but sparkling raw bar powered by Union Station neighbor Stoic & Genuine. But it's also part of a luxury hotel, which means its shiny iPad wine list has to meet what manager Marcel Templet calls "the needs of travelers to have something familiar." So kudos go to him and assistant GM Brandon Hanson for their efforts to diversify what could easily have been a big-name, big-ticket, big-red steakhouse parody with grower Champagnes, whites from the Mosel and Alsace, and other pours more suited to oysters, shrimp and caviar, like the "mineral-driven, crisp" Muscadet and Sancerre Hanson favors.

You're catching us right when we're able to grab the program and move it in the direction we want to go.

That's not to bad-mouth the average Napa trophy. It's just to point out that as more of Denver's wine pros take a page from their beer and spirits colleagues to showcase the lesser-known gems of the world, now is as good a time as any to explore. Templet adds that after a couple of months in business, "you're catching us right when we're able to grab the program and move it in the direction we want to go." That could be the slogan for Denver's current wine scene as a whole.

Upcoming in Denver's wine scene is Postino, a wine bar from an Arizona-based group led by Craig DeMarco, that will open in LoHi at the corner of 17th and Erie in the former Book Binding Company building.

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