Best Restaurant Wine List 2015 | Mizuna | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Joni Schrantz

Over the years, we've presented Frank Bonanno's flagship restaurant awards for everything from Best Fried Calves' Glands to Best Service to Best Dinner, Period. You'd think the Mizuna crew would be all about preserving the status quo by now. But you'd be wrong, as one look at the current wine list illustrates. Several months ago, after a revelation regarding Denver's dearth of traditional French fine-dining options, wine director Kelly Wooldridge decided to be the change he wished to see in the city and set about revamping the restaurant's entire program to showcase France almost exclusively — world-class Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône in particular. That might sound expensive, and it is. But it's also something that a dining scene of any standing should have. So kudos to Mizuna for stepping up to the plate (or the glass, as the case may be). Besides, it's not all grand cru glitz. From grower Champagnes and crémants to the whites of the Loire Valley to an extensive after-dinner selection, there's some seriously geeky stuff going on here.

Readers' choice: Frasca Food and Wine

Moschofilero. Aghiorghitiko. Mavrodaphne. Greek wine is worth getting into just for the sheer pleasure of rolling the grape names around on your tongue. But these days, thanks to a revitalized industry, it also happens to be a joy to drink — and in Denver, the place to do that is Axios. You want to visit the Mediterranean seashore in a single sip? Try Assyrtiko. Does a wine called "acid-black" live up to its name? Find out in a swallow of Xinomavro. What's it like to sip the same dessert wine that Cleopatra purportedly drank? End your meal with Commandaria and you'll know. And as for retsina, Greece's notorious pine-resinated wine? Order it with a dish of feta and olives and prepare to be astounded by just how bum its rap is.

Readers' choice: Lala's Wine Bar + Pizzeria

Between Frasca and Flagstaff House, Black Cat and Basta, Boulder sets the bar for wine programs dauntingly high — but PMG is clearing it with ease. In the former Beehive space off the Pearl Street Mall, Emily Gold—a onetime employee of famed importer Kermit Lynch—has carved out a literal and figurative niche for enophiles with a taste for old-world tradition and terroir. Her tightly focused, ever-changing list puts the spotlight on Europe's so-called boutique producers — those small family estates making wines of uncompromising quality in generally minuscule quantities, be it some idiosyncratic Northern Italian sparkler or a rarity from Corsica. But no less impressive than Gold's discriminating taste is her sensitivity to price: She packs a wide range of options into that single-page frame, including steals and splurges alike. That's especially important given how heavily the list is weighted toward bottles, as a means of ensuring that you really get to know the wine you order — along with the person you're sharing it with. Complemented by Salvatore Proia's lively Mediterranean plates, this list is the linchpin of what's turning out to be a truly special place.

Best Wine List for a Bar That's Not a Wine Bar

RiNo Yacht Club

From emerging regions such as Lazio and the Languedoc to little-known indigenous grapes like Ruché and Romorantin to sparkling reds and the savoriest sherries, the Source's island bar may be the coolest place at which to explore the world of wine right now — which shouldn't come as any surprise to fans of the Proper Pour, a liquor store just steps away. The couple behind both projects, McLain Hedges and Mary Allison Wright, are admirably disinclined to dumb anything down for timid tastes: They source, stock and serve what they like to drink. This is not to say that RiNo Yacht Club's MO is snobbery. On the contrary, the staff is all about pressure-free encouragement: Between the precise tasting notes they provide for each wine and the pleasure they take in offering sample pours and flights, even the most experiment-averse are sure to leave here with their vinous horizons at least slightly expanded.

Danielle Lirette

Stuart Jensen brought years of cooking experience to his latest role as bar manager at Mercantile Dining & Provision, with all that time in kitchens shaping his approach to creating cocktails. The Brom Bones, for example, one in a series of Jensen's steamed cocktails, is prepared in much the same way as the jams and preserves available for sale in Mercantile's marketplace. In a tiny, four-ounce Mason jar, Jensen combines whiskey, maple syrup, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, cloves, allspice berries, peppercorns, orange peels and Angostura bitters. He steams fifty jars at a time at 212 degrees for exactly two minutes. Order one, and the (cooled) jar arrives with a screened lid; you pour it over ice, and the solids remain. The steaming infuses the flavors together, creating a stunning winter cocktail.

Former Future had a bumpy landing when it opened in February 2014, running out of beer immediately and limiting its hours. But the brewery, helmed by the adorable James and Sarah Howat, has soared ever since. Based on a steampunk-like historical-futuristic theme, Former Future pours an eclectic lineup of beers — everything from a pre-Prohibition-style cream ale and a sour red to a salted-caramel porter and a barrel-aged Russian imperial stout — that you can drink at the bar, which is made from the wing of a Cessna airplane. The experience is deepened by the Howats' ever-present elegance behind that bar and other well-thought-out design touches, such as lights made from old whiskey barrels and runway lights, barbershop-style bar chairs and tabletop terrariums. In October, the brewery won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival for a beer that it spontaneously fermented on its roof. Look for more leaps forward into the past this year.

Readers' choice: Joyride Brewing Company

Best Colorado Beer Putting the World on Notice

Superpower IPA

Jonathan Shikes

Comrade Brewing first launched its offensive in unsuspecting southeast Denver, rolling over the neighborhoods there before pushing outward to the rest of the city. Leading the attack was Superpower IPA, which many local drinkers believe is as good as or better than California's famous hop bombs (a wet-hopped version of Superpower won silver at the Great American Beer Festival). It's become so popular, in fact, that brewer Marks Lanham has trouble keeping up with production. That's okay, though, because Comrade's enormous tap room is chock-full of other spot-on beers, including Quit Stalin, a Russian imperial stout, and Hop Chops, a double IPA. Fear the power.

There's a fine line between kitsch and cool — a line that gets crossed often. But Grandma's House has managed to redraw that line, one stitch at a time. The brewery was pieced together with thrift-store prowess by Matthew Fuerst, whose interest in brewing is matched only by his interest in collecting knickknacks, appliances and glassware, and by a sense of style that you could and would only find at, yes, your grandma's house. From the '60s-style furniture to the crocheted and cross-stitched decor to the old TVs, video games and eight-track player, everything feels strangely at home here. As will you — and the breweries around town that are planning to use Grandma's House, which calls itself a collective brewery, as a place to jump-start their own recipes, sales and brewing techniques.

An oasis amid busy streets, construction zones, industrial businesses and the grubby South Platte River, Mockery Brewing is no mirage. The brewery, which opened last fall, boasts an ample patio with festive lights, reclaimed-rock walls, community tables and a detached, fully stocked game room like the one at your best friend's house. Oh, and when you're chilling outside in warm weather — or under the heat lamps in winter — over the next two years, you'll be able to watch the construction next door of a couple more River North oases across the street, including a new park and the massive new Great Divide Brewing complex.

Danielle Lirette

TRVE Brewing has a love for heavy-metal music, and the divey space may be one of the darkest you'll enter in Denver. But the staff is one of the most welcoming, and it's the beer that's truly metal. Over the past year, owner Nick Nunns and head brewer Zach Coleman have turned out a series of beers that are packed with crisp flavor and tightly constructed. They include the lower-in-alcohol Scorn, a dry-hopped wheat, and Wanderlust, a Belgian-style pale ale, as well as the more powerful Atma, a Belgian golden strong, and the Tunnel of Trees IPA. TRVE is also on the leading edge of Denver's sour- and wild-ale scene, releasing a variety of barrel-aged beers with puckering power. In 2015, TRVE will open a second — but not public — brewhouse dedicated to this side of the business. They must have made a deal with the devil.

Readers' choice: Great Divide Brewing Company

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