After an exploration of some of Denver's coziest wine shops, the takeaway is this: Go small. Tiny bottle shops offer a delightful shopping experience, quaint ambience and unparalleled customer service. Owners and staff are friendly and knowledgeable and forge long-term relationships with returning customers. They offer high-quality wines in every price range, craft beers, spirits, bitters and unique gifts. Unlike many big-box liquor stores, small wine shops make you want to linger and chat. I chose five shops to visit — asking for a dry red wine with bold fruit flavor in the $10 to $12 price range (my sweet spot in price and taste) at each.
The Vineyard Wine Shop, at 261 Fillmore Street in Cherry Creek, is a quaint Cherry Creek favorite just three years away from its fiftieth anniversary; Clif Louis has owned the shop for 35 of those years. Louis started out as a stock boy to learn the business and bought the shop a year later. He selected a 2014 Umani Ronchi Podere Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Italy for me. The Vineyard is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Weekly wine tastings are held Friday and Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m.
In addition to selling fine wine, beer, and spirits, the swank Bottle Shop 33 at 1080 South Gaylord Street in Washington Park, specializes in mixology and entertaining. You’ll find cocktail accoutrements, vintage glasses, customized liquor gift baskets and the “best bitters selection in the city,” according to owner Christina Mau. Bitters are strongly flavored alcohol infusions used in cocktails, and, yes, Bottle Shop 33 has a large selection. But I was there for wine, not bitters, so Mau selected Auspicion Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 from Napa for my drinking pleasure. The “33” in Bottle Shop 33 is the year the U.S. ended the foolish experiment called Prohibition; the shop has a party every year to celebrate the date. Wine and cocktail tastings are held every Thursday and Saturday from 2 to 7 p.m., when the knowledgeable staff will teach you how to make a better cocktail. Bottle Shop 33 is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Be sure to pet adorable shop dog Shelby.
If you’re in the south metro area, amble on over to Lido Wine Merchants at 2529 West Main Street in Littleton. When I visited, retired wine guy Charles Massirio was watching the store while owners Tom and Tina Witham were on vacation. Lido offers “the best wine at the best price in every category,” Massirio says. The benefit to shopping at small wine shops is the education you get, he notes, adding that “they teach the real things about wine.” He picked me out a Monastrell-Syrah blend from Luzón winery in Spain. Store hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wine tastings are Saturdays from 2 to 5 p.m.
Closer to downtown, you'll find find a tiny wine shop — the Proper Pour — inside the Source artisan market (3350 Brighton Boulevard). Husband and wife McLain Hedges and Mary Wright run the Proper Pour, which specializes in small-batch spirits, independently produced wines and craft beers. “We’re here to take people on journey into the world of small wine producers and naturally made wines,” Hedges explains. I took home a 2015 Vera de Estenas Bobal from Spain. The Proper Pour is open Monday from 5 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. While you're there, sign up for the shop's newsletter to keep track of upcoming wine tastings.
At 4340 Tennyson Street in the Berkeley neighborhood, you can step inside one of Colorado’s smallest bottle shops: Small Batch Liquors, owned by Tami and Joe Tumbarello (and their shop dogs, Apollo and Ridley). Small Batch Liquors specializes in independent and small-scale producers of wine, beer and spirits. “We’ve tasted everything in here; it’s part of the job,” Joe points out. The couple works with small distributors to offer uncommon liquors; I walked out with a 2015 Olivares Altos de la Hoya Monastrell from Spain. The shop is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wine tastings are Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 7 p.m.