There's nothing more delicious than an evening spent in the company of friends, enjoying the magical experience that is the simultaneous consumption of inspired cuisine and grape-based libations -- otherwise known as food and wine. Layer on top of that the fact that we can enjoy these heavenly events at any of what seems a veritable multitude of killer restaurants that have opened in Denver of late, and we can hardly remember that we occasionally need to dine at home, lest our wallets be destined to serve more as a clever bookend than a vessel meant to store cash.
But since we simply can't seem to resist the siren song of a new venue (and wherein, a new wine list to peruse) we've spent the past few months checking out the sips at no fewer than a dozen new -- or newly notable -- spots. Sadly, we've been subjected to more than a few scurrilous service fails at some -- which tend not to inspire return visits. Here, the four worst restaurant wine service-related moments we've seen in awhile:
The Snooze: Upon hearing word of a stylish new menu launch at a popular, casual spot, we made it a point to hustle in for a taste. And while the updated eats thrilled us, the companion wine offerings failed to inspire. After staring at the desolate, mind-numbing set of selections (really, are that many people still drinking Sonoma-Cutrer?), we gave up and ordered bubbly. The point here isn't that we hate Cali chard -- it's that we expected more interesting choices to support such a snazzily delish array of snacks.
The Underachiever: In a similar vein as our experience above, we cannot for the life of us understand why a newish, higher-end venue can't seem to offer us wines worthy of its luxe cuisine. Loving the food at this space -- which offers a ridiculously smokin' happy hour -- makes us all the more despondent about the comically tragic wine selection. Not only is the list full of grape varieties that were in vogue during the reign of this location's former tenant, they make absolutely zero pairing sense for the food being served. A recent visit prompted our dining companion to wonder aloud if perhaps they'd simply taken the easy way out and recycled the previous establishment's list altogether instead of designing their own. Ouch.
The Poseur: So, what exactly is up with more than a couple of restaurants around town rolling out by-the-glass pours with prices on par with what you'd pay for an entrée? There can be no mistaking us for being the least bit unwilling to drop coin on something fabulous to drink -- we often do exactly that. But on these particular occasions, we were asked to shell out $20 (or more!) per glass from lists which featured a whole 'lotta meh. No one can fault any restaurateur or beverage director their capitalist economy-given right to mark up their wines as they wish. But given that this is Denver -- not Manhattan -- and that most of us are still in recession-recovery mode, we'd appreciate choices that actually encourage us (never mind less enthusiastic wine lovers) to drink more, not less.
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The Epic Fail: "Stunned" is the word to most aptly describe our emotional state upon recently receiving what may have been the most egregious service of our wine-drinking careers. Spying a never-before-seen label on a bottle of pink bubbly enjoyed by nearby imbibers, we inquired as to the wine's provenance. Without hesitating, the bartender advised that the sparkler hailed from France's "Lorree" Valley. Assuming that he actually meant the Loire Valley in central France (pronounced "Luh-wahr"), we voiced as much and were somewhat testily informed that no, the region was in fact called the "Lorree." Hmmm. Ever eager to learn of new and untried wine locales, we asked after the grape varieties involved in said bottle. "Cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir," came the response. We found this even more perplexing, given that those two particular grapes have likely never, ever met in a bottle of French wine, least of all one full of rosé bubbles. The barman's yarn spun ever longer, with him explaining that the wine was from southern France, "right near the river." Having taken all we could, we finally asked to see the bottle -- whose label quite clearly featured not only the correct region (the Loire, as we'd suspected) but the right grape, too (cabernet franc, the principal cultivar from that location used to make sparkling wine). We still aren't sure if he thought he could bullshit us because we were chicks (and definitely not chicks who work in the wine biz) or because he was just clueless about wine, but it doesn't matter. The best case scenario? Despite the fact that this was a by-the-glass pour, somehow this bartender was unaware of the wine's makeup. Worst case? That he thought he could get over on a couple of what he incorrectly assumed to be wine-unsavvy ladies. There's enough misunderstanding that abounds when it comes to vino that we certainly can't afford to have those in the business of serving (and hopefully educating) guests providing this kind of misinformation.
The good news is, the number of Denver restaurants pouring out topnotch wine service just keeps growing -- and we'll be sharing some of the very best examples right here next week.