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Six casual Denver restaurants with super-cool wine lists

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Why is it that so many of Denver's more casual, moderately priced restaurants have wine lists that make the oenophiles among us want to just give up and order a beer? It's as if the people in charge of designing these lists decided that when entrees cost somewhere in the $12-to-$15 range, the wine list can get away with looking like an advertisement for a bunch of wine we've tried to forget we ever drank -- rather than a list designed to pique the drinker's curiosity and challenge his palate.

As for making an effort to ensure that the selections pair well with the menu? Yeah, right. But just because our budget might be better suited to popping bottles of Miller Lite than Moët doesn't mean our otherwise extremely satisfying meal should be subjected to a less-than-worthy (and reasonably priced) wine pairing.

Fortunately, things are looking up -- at least at these six restaurants that have wine lists as good as their wallet-friendly food:

1) LoHi Steakbar

Wine list worth loving for its: Globally sourced and inspired selection of white wines (including a torrontes and a viognier), a majority of by-the-glass offerings under $10, and a killer wine happy hour.

Wine most worth checking out: Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel, which was bestowed with California's certification of sustainable wine growing, is a juicy, boozy zin that's exactly the thing to savor with one of LoHi's ridiculously scarfable burgers.

2) Madison Street

Wine list worth loving for its: Approachable but never predictable selections that harmonize beautifully with this neighborhood restaurant's upscale comfort food. How about a lemony-crisp albariño partnered with a plate of fried tiger shrimp tacos? Or one of our all-time favorite match-ups, rotisserie chicken and a GSM-driven Cotes-du-Rhône? Money.

Wine most worth checking out: 14 Hands Merlot. Oooh, we love us some Washington wines, and this one is no exception. A full-bodied blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, we love it even more when there's also a hunk of beef on the plate in front of us - either the savory NY strip or the cheesesteak sammie will do just fine, thanks.

3) Bistro One

Wine list worth loving for its: Three - count 'em, three - sparklers available by the glass (two of which are just five bucks each), as well as a lively mix of old and new world offerings that suit B1's classic bistro-meets-home cookin' fare.

Wine most worth checking out: Jakob Demmer Riesling. If you have yet to experience the utter bliss that is the food-and-wine marriage of riesling and fried chicken, get thee to this restaurant. The crispy, salty bird makes the perfect, perceived sweetness-reducing foil for this off-dry German white. You will love the combo more than life itself.

4) Mellow Mushroom

Wine list worth loving for its: Regionally-appropriate focus. Because the last time we checked, pizza still fell into the Italian food category, correct? So it's great to see a pizza joint serving a nice selection of the high-acid, low-tannin wines that pizza gets along with best.

Wine most worth checking out: Corrina Sangiovese. Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Sometimes the best thing to drink is exactly what might seem the most obvious; there's no need to try to sex it up. Bright cherry fruit and a light style are just what you want to be guzzling with that pie, so order up a bottle of this delightful sangio and enjoy.

5) Racines

Wine list worth loving for its: Sheer volume and variety. According to our calculations, you can choose from over thirty different wines here, all of which are thoughtfully categorized to help make that choice a little less brain-damaging. While there are lots of familiar labels, Racines manages to keeps things interesting by throwing in a few unexpected bottles - have you seen much tannat or carmenère on a fast-casual (never mind a high-end) wine list lately?

Wine most worth checking out: Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay. Yes, you are reading that correctly - we're actually suggesting that you get over yourself and order a chardonnay, without mumbling the word under your breath (lest your dining companions overhear and proceed to talk shit about you for the rest of the night). This clean-drinking, mostly stainless steel-aged chard will be just right with an order of the ahi tuna.

6) Bones

Wine list worth loving for its: Edgy (bordering on wine geek) cool factor. Oh, yeah, there's sake, too. In fact, there something here for every palate, since Austrian Grüner veltliner happily cohabitates with New Zealand pinot noir, Spanish Rioja and Italian favorita.

Wine most worth checking out: Francois Pinon Vouvray. Chenin blanc! Chenin blanc! Chenin blanc! Can you tell that we get a little bit giddy about one of the world's most food-friendly grapes? This is a lush, exotic wine that can stand up to the broad array of the very big flavors on the board at Bones, including escargot potstickers and suckling pig steamed buns.

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