| Booze |

The Wine Loft pours the good stuff at happy hour

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Happy Place: The Wine Loft, 1527 Wazee Street, 303-284-3493

The Hours: Monday through Friday, 4 to 7 p.m.

The Deals: All wines by the glass $10 & under are $5; $11-$15 are $10; $16-$20 are $15. $15 red sangria pitchers; $5 sangria by the glass; $8 signature cocktails; discounted small plates.

Were we happy? Flip the page to find out.

The Digs: Despite its prime LoDo location, somehow The Wine Loft historically has not been the first place we think of when a vino craving hits. That's partly to do with the fact that our first few visits failed to impress us; we found the list fairly pedestrian and felt the large, drafty space lacked any real character. Color us surprised to discover that three and a half years after popping its first cork,The Wine Loft has started to grow on us. A beautiful, mirror-backed bar shows off tidy rows of glassware and booze, but we could do without the tiny TV broadcasting basketball; it only detracts from the spot's overall swanky vibe. Warm mocha and espresso décor, along with amber lighting, casts a flattering glow upon the regulars (usually a mix of 30-something professionals and couples) lounging on low-slung leather settees.

The Verdict: The variety of wine offerings -- an impressive set of 35 by-the-glass picks -- has improved dramatically: boring, domestic-heavy selections have been upgraded to an eclectic mix that can please novices and oenophiles alike. Having said that, it's a good thing we know our way around a wine list, because although the amiable bar staff hustled to accommodate our down-to-the wire happy hour order, they didn't volunteer any information or opinions about the wines we chose. Spying a server about to open a bottle of bubbly with an unusual label, we loved that she paused to identify the blanc-de-blanc, but blanched when she distractedly removed her hand from the cage, causing the cork to go whizzing backward over her head while half the bar crowd nearly jumped out of their skin at the commotion.

We recovered from our scare while geeking out over our glass of Beso de Vino Macabeo 2009 ($5), a unique Spanish white variety typically made into cava. In this still version, the wine shone a dark yellow gold and gave up stone-cold mineral aromas, offset by pleasant toast and yeasty characteristics -- and it was the perfect serving temperature. Five minutes in, the wine reached its full potential, offering plenty of dried apple fruit flavors and a weighty, creamy finish.

Ready for a red, we ordered the Ruta 22 Patagonia Malbec 2010($10). "Spicy" was our first assessment of the wine's bouquet, closely followed by some dark cherry and prune-like action. The nose didn't lie; all kinds of peppery spice assaulted our palates, along with the major dark berry and figgy fruit we'd expect from a malbec. We weren't as thrilled with the happy hour snacks we ordered -- $10 seemed like not such a great deal for the combo charcuterie-and-cheese board we got. Two wedges of cheese (a MouCo and a run-of-the-mill Brie), two slices each of mortadella and salami showed up alongside a thimbleful of almonds, a few olives and some dried apricots. Serviceable, sure -- just a bit of a let down given the inspired wine choices. Future happy hours at The Wine Loft are definitely in store, thanks to the smokin' wine deals; we'll just make sure we eat first.

Overall Grade: B

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