The SOMM Journal

April / May 2018

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Page 20 of 108

20 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2018 { elevating the rockies } WHILE IT RANKS among the nation's foremost beer meccas and earns near-equal re- nown for its cocktail scene, Denver has never been much of a wine town. But those walls are finally coming down, thanks in no small part to a wave of young, adventurous, and value-oriented sommeliers with the will and skill to usher in a new era of discovery. Meet, for example, Matt Mulligan, Wine Director of pro - gressive Chinese hot spot Hop Alley. Mulligan's list abounds in wines ranging from sparkling to off-dry and pink to or- ange alongside other wonderfully-geeky options, pairing with a menu laden with pungent chiles, soy, and vinegar. The list reflects his resourcefulness not only in the cellar, but on the floor as well, where his approach to hand-selling is disarmingly laid-back. "You can't just give the house away, but pouring out half-ounce or one-ounce tastes is money well spent" when it comes to winning hearts and minds, Mulligan explains. He says he also consistently encourages playfulness and experimentation over convention when discussing potential pairings with guests. Although Spuntino Co-Owner Elliot Strathmann doesn't face the same pairing challenges Mulligan does, he takes risks of his own at his seasonally-driven restaurant while "digging into the corners of the big lovely mess" that is Italian wine. Working with some 20 distributors to compile a list of about 90 small-production wines from primarily lesser-known regions like Valle d'Aosta, Liguria, and Calabria—all for a 64-seat space—is no easy feat, but Strathmann's solution lies in steadfast hospitality. "It's about starting a long-term conversation with guests," he says, adding "I'm a big story person"—whether he's recounting with characteristic enthusi - asm the history of Barolo Chinato or the future of Radikon. Finally, Mary Allison Wright is making her own indelible mark on the Denver wine scene at acclaimed bottle shop The Proper Pour and beloved bar RiNo Yacht Club, both of which she runs with husband McLain Hedges. From showcasing Cru Beaujolais and José Pastor Selections on rotation to creating cocktails that spotlight Rivesaltes or Madeira, the couple steadily finds new ways to inspire vinous curiosity among their guests. While preparing for the much-anticipated opening of French bistro Morin, where she and Hedges will serve as Beverage Directors with an emphasis on natural wines, Wright keeps a close eye on what her peers are up to and credits kindred spirits like Strathmann and Mulligan for helping establish a burgeoning wine culture in the Mile High City. "What Elliot and Matt are doing is so important to what we're doing—building on a conversa - tion that's just begun in Denver," she says. Redefining Wining and Dining in Denver THESE SUPER-SOMMS ARE TURNING THE CITY'S BEER-CENTRIC TIDE by Ruth Tobias PHOTO: JENNIFER OLSON PHOTO: JENNIFER OLSON PHOTO: MEGAN SWANN/STARCHEFS Elliot Strathmann and Chef Cindhu Reddy are the husband-wife team behind Spuntino, a rustic, seasonally-driven Italian restaurant with a list of small-production wines. PHOTO: RUTH TOBIAS Mary Allison Wright, Owner of The Proper Pour, features buzzworthy wines at her retail wine shop. McLain Hedges of The Proper Pour and RiNo Yacht Club. As the Wine Director at Hop Alley, Matt Mulligan maintains an eclectic wine list to pair with the Chinese hot spot's cuisine.

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