RMFR took a ride up North to check out the massive Denver Food + Wine Festival, a multi-day food, wine and spirits celebration which marks its thirteenth consecutive year in 2017. Events like the RIEDEL Wine Seminar, “Culinary Cinema Series” and the annual “Rise and Dine” brunch mix with celebrity bartender show-downs and an al fresco pairing dinner. With the help of co-sponsors Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Colorado and the Colorado Restaurant Association they highlight Denver’s culinary influence and bring awareness to the impact of the hospitality industry. The annual event benefits three community nonprofit partners, including The Denver Post Community Foundation, Kroenke Sports Charities and Colorado ProStart, operated by the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
We were able to attend a major piece of the festivities, the grand tasting on Saturday, September 9, which posts up outside of the Pepsi Center in Denver. There are numerous large scale, white tents that host Colorado eateries and showcase wine and spirits from all over the world. Elaborate pop-up shops from vendors complete with patio furniture to lounge leave us with no shortage of options as there is plenty to explore. We recap some of our favorite culinary spots and exemplary wines we encounter throughout the day.
A palate cleanser was in order so we seek out some sparkling wines to begin the three hour festival block from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. We initially think that it seems like a brief stint but being a witness to the vast array of wine, spirits and food it makes complete sense to fit the event into a few full hours. We lead with an Acinum extra dry prosecco from Veneto, Italy, that pairs well with a citrus marinated pork taco with pickled red onion, Serrano salsa verde, cotija cheese, cilantro micro greens and lime from The Hound.
Still hell bent on bubbles we come across Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards from Temecula, California, and are curious to try their trademark “Oh My Gosh” almond sparkling wine. This white wine is naturally fermented with a hint of the round, nutty namesake. We go forward to find a grilled plantain appetizer with dulche de leche, ancho chile and toasted almond bits and coconut on top from Lena in Denver.
We hope to find some wines from Colorado but as we ask around we are told that the reportoire for the festival does not include any local wineries. We decide to find the next best thing with 7 Cellars, a winery out of Napa, California, that produces certain vintages in partnership with Denver Bronco’s royalty and local restauranteur, John Elway, and the winemaking techniques of Rob Mondavi Jr. We try the 2014 reserve Carneros chardonnay which has light floral characteristics and a vanilla finish. It pairs well with the killer shrimp and grits and sweet corn and hatch green chile creme brûlée from range, new American West cuisine in downtown Denver by chef Paul Nagan.
Ready for red we go way South with a 2009 vintage Argentinian malbec from Antigal Winery & Estates. We take the subtleties of dark fruit and chocolate to the Habit Doughnut Dispensary table, written up in 5280 as editor’s choice for “Top Doughnut”. A traditional glazed donut reaches new heights as they sautée the mini pastry in Grand Marnier. Literally, heaven.
We go in a different ruby direction with a 2011 Au Bon Climat pinot noir from Santa Barbara, California, and get into the September season with German eatery, Rhein Haus Denver. A mini bratwurst on a fluffy bun with thick cut sauerkraut and their proprietary, stone ground mustard inspire fall.
We head back to familiar territory with a 2013 cabernet sauvignon from Groth in Oakville, an esteemed area of Napa Valley. We follow with a Pina Colada braised pork belly amidst blueberry and pineapple rum jam from Max’s Wine Dive, well-known for their motto, “Fried chicken and champagne. Why the hell not?!”
We realize that we skip over a necessary summer wine and track down a 2015 Chateau la Sauvageonne volcanic rose by Gerard Bertrand and couple it with a braised short rib with creamy polenta, pickled vegetables and mustard greens from The ART Hotel in Denver.
As things start to wind down we find one more opportunity for dessert with mini blueberry tarts from La Patisserie Francaise out of Arvada, Colorado, and a last taste test with the lineup from 19 Crimes.
We gravitate towards their fascinating labels and the wine rep explains that they feature mug shots from convicts that came to find their new home in Australia. She instructs us to check out their app which allows us to waive our phones across the photographs as it brings the portraits to life to tell the story of their incarceration. Interactive wine bottles wins the prize for the most unexpected moment at the festival.
The format consists of non-stop eating and drinking and we realize that it is a wise choice to have a game plan in place and most certainly a ride if you opt to try the spirits that are available too. We enjoy that the staff present consists of chefs from the restaurants and distribution representatives or employees from the wineries that are able to any questions we ask with a thorough disposition.
“I count the festival as a success if guests take away some knowledge about food, wine and the state’s hospitality industry,” says Mary Mino, president of the Colorado Restaurant Foundation. “Providing face-to-face interaction with experts like Master Sommeliers and some of the Colorado’s best chefs offers them a unique opportunity to experience Denver Food + Wine Fest as a culinary extravaganza, but also an educational experience.”