While it’s easy to find big-name chain restaurants and mass-produced foods, it’s always nice to get a more local experience. One city with excellent quality and craft tastes is Denver, Colorado. To help you navigate the artisanal flavors of the area, here are my top picks.
Wine: D’Vine Wines
1660 Champa Street
The only winery in downtown Colorado, D’Vine Wines, also known as the Wild Women Winery, imports grapes from California then ferments them and puts their own unique spin on the blends. It’s a boutique winery with a cozy and inviting atmosphere, as well as a friendly and knowledgeable staff who will help you learn about the art of wine tasting. For example, I learned that to aerate the wine you don’t softly move the glass around, but fervently spin it in quick circles while pushing the base of the glass down onto the table. Likewise, the drier the wine, the higher the alcohol content because it has only a small amount of residual sugar. You can do tastings for three for $5, seven for $10 or four for $12 with a souvenir wine glass. Some of the best wines I tasted included:
- Sangiovese- Made with the grape used to create Chianti, it has a silky finish with flavors of strawberry and plum.
- Zinfandel and Syrah Blend- While these two aggressively flavored grapes are not usually combined, the Zinfandel is so light it tastes better blended than alone. Together the two compose a spicy wine with a smooth fruit finish.
- Green Apple Riesling- This wine tastes just like a sour apple Jolly Rancher, and smells like one, too. It’s a tart yet refreshing sweet white wine.
- Chocolate Port- A unique desert wine, it is fermented to a higher alcohol content while using less brandy than most port wines. It’s smooth and sweet, with a dark chocolate finish.
A fun aspect of the wines is each variety has its own special bottle, complete with a sexy female character and story. You’ll get to know ladies like Miss Booty, Dusty Twilight and Royal Ruby, and how they relate to these delicious and rare wines. Moreover, the winery allows visitors to make their own wine with help from qualified vintners.
As soon as you walk into this gourmet cheese shop your nose will be in heaven. The Truffle Cheese Shop features hard to find specialty items and rare cheeses. They work under a sustainable philosophy, creating organic, free-range and all-natural products. What’s really great about the shop is they offer free cheese and meat tastings. Some of the best things I sampled include:
- Memoire Truffle- This Dutch Gouda cheese is made with heady Italian truffles and packs an Earthy punch.
- Goat Cheddar- This blended cheese has a sweet, mild flavor. It’s less aggressive than goat cheese, but still gives you that interesting flavor.
- Charloe- This raw cow’s milk cheese has a delicate aroma, and a hint of roasted nuts.
This is the perfect place to plan for a picnic, as the shop also offers sweets, crackers, pickles, olive tapenades, hot sauces, jams, olive oils, vinegars and unique cured meats like venison and duck salami and traditional Spanish chorizo. Additionally, on weekends and certain weekdays, The Truffle Cheese Shop offers cheese classes and events.
EVOO Marketplace is a truly one-of-a-kind shop, as it’s essentially a giant tasting bar of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. It was the first of its kind in Colorado, and is still family-owned and operated. The shop features over 50 products to sample in unique flavors. Moreover, you can basically travel without leaving the store, as the oils and balsamic vinegars come from all over the world like Italy, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, California and Tunisia.
In terms of olive oils, some of the unique flavors include Persian lime, wild mushroom and sage, black truffle, roasted almond, grape seed and arbequina. For the balsamic vinegars, visitors can sample blood orange, dark chocolate, blackberry-ginger, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon pear and Vermont maple. Tip: Mix the blood orange balsamic with the dark chocolate. My friends and I were all in agreement that the blend was one of the best things we’d ever tasted.
While there are myriad breweries and brew pubs in Denver, the Falling Rock Tap House has something special about it. The boutique brewery just turned 15 years old, so they’re not new to the beer business. In fact, you can check out the wall of over 2,000 beer bottles lined up, most of which owner Chris Black drank himself. Additionally, they feature 88 beers on tap, making them one of the largest breweries in Denver. What I really love about this place, though, is how the bartenders are completely honest. For example, when I went to order a Redstone Meadery Sunshine Nectar, he answered, “I don’t think you should get that. It’s terrible.” He then suggested the Julian Apple Cider, which was delicious with a refreshing, crisp taste and a bit of tartness. I also sampled their Rockyard Hopyard, a lightly carbonated pale IPA that had a hoppy taste, with hints of oats and grain. Other popular choices on the menu include Dry Dock Double IPA, “Bull & Bush” Big Ben Brown, “Sandlot” Barmen and “Avery” White Rascal.
Biker Jim’s is a unique hot dog eatery beloved by both locals and travelers. While they do serve beef, you’ll also find elk, rattlesnake, pheasant, reindeer, buffalo, wild boar and duck dogs. If you’re in the mood for something really juicy and fattening, their bat dog is made of bacon, and topped with bacon bits, avocado and tomato cream cheese. It’s also a great place to eat on a budget, as hot dogs start at $6 and cost $1.50 extra for unusual toppings like Harissa roasted cactus with Malaysian jam, scallions, cilantro and onions and cream cheese with caramelized onions. They’re open late on weekends, and also have a food cart across from the clock tower on the 16th Street Mall.
Dietrich’s Chocolate & Espresso was opened in 1975 by a German man named Erich Dietrich. While growing up in Germany, he apprenticed under a master chocolatier, learning the craft of fine chocolate making. Walking into the shop, you’ll be amazed at the cases of flawless handmade chocolates. You can sample chocolates and truffles for $1.50 and up. Some interesting chocolate varieties include hot chili pepper, pomegranate truffle, French mint, blueberry pecan and creme brulee truffle. Additionally, the shop is the only place in Colorado where you can find chocolate made from the rare Peruvian cacao bean, Nacional. They also serve breakfast and lunch if you’re in the mood for food.