Experience Denver’s most unique wine, cider and beer tasting experiences | VailDaily.com

Experience Denver’s most unique wine, cider and beer tasting experiences

Melanie Wong
John Balistreri, owner of Balistreri Vineyards in Denver, pours wine in the winery's tasting room. Balistreri learned oenology from his parents and grandparents, and draws from a Sicilian winemaking tradition.
Melanie Wong | mwong@vaildaily.com |

Plan your weekend getaway

Where to stay: Hotel Monaco — a luxurious, old world-style hotel in the heart of downtown Denver. Perks — it’s dog friendly, features free daily wine tastings and offers complimentary commuter bikes for guests. (1717 Champa St., Denver; http://www.monaco-denver.com.)

Where to drink: Balistreri Vineyards (1946 E. 66th Ave., Denver; http://www.balistrerivineyards.com); Stem Ciders (2811 Walnut St., Denver; http://www.stemciders.com); Infinite Monkey Theorem ( 3200 Larimer St., Denver; http://www.theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com)

Where to eat: Panzano’s, located in Hotel Monaco, features acclaimed Northern Italian food in a casually elegant setting. (http://www.panzano-denver.com). For small plates to share, try Euclid Hall, a popular gastropub on Larimer Square. (1317 14th St., Denver; http://www.euclidhall.com).

Wine tasting in the city, you say? With nary a vineyard in sight?

That’s right, and we’re not just talking trendy wine bars, but full-on wineries, where the grape processing and winemaking process happens right out back or one wall over.

In the past decade, these urban wineries have been popping up around town, offering everything from old world-inspired sips in a garden setting to no-frills, but high-quality, wine in a can in an industrial-style warehouse. We crafted the perfect fall weekend of imbibing based out of the heart of downtown Denver. Our top pick for lodging was the Hotel Monaco, a unique, luxury hotel located less than a 10-minute walk from Larimer Square, Union Station and riverside walking paths. They’re very dog friendly, for those high-brow pooches in our midst, and their free fleet of commuting bikes will allow you to get around the neighborhood with ease without a vehicle. Plus, it’s a short ride from the up-and-coming (and tap-room-studded) River North district.

Bike and lunch at Balistreri Vineyards

The winemaking roots at Balistreri run deep — they’ve been making wine for close to six generations in the United States, using methods handed down from their ancestors in Sicily. Patriarch John A. Balistreri is at the helm of Balistreri Vineyards, which opened for business in 2000.

At their nearly 4-year-old facility, complete with winemaking operations, a lunch patio, tasting bar and event space, you’ll likely get to meet a member of the family on any given day. Balistreri gets its grapes mostly from Palisade to create old world-style wines, meaning the resulting vino is unfiltered, all natural and unrefined. The method makes for some unconventional, fruit-forward, “orange” whites that might charm even a die-hard red wine drinker.

Why the old-style methods?

“John makes wine like they did in old world Europe, the way he was taught by his parents and grandparents. That’s the way they did it, and he won’t put any of that other stuff, like preservatives, in his wine,” said Birdie Balistreri, the winemaker’s wife.

The winery is located in an unassuming area of Denver at 1946 E 66th Ave., either a 15 minute drive out of downtown, or a 20- to 25-minute bike ride (a popular weekend option). Tastings are free, so chat with the family and staff about the wines as you taste away, and then sit down to a light lunch in the pleasant garden area. Enjoy lunch with a refreshing sangria, or buy one of Balistreri’s unique bottles for later.

Bask on the patio at Stem Ciders

After riding or driving back to downtown Denver, catch a five-minute ride to the hopping RiNo (River North) district. Cider isn’t exactly wine — but it’s more closely related to wine than beer, as the process involves fermenting fruit juice. Located on 2811 Walnut St., make your way around the back of the building, and if it’s a warm afternoon, take a seat at the airy patio.

Stem is one of three cideries in Denver, working mostly with apples from Colorado’s Western Slope. Taproom manager Arline Kellogg said cideries have been slowly popping up around Denver, and she has seen the apple libation grow in popularity.

“We’ve really seen it grow in similar communities like Seattle, so we think we’ll also see it take off here,” she said.

She pointed out that even non-cider drinkers might like Stem’s ciders. They contain zero added sugar (other than the natural sugars in the apples), compared to an average of 30 grams to 40 grams of sugar in most commercial ciders. Cider master Samantha Malavarca’s brews are drier and more in the style of English or French ciders.

This is a good spot to grab a refreshing drink (or a flight to try a variety of flavors) and a snack from a nearby food truck. If you’re there during the week, then check out food and cider pairings on Tuesdays and live bluegrass on Wednesdays.

If you absolutely need a beer to break up the day, then stay downtown and try Jagged Mountain Brewery, a big, welcoming space with unusual brews (such as smoked juniper ale) that will amuse anyone who has adventurous tastes.

Wine counter culture at Infinite Monkey Theorem

End the day a few blocks down from Stem Ciders at Infinite Monkey Theorem’s taproom, a space that looks more like a hip lounge than a winery. There’s a huge patio for bigger groups, and at any given time, there will be a wide selection of wines on tap.

“Yep, no rolling vineyards or marble tasting room floors,” said CEO and winemaker Ben Parsons. “It’s all about creating an environment where the demographic that drinks our wine and embraces our brand and philosophy can hang out. It’s a winery tap room — more like a brewery tap room, but without dudes with facial hair.”

Parsons gets most of his grapes from Palisade, but that’s about where any convention stops. The wine is made in an alley warehouse, and besides being served in the classic bottle, you’ll also find it in can and keg form. Kegging the wine, according to the winery, is not only environmentally friendly, saving materials on glass and corks, but also helps keep the wine fresh.

For Parsons, an urban winery in Colorado simply seemed to make sense.

“Here, 85 percent of the population lives on the Front Range. All the good restaurants and wine stores are here, and so it was a no brainer to bring the winemaking to the people,” he said. “I also love the city and the grit of the city, and its people make the perfect stage to make wine in a non-pretentious setting, which is what our brand embodies.”

Now, it’s time to soak up all that booze. For a fine-dining experience, head back to Hotel Monaco’s Panzano restaurant for some acclaimed Northern Italian fare. If it’s some late-night grub you’re looking for, then grab a spot at gastropub Euclid Hall in Larimer Square for some poutine or duck nachos.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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