A Foodie’s Journey through Denver in a Day

Union Station Denver

Stop 1: Breakfast

No trip to Denver is complete without a few food stops, and if you are a foodie like me, I would recommend starting with a hearty breakfast at Snooze AM.

If you haven’t heard of Snooze, then it’s time for you to try it. Snooze is my go-to breakfast place early in the morning. As the adage goes, “the early bird gets the worm;” in this case, if you arrive early to Snooze, you’ll beat the lines and get in fast. So literally, don’t snooze…or you’ll wait a good hour or so for your breakfast.

Snooze was started in Denver in 2006 and has now expanded to California, Arizona, and Texas. I personally love to start with their Straight Up or Spicy Bloody Marys or their fresh-from-the-tap Mimosas. Then I love to dive into one of two items, either their 3-Egg Omelets or their delectable Cinnamon Roll Pancake, the latter of which I always order on the side anyways and split it with those at the table. That is, of course, if I feel like sharing!  You honestly can’t go wrong with any item on their menu.

Visit them at the Denver Union Station starting at 6:30 a.m. at 1701 Wynkoop Street, Suite 150, Denver, CO 80202. They are tucked inside the really cool and renovated Union Station.

Stop 2: Walk it off

Once you’ve filled your belly, it’s time to burn off some of those cholesterol-laden calories. I recommend enjoying the sights with a light walking tour with Denver Free Walking Tours.  They start at 10 a.m. and meet at the Veteran’s Memorial off Lincoln Street, and they end at Coors Field.  It is about a two-hour walk and covers about two miles. Thus it isn’t too much of a hike but it’s enough to get you going.  If you are pushing around a stroller, it isn’t too hard to manage either. These tours run May 1st through October 31st, seven days a week; then from November 1st to April 30th, they run only on Saturdays and Sundays.

Denver Civic Center

These tour guides work off their tips, so do tip them generously! The tour covers the State Capitol, the Civic Center, the Denver Art Museum, the U.S. Mint, Larimer Square, and 16th Street Mall, and finishes at the famous Coors Field.  These are all the really essential places to visit while in town.  This is indeed a great way to experience downtown without having to think too much about it.

Stop 3: Food Truck time!

Perhaps I shouldn’t have recommended a big breakfast, but given that you’ve now already walked some of it off, you can indulge once again.  Do this at the Civic Center Eats, which is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from May 2nd to October 5th. It is Denver Metro’s largest gathering of gourmet food trucks and carts (23-25 food trucks to be exact).  You can taste everything from local burgers to Cajun to Indian food and all the while enjoying live music and the beautiful setting of the Civic Center Park.

Stop 4: Nap or Drink…your choice

Yes, I said, take a nap. If you are lucky enough to be staying downtown or nearby, head back for a nap and enjoy a food-induced nap.  Why?  Because tonight you will be eating at one of the top James Beard award-winning restaurants, Rioja, and you’ll need room for this wonderful cuisine. However, before you do take a nap, make sure you’ve already booked your dinner reservations at Rioja.

If you are not able to nap, enjoy a beer back at Union Station’s Terminal Bar, which has a great line-up of Colorado beers, or enjoy a coffee across the way at Pigtrain Coffee Company, where you can experience phenomenal lattes.

Another great stop is a place where you can see all of Denver from a rooftop while enjoying a beer.  Go to Tap Fourteen, on the rooftop of Hayter’s & Co, half a block from Coors Field, where you can choose from a rotating list of 70 top Colorado beers on draft! You can try out their great beer offerings from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday- Friday or start early on Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. with brunch.  Tap Fourteen has many other activities and events; check out their homepage.

Stop 5: Award-Winning Dinner

Finally, the famous and historic Larimer Street located in Lower Downtown Denver (known locally as LODO) is where you will find a number of great restaurants besides my personal favorite mentioned earlier, Rioja. Perhaps this particular restaurant is a place I recommend because I am partial to (and have lived and worked in) the wine region in Northern Spain called La Rioja.  However, Rioja (the restaurant) is actually a place where James Beard Award Winning Executive Chef Jennifer Jasinski and Tim Kuklinski bring together local and Mediterranean ingredients to create sophisticated plates. While the food is not typical of my favorite wine region in Spain, Rioja’s many food and wine offerings stand out on their own and create their own little piece of heaven.

Rioja Meal

At Rioja, I recommend trying their egg-yolk ravioli, which is deliciously divine and cooked to perfection. With a buttery dish like this, I would recommend pairing this with a wine with enough acidity to cut through the starch, butter, and yolks. A chardonnay or a pinot blanc would pair well with this plate, given the acidity and body typical these wines.

If you plan to go to Rioja, I would recommend booking via OpenTable in advance as this place is well sought after. They open at 5 p.m. for dinner and are located at 1431 Larimer Street, Denver, CO.

I hope you have enjoyed this day as much as I have!

 

Drinking Now: Black Magnolia

You may be intrigued by the name—I was. Black Magnolia wine, as the winemaker and owner, Anthony Van Nice states, describes what is in the bottle.  “Magnolias are beautiful and fragrant, and they have a velvety texture.  There really is no such thing as a Black Magnolia, so this is something new and perhaps intriguing and unexpected.”

This isn’t the only reason I was interested in trying this wine. It also had to do with the person behind the wine. Anthony Van Nice collaborated with well-known and respected Laurent Montalieu of Soléna Estate to create this wine, along with another soon-to-be-released wine, a rosé, called Shallow Seas. These wines will be housed under Van Nice’s winery Real Nice Winemakers.  Nice play on names, Anthony!

Anthony has been in the wine industry for over 20 years and got his start as a cellar rat working at Archery Summit under another famous winemaker, Gary Andrus. After this, he went on to work in Burgundy, France; Australia,: and New Zealand, and he eventually made it back to Oregon. He was the first employee of a start-up winery called The Four Graces and quickly became their GM and later President until it was sold to the Foley Wine Group.

After having spent the last few years helping others build their own wineries, he thought it was finally time that he started his own. And so Real Nice Winemakers, along with his Black Magnolia wine, was born.blackmagnolia_label

Black Magnolia Pinot Noir is sourced from three well-known and respected vineyards, Hyland Vineyard (Hyland Estates), Olsen Vineyard, and Domaine Loubejac Vineyard.  This blend of vineyards creates a uniquely balanced wine with the right amount of acid and fruit that will delight you from the first course to the last course of dinner.

Interestingly enough this wine is not your traditional $40-$50-dollar bottle of Pinot Noir .  Rather, at a very reasonable $22, it’s a wine that can still be representative of the famous Willamette Valley and delivers on quality over price. Do try it!

To learn more about Black Magnolia, visit blackmagnoliawine.com.  Cheers!

My Top Go-To Rioja Wines Under $20

Finding Rioja wine in your local stores isn’t as hard as most people think. Having lived in Rioja for two years and having completed a Masters of Viticulture and Enology (winemaking) there, this place is my second and favorite home. I am often asked what my “Go-to” Rioja wines are, and I have a few recommendations for a few favorites that you are likely to find in your store.

Let me first explain something about the wine regions of La Rioja, Spain.

Rioja's Three Regions, courtesy of Vibrant Rioja

Rioja’s Three Regions, courtesy of Vibrant Rioja

The Regions of La Rioja

La Rioja has three wine regions where wines of varying styles are made. The Rioja area is subdivided into three different regions – Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. While la Rioja Alavesa and la Rioja Alta are located closer to the mountain, they are at slightly higher elevations and have a cooler climate. This results in wines with more acidity and slightly more finesse and elegance.

La Rioja Baja is located to the southeast where it is drier and warmer. The annual rainfall in the region ranges from 12 inches in parts of Baja to more than 20 inches in La Rioja Alta and Alavesa.

Although each winemaker adds their own special touch, terroir is not something that can necessarily changed.  If I want a lighter, more distinguished wine, I tend to lean towards wines from Rioja Alta or Rioja Alavesa. These two areas, of higher altitude, are located in the northernmost part of La Rioja near Basque Country (if not in it).  If I want a slightly bigger-bodied wine, I lean towards wines from Rioja Baja, where there is a bit more sun and slightly different soil types dominate.

Aging and Oak

I also then consider how much aging or oak I would like on my wine. Rioja has a great classification standard that helps you understand how much long your wine has been aged; based on your tastes, this classification standard can help determine the right wine for you.

Rioja Labels and Classification, courtesy of Vibrant Rioja

Rioja Labels and Classification, courtesy of DOCa Rioja

I love a Cosecha wine (a wine in its first or second year with little to no oak; it has a green label) for summertime due to how light and refreshing it is.  However, my go-to night wine is generally a Crianza (12 months+ in oak plus one year in bottle; it has a red label). I reserve Reserva (aged minimum of three years, tends to be 18-24 months in oak with the rest of the time in bottle) for those nights when I am having a hearty meal with friends.  These classifications, while made to be easy to understand, can be at times confusing. Some winemakers who chose to age a wine for 8 months, for example, based on the grape variety, terroir, vintage, etc., still have to use a Cosecha, or green. label.

In general, I stick to Crianza and Reserva unless it is a white wine.  For a white wine, I prefer the wine of the year or the Cosecha wine.

Here are a few of the wines that can easily be found in your grocery or liquor stores with a cost likely under $20. If you are lucky, you may even find them for under $15 on sale.

LAN Crianza or Reserva

lan

LAN Crianza

C.V.N.E. Crianza

cune-crianza

CVNE Crianza

Marqués de Cáceres Crianza

Marques de Caceres

Marques de Caceres

Campo Viejo Reserva

img_0596

CUNE Crianza and Campo Viejo Reserva

Marqués de Riscal Reserva

Marques de Riscal Reserva

Marques de Riscal Reserva

While I haven’t listed vintage, the wines currently released onto the market are ready to drink. Unlike their US counterparts, there are strict rules as indicated by the labels and by the Regulatory Council in Spain that prevent wine from being released before it has been properly aged. You generally can’t go wrong with the suggestions listed above. If you are interested in specific vintages, click here for the listing of the vintages.

The majority of the wineries listed above have been making wine since the 1900s and have vines close to 100 years old. Most are still held by the families who started the wineries back in the 1800s, and all have had a very high standard in winemaking for some time.

The wines listed above are also wines made with the traditional grapes grown in the region: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana Tinta.  These wines tend to be elegant and subtle yet powerful in the mouth.  To me, they bring me back to my time in La Rioja where I ate and drank with friends on Calle Laurel, the famous tapas street of Logroño.

calle-laurel

These Rioja wines have an earthy, dark cherry, tobacco mouth taste that conjures up all the sights, smells, and sounds of this amazing town. To me, they are special, and every sip I take brings me back to those times. While they may not do the same for you, I hope that you will visit La Rioja and have a chance to experience what I have loved so much about this region. It’s not just about the food and wine but about the people behind the wine that make it so special.