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Ask a Chef (Sommelier): Kelly Wooldridge

Ask A Chef is an ongoing series in which 5280 poses a single question to a local culinary luminary.

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The advanced sommelier exam is notoriously difficult—so difficult, in fact, that it’s a rarity to pass on the first try. Kelly Wooldridge, general manager and sommelier at Mizuna, did just that when he was 26. In addition to his role at Mizuna, Wooldridge also wields his talents as Bonanno Concepts‘ wine director—offering creative input and staff education at each of the nine restaurants. Between preparing the Mizuna staff for service, updating wine lists for summer (which means plenty of Riesling and rosé, his “two R’s”), and competing in the Chaîne des Rôtisseur’s young sommelier competition, the wine wiz found a moment to chat with us about Denver’s current wine-drinking climate.

(Read more stories from our Ask a Chef series)

5280: Any trends you’re noticing, as far as wine drinking in Denver goes?

KW: There are an increasing number of guests, really everywhere, who are willing to hop the fence and take a look around and see what’s happening. [They’re getting] off the interstate. It’s been a really cool transformation over the last 18 months.

I’m seeing guests who are really wanting to engage and they want to chat, they want to learn. The days are finally waning of people who will only drink one wine, or one type of wine, or wine from one region. People are realizing that there’s great wine everywhere, and additionally that there’s too much money tied up in this business for people to be making bad wine. So anything that makes it onto the wine list of any reputable sommelier in Denver is going to be good. And it doesn’t have to trash your budget, it doesn’t have to make it hurt. It’s going to be something cool—maybe something that you want to take a picture of on your phone and tell your friends about later. So the fact that guests are super into wine and they’re judging wine based on its merits is great. There’s a lot fewer people consulting the ratings apps or their vintage charts. They’re relying on their sommeliers and asking cool questions—that’s probably the most fun.

There are still those that will come in and sit down, and beyond a shadow of a doubt, they’ve already decided that this is what we’re having before I can even get to the table. Great, thank you very much, I’ll be back in a moment. But if you want to talk, if I feel that you want to try something new and would like to engage with me, then I will push a little bit. I ask people, too: Do you want something tried and true? Do you want something familiar? Do you want an old friend? Or do you want to maybe hop the back fence and explore what’s in the woods?

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