Even with Denver’s indoor dining rooms open at limited capacity and Colorado’s 5 Star State Certification Program in the works for Denver County (which will open up even more of those inside seats), most hungry locals are still facing a winter with two main choices available for enjoying restaurant fare: Sit on an outdoor patio (hopefully by a fire pit or heater) or order food to go. When the latter is your preference, navigating a restaurant’s wine list without a sommelier or server by your side may make you feel like you’re on your own. You’re not.
Whenever I order take out, I choose what I’m eating first, and then look to the restaurant’s wine list for pairing options. Of course, if you see pairing suggestions on a menu, definitely consider them; the experts at the restaurant most likely know what goes best with their food and are intimately familiar with the wines they offer.
If no pre-determined pairings are available, my go-to wines tend to have higher levels of acidity and moderate levels of alcohol, as those kinds pair best with food. That means, for white wines, look for varieties including dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, and Chenin Blanc. More into reds? Pinot Noir, Barbera d’Alba, and Gamay are great bets. And don’t forget about rosés and sparkling wines, either. Dry rosé isn’t just for summertime sipping, after all, and Champagne, while pricey, is extremely versatile; less expensive, alternative sparklers include Crémant from France (similar to Champagne but made outside of that French region) or Spanish cava.
Here are a few guidelines so you know what to look for the next time you call or click for curbside carryout.
Fried Foods Love Bubbles
Sparkling wines like Champagne, prosecco, and cava are perfect for drinking alongside most fried items because the wine’s effervescence cuts thru the richness of the food, cleansing your palate in preparation for the next bite. But you don’t need to pay for a bottle of the real deal when there are pét-nats (short for “pétillant naturel,” which means naturally sparkling) popping up all over local wine lists. This French term refers to trendy natural wines that are bottled while still undergoing fermentation; they’re typically gently fizzy and great with anything deep fried. Noble Riot, the almost two-year-old RiNo wine bar behind Denver Central Market, which specializes in natural, organic, and bio-dynamic producers, has great pét-nats on its rotating list, and fried chicken to go with it.
Consider ordering Noble Riot’s buttermilk-fried birds with a party pack of three pét-nats ($82) chosen by co-owner Scott Mattson and wine director Troy Bowmen. A small or large bucket of (gluten-free!) fried chicken ($19 to $36) comes with potato salad and tangy Riot sauce; I like tacking on an extra order of Riot “fries,” which are spicy smashed fingerling potatoes with a side of malt aïoli ($7). Mattson and Bowmen often change which bottles come in the pét-nat party pack, but recent stand outs include the tart, yeasty, romantic 2018 Domaine des Hauts Baigneux Spontané Rosé and the beautifully bitter, ciderlike Costadila 330 slm orange prosecco. These sparklers are a real delight.
Rosé and Pizza Pair Beautifully
Rosé has transitioned out of its former designation of being a summer-only wine, and drier pink styles are everywhere. Even better, rosés are incredibly versatile with food because they can be made from any kind of red wine grape, from Gamay to Pinot Noir to Grenache. Lighter styles, from regions such as Provence, France, pair well with fresh salads and seafood, while medium- to full-bodied rosés from Spain and Chile can stand up to the big flavors found in charcuterie, grilled meats, and even pizza.
Nine-month-old Joy Hill in Platt Park specializes in sourdough, brick-oven pies made with local ingredients, including house-made mozzarella. To go with their lovely pizzas, owners Andy Templar and Julia Duncan-Roitman have assembled a hearty take-out wine list featuring sustainable, organic producers. The best deal in the house is definitely the $30 House Special, a complete meal of any pizza (I can vouch for the prosciutto-and-burrata pie), any salad (I ponied up the extra $2 for the roasted beet, feta, and chickpea salad, and was glad I did), and a bottle of the house red, white, or rosé, brought in by Denver distributor Natural Wine Company. Do as I did and go for the rosé, currently the 2019 Ananto Utiel-Requena Organic Bobal Rosé from Spain, made from Bobal grapes. It’s fruity and intense on the nose, which complements the sweetness of the golden beets in the salad and the saltiness of the prosciutto on the pizza. I am a fan!
Old World Wines Are Food’s Best Friends
In wine-speak, “Old World” generally refers to wines produced in Europe; these vinos tend to be lower in alcohol and have a good amount of acidity, and also showcase less texture on the palate—which means they are at their best when consumed with a meal. New World wines, on the other hand, coming from countries that were once colonies (such as the United States, Australia, Argentina, and South America), can be bolder and more fruit-driven, which may compete with your meal.
An Old World-style restaurant like French café Atelier by Radex in Uptown is a great option for pairing such wines with classic European fare. There, chef-owner Radek Cerny cooks traditional dishes such as country paté, escargot, and bouillabaisse, alongside a succinct to-go wine list that focuses on French makers; most bottles fall between $45 to $59. My order: Cerny’s giant sardines with capers and tomato oil ($15), paired with the 2019 Hugues Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet ($12 per glass, $45 per bottle). The crisp white wine exhibited a balanced minerality that was the perfect highlight for the lightly smoky fish and briny capers. As a citrusy, unoaked white, the picpoul also tamed the richness of Atelier’s creamy paté ($15).
Noble Riot, 1336 27th St., 303-933-5330
Joy Hill, 1229 South Broadway, 303-954-8784
Atelier by Radex, 2011 E. 17th Ave., 720-379-5556