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In December of last year, the Three Saints Revival, a Mediterranean tapas and wine bar on Wewatta Street in LoDo, took on a bold project. It decided to end its entire bottle-based wine program and replace it with a tap-wine format instead. To call the move a risk is an understatement. Remodeling costs aside, there was no guarantee that customers would accept wine from a keg. But since debuting the new tap-based system in May, Three Saints Revival owner Robert Thompson (of Punch Bowl Social fame) says wine orders have increased to 50 percent of sales (from less than 25 percent when it was bottle-only). In fact, he’s planning to extend the draft wine system to his other restaurant concepts nationwide, including two locations of his new pickleball eatertainment concept Camp Pickle in development across the Denver metro area.
“We’ve tapped into a market here, no pun intended,” Thompson says. “I think a modern consumer wants to drink this way. To be able to come in and order a flight of wine or a 2.5-ounce taste feels like more of a modern approach to a wine program.”
Keg wine, of course, is nothing new. Over the last 10 years, the format has started to make waves in larger wine markets like California, Texas, New York, Atlanta, and Boston. But it certainly hasn’t yet exploded in popularity despite the many benefits evangelists tout.
Top among them is sustainability: Wine bottles have labels, are shipped in boxes and packaging, go inside trucks that burn gas, and (recycling efforts aside) often wind up in landfills. Distributing wine by the keg either reduces or eliminates all those downsides for the better. In fact, Three Saints Revival estimates its keg wine program saves nearly 1,133 gallons of fuel a year, keeps 8,700 wine bottles out of the landfill, and reduces overall carbon dioxide emissions by between 22,000 to 27,000 pounds.
But how does it taste? After all, the wine drinking world doesn’t react well to change. Many still think screw top wines are of lower quality (hint: they’re not) and the same misconception extends to tap wine as well.
The truth is, if the wine poured into a bottle or a keg is the same, there’s nearly no difference between what’s poured out of either container. Wine develops in flavor during the fermentation and aging stages, which takes place well before the bottling (or kegging) process. What’s more, according to wine educator Kevin Zraly, 90 percent of all wine sold is meant to be consumed within a year after bottling, so the perks of bottle maturation doesn’t really apply to most restaurant wine programs.
In fact, by keeping oxidation at bay, pouring wine from a keg eliminates several problems associated with doing so from the bottle. There’s no need to let certain wines “breathe” after opening, nor is there a fear of pouring an overly oxidized glass from a long-opened bottle (not to mention the issue of “corked” bottles).
This means customers at venues with a large tap wine program like Three Saints Revival can order a wider variety of wines by the glass, at a lower barrier to entry.
“People want to come in, have a conversation with staff, and walk through a bunch of different flavor profiles,” Thompson says. “You can start light and then get as big as you want. It’s so fun, right? It’s just so customizable for the guest.”
Perhaps that’s why there’s such a growing number of venues offering tap wine programs in the Denver area. Here are a few to get you started sampling, tasting, and deciding for yourself.
Wines on tap: 28
This wine-forward Mediterranean tapas concept boasts the largest tap wine program in Colorado, designed specifically to pair with each of the dozens of small plates on the menu. Pours are measured in 2.5-, five-, and eight-ounce or one-liter increments, some of which are included in curated themed flights, with availability split nearly evenly between Old World and New World varietals.
Sip Tip: Look for the monthly “Flight for a Cause” option that not only offers a unique selection of three wines to sample, but $1 of each purchase is donated to a different charity.
Wines on tap: 18
Sisters Carol Ann Edenburn and Teara Walters grew up stomping grapes for their grandfather’s wine, eventually bringing their passion and experience with them to Colorado. All wine served in their Blake Street tasting room is made right there in the production facility using both California- and Colorado-grown grapes.
Sip Tip: For the summer, they added two semi-sweet Cabernet Francs to the lineup, one infused with pomegranate and another with blood orange.
Wines on tap: 13
The Golden food hall offers a self-pour tap wall, managed via a wireless ID card provided at check in (linked to a credit card) and scanned at each tap. The mostly California-sourced wines are labeled with descriptions and tasting notes, allowing guests to sample as little as an ounce each.
Sip Tip: In addition to the standard reds, whites, and rosés, look for outliers like red sangria, sake, and sparkling wines to round out your tasting.
Wines on tap: 10–12
Another venue that specializes in wine on tap, Bigsby’s Folly focuses primarily on small-batch wines produced in California, Oregon, and Colorado, some of which is produced on site. Guests can drink by the glass, choose themed (or customized) flights, or participate in a guided wine tasting and charcuterie pairing.
Sip Tip: Members of the Growler Club can take home glass vessels straight from the tap for $20 a month (plus discounted refills).
Wines on tap: 8
Attimo’s wines are made from grapes grown on the Piedmont vineyard of owner Jon Schlegel (who also owns Snooze A.M. Eatery) and sent to Denver for production. All wines on tap are produced and kegged on site. The tasting room offers options by the glass, as well as flights of reds, whites, or a combination, with the option to pair with charcuterie boards as well.
Sip Tip: The Piazza Pounder is a vibrant, medium-bodied Rosato great for summer drinking.
Wines on tap: 8
This Colorado outpost of the California-based winery from brothers Mark and James Blanchard, located inside the Dairy Block, both serves and distributes wine by the keg of its own production. It also offers a range of wines from other Colorado-based vineyards, as well as food pairings from local brands like Kettle Head Popcorn, Azucar Bakery, and m2 Confections.
Sip Tip: Sample Blanchard’s two Colorado-made wine selections, Dairy Block Blend and Rocky Mountain Rose.