Local wine whine

Being about as close to a Denver native as they come, I was gratified that when Paul Tamburello decided to redevelop the former body shop, the iconic Olinger Mortuary sign, which has held sway over the Denver skyline for decades, would remain.

That Root Down's Justin Cucci named his new restaurant "Linger" is branding genius. And a grand example of upcycling.

Me, being me, I was *ahem* dying to go, this being the new "it" spot in the neighborhood; I was also relatively certain Nake-id IT would loathe it. Linger has all the elements Mr. Nake-id hates: Crowds. Small plates. Not-so-small prices. So I enlisted reinforcements--two other Cancerians with belated birthdays to toast--Jeff and Carol Carr, owners of Garfield Estates Winery.

The bar area above the main dining room is bound to become a tourist destination. Enormous open-to-the-elements windows dish up splashy views of the downtown sky. We stood gaping amidst the crowds, so mesmerized by the play of sunset against the clouds and sheen of Denver's skyscrapers that we didn't inspect the sparkly countertop that's had local critics all agog.

We were seated before our reservation time at window-side table (downstairs the view is grittier, the alley, fireescape and Little Man Ice Cream's looming milk can), which was a lovely, unexpected turn of events. The side dining room is much quieter than the bar upstairs or the main dining room, a relief for those of us accustomed to shredding our AARP invites.

Linger's concept is international street food, giving the executive staff the excuse to travel abroad to gather inspiration. There are eats from all points; Carol and I ordered the Cucumber White Gazpacho, the Kobe Tacos (Carol) and the Masala Dosa (moi); Jeff threw his lot in with the mussels (you bet this naughty vegan slurped one down!) and the Kurobuta (whatever) Bratwurst Dog (the chipotle katsup, well, out goes the Heinz!); Mitch got the best-ever Pad Thai. We were thrilled.

Jeff immediately fell upon the wine list. We look to him as the de facto sommelier; he remembers wines like fans note baseball stats. Me? I'm like, "Yeah, the rose with the chicken on the label."We started with a beautiful Spanish cava, a flavorful sparkler, and finished with a gorgeous Lebanese red, a choice that clearly impressed the wine waiter.

Though Linger's menu clearly states, "We use local, organic and sustainable products except when not possible," Jeff noted that there was only one Colorado wine listed. Which brings me to my closing rant: It is possible to get local wine. Local wine, the production of which, employs people in rural communities such as Palisade. Many of Colorado's vintners not only make their own vino, they are also growing their own grapes--sustainably. Our very own Grand Valley is an American Viticulture area, which means it is a designated wine grape-growing region, a plus to wineries seeking to establish provenance.

Fifteen years ago a restaurant had every reason to eschew Colorado wines; they could be downright nasty. But those days are long gone. Garfield Estates' 2008 Syrah and the 2010 Rose will make your toes curl. Verso Cellars' 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is big and velvety and yummy. The Bonacquisti wines, too, are delicious.

So, check out Denver's skyline at Linger, and ask them to pour local!


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