Restaurants in Colorado are missing the boat when it comes to being innovative and genuine with their wine lists. There are just over 100 wineries in the state, yet I can only think of a handful of wineries that appear on restaurant wine lists in the Denver area. Sure, some of the fault lies with the wineries. Many think they are too small to appear on a restaurant list and some just don't want to sell to restaurants. That's fine and good, but it is also a short-sighted perspective. Restaurants can and should be a vital partner in a wine industry.
When I was in Napa last week, the Napa Valley Vintners worked with 10 area restaurants to promote by-the-glass lists with only Napa Valley wine for Premiere week. Now, Napa has more than four times as many wineries and many orders of magnitude more acres of vineyards than Colorado so it is easier for restaurants to find local wines they want to place on their lists. I bring up the Napa comparison only because we are in the middle of Denver Restaurant Week (Feb. 23 - Mar. 8). I've eaten at two different restaurants and have been disappointed in the wine selections at each. Both wine specials at each restaurant were the exact same Gallo-owned brands. Sure, sponsorship for events such as Restaurant Week are important, but when a restaurant is trying to be innovative with its food, why not its wine? I only found one Colorado selection on their regular wines lists. Which leads me to my next point.
So many Colorado restaurants tout themselves are being farm-to-table or supporting local farmers. Yet, few have more than a token local wine on the list if any at all. Local beers and spirits appear on lists with much more frequency than local wines. Part of this has to do with the brewers and distillers being located along the front range whereas the wineries are much more spread out throughout the state and being more active promoters of their products. But a good deal of it has to do with restaurants being lazy. They only look the through catalogs that their beverage distributors bring them. Very few Colorado wineries actually have third-party distributors, but instead self-distribute their product.Yes, those wineries need to be more proactive in approaching select restaurants, but restaurants also need to show their support for local vintners by visiting the wineries and vineyards, too. Chefs are eager to find local greens and meats, but wine is often forgotten.
Now, I'm not advocating that any restaurant have a 100% Colorado wine list. But restaurants hold some responsibility in offering more than same five Colorado wineries. I should note that a few restaurants in the Grand Valley do a much better job of listing Colorado wine, but like it or not Denver and the mountain resort towns are the markets that matters most. The very knowledgeable Colorado consumers want to see that some thought went into the design of a wine list and not just wines that are easily available at the local liquor store, but with a 300% markup. Restaurants in other wine regions get this, why don't Colorado restaurants?