Drink Up! Take a Denver-Area Wine Tour

Denver, one of the nation’s capitals for microbrew beers, also has a burgeoning wine industry. Although most of the state’s vineyards are on the Western Slope, more than a dozen wineries operate tasting rooms in the Denver area where visitors can sample award-winning vintages. And note this: You can buy wine from wineries on Sundays, when Colorado liquor stores are closed.

So take a wine tour in the Denver area. Here are some worth visiting:

Augustina’s Winery

Hidden away in an industrial park on the edge of Boulder, Augustina’s produces some of the most whimsical of Colorado wines. There’s a WineChick Red (Shiraz blend), a WineChick White (a blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer), and others as the spirit moves the winemaker. Augustina’s wines are intended to be paired with activities more than food — thus, Backpacker red or a Front Porch white. Nothing pretentious, but very drinkable. Labels, set on the bottles in a diamond-shape, feature original art.

The operation is the brainchild of owner, winemaker, bottler and labeler Marianne “Gussie” Walter. She even drives over to the Western Slope to fetch the grapes herself.

Though the winery is small and doesn’t have regular hours (Augustina’s is often open Saturday afternoons), guests can book tastings by appointment. You’re also likely to find Gussie, who formerly was a geologist and chemist, vending her wines at Denver-area farmers’ markets and art galleries.

4715 N. Broadway, Unit B3, Boulder; 303-545-2047; www.winechick.biz

Though most of Colorado’s vineyards are located on the Western Slope, several wineries operate tasting rooms on the Front Range.

Avanti Winery

The big sign says “Cigars” but take our word for it — this is a winery. In addition to selling wines from more than 30 Colorado wineries (the largest collection of Colorado wines in Denver), Avanti Winery makes a few of its own. We’re talking Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, port and a red table wine — a blend that changes. If it’s available, try the Mystique wine — a wine that began as a happy mistake and ended up being a best-seller.

The pleasant atmosphere, with a gift shop and wine bar, invites guests to linger to taste the wares. And although the winery also sells fine cigars, there’s no smoking on the premises.

9046 W. Bowles Ave., Littleton; 303-904-7650; www.avantiwinery.com

Balistreri Vineyards

A vineyard in the middle of Denver? Yes. It started as a flower farm in 1969, but in 1998 the Balistreri family decided to plant some grapes. Since then, the Balistreris have been making wines in the Italian tradition. The site includes a tasting room, patio area and gift shop. A number of events also are hosted on the property.

The award-winning wines at Balistreri include Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Zinfandel, Port and Colorado cherry wines. Whites include Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat. The wines are made from 98 percent Colorado grapes, including some grown on site. Balistreri does not add sulfites to its wines, and does not filter them, making them a little hazy sometimes, and vulnerable during shipping. But the taste more than makes up for clarity.

Balistreri’s wines are 98 percent Colorado grapes, including some grown at the Denver vineyard.

Head winemaker John Balistreri has been making wine for more than three decades, though the family just began selling it commercially in 2000. All Balistreri wines are hand-crafted a barrel at a time. The grapes are fermented in their own yeast and aged in American oak.

1946 E. 66th Ave., Denver; 303-287-5156; www.balistreriwine.com

Bonacquisti Wine Company

Situated in northwest Denver, Bonacquisti is a relative newcomer to the Colorado wine scene. The two-story space, about two miles from downtown, has a tasting room downstairs and a party room upstairs that can handle small group functions. The works of local artists line the walls, with different artists featured each month. The winery also has special events, such as its annual barbecue, which can be checked out on its Website.

Owner Paul Bonacquisti, formerly a Denver deejay, lives in the neighborhood, and likes having what he calls “an urban winery.” His wines, which include Cabernet, Zinfandel, Moscato, Chardonnay and a Rose — a family blend — are made from75 percent Colorado-grown grapes.

4640 Pecos St., Unit 1, Denver; 303-477-9463; www.DenverWine.net

Bookcliff Vineyards

This downtown Boulder establishment brings together two favorites: wine and chocolate. It also happens to be home to the Belvedere Belgian Chocolate Shop, where hand-made milk and dark chocolates will be paired for you with your favorite vintages. For a small fee, the staff will pour a flight of wines to taste, along with the chocolates they recommend to go with them. Perhaps a merlot with a dark-chocolate-hazelnut bonbon?

Co-owner John Garlich says he draws from five vineyards in Western Colorado’s Palisade region and brings them to Boulder, where his biggest audience is found.

1501 Lee Hill Road, #17, Boulder; 303-449-9463; www.bookcliffvineyards.com

Boulder Creek Winery

If you want to learn all about wine-making, from growing the grapes to manufacturing the corks, stop by Boulder Creek Winery. You can take a self-guided tour, complete with signs and photos, and learn everything you ever wanted to know about the process. Any questions? Ask owners Jackie or Mike Thompson, who have one of the classiest operations around.

Situated on the edge of Boulder, the winery is known for its Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling. Of the 2,000 or so cases of wine produced each year, about 60 percent is white wine — regaining its former popularity, says Jackie Thompson. The winery prides itself on “feminine whites and masculine reds.” It also has a well-stocked gift shop full of goodies.

6440 Odell Place, Boulder; 303-516-9031; www.bouldercreekwine.com

Creekside Cellars

Plan to hit this winery in downtown Evergreen at about lunchtime and sample the Italian deli specialties that include an antipasto platter, a cheese board, or panini sandwiches made on their own fresh focaccia bread. If the weather is nice, enjoy your repast on the deck overlooking Bear Creek, which rushes by.

Then taste an award-winning Chardonnay, or a Viognier, Riesling, Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. Also check out the Vintage Port and the Black Muscat Port. Small private tours can be arranged.

28036 Highway 74, Evergreen; 303-674-5460; www.creeksidecellars.net

Bookcliff Vineyards operates a Boulder tasting room, where staff pairs award-winning wines with locally-made chocolates.

Equipment de Vin

A small tasting room of selected Colorado vintages in the back ($1 a pour) isn’t the main attraction here. It’s the vast array of wine-related accessories and accoutrements, from leather-bound tasting journals to fine crystal to unique imported gift items.

Located in downtown Denver’s Larimer Square, it’s a great place to shop for the serious oenophile on your gift list any time of year. Small events also can be booked in the shop, which has access to an outdoors space. Colorado wines are served.

1412 Larimer St., Denver; 720-946-3287

Redstone Meadery

Tucked into a strip mall on the edge of Boulder, the meadery offers a taste of something different. Take a tour and find out how mead — wine made from honey —is produced. Taste some and decide if mead is for you.

If you’ve only tasted the very sweet meads, your palate is in for a surprise. There are sparkling meads, fruity meads and even some fairly dry ones. The sparkling nectars are made with Colorado honey and summer fruits (think black raspberries). The meadery’s Sunshine Nectar makes a killer mimosa for Sunday brunch, some say.

Redstone Meadery is the second-largest meadery in the United States and is said to be the largest craft meadery (akin to a micro brewery) in the nation. Meads make good dessert wines and some of them come in flavors that taste like Mom’s apple pie.

4799 Pearl St., suite 2A, Boulder; 720-406-1215; www.redstonemeadery.com

Spero Winery

Open only on Saturday afternoons and for special events, Spero Winery — well-hidden in an Arvada neighborhood — is in the throes of a major expansion, which will more than double its size. Meanwhile, a spacious tasting room allows for special events — even weddings.

Clyde and June Spero (she’s John Balistreri’s sister) began making wine commercially in 1999 but didn‘t open for business until 2003.

The Speros age all their reds in oak for four years, which might account for the impressive list of awards they have won. They make wines from both Colorado and California grapes — but never the two shall mix (they’re clearly labeled). Spero has its own vineyard in north Denver, next to Balistreri. A unique offering under the Vino e Buono label is a Cayuga White, made from grapes grown in Pueblo.

3316 W. 64th Ave., Denver; 720-519-1506; www.sperowinery.biz

Tewksbury & Co.

This cigar bar in Writer’s Square in downtown Denver has a tiny tasting table and a huge selection of cigars. Smoking is allowed on premises, so if that bothers you, you might choose another venue for wine tasting. If you like both, however, this is a good place to learn how to pair your cigar with your wine.

1512 Larimer St., Denver; 303-825-1880; www.tewksburycompany.com

Turquoise Mesa Winery

This winery prides itself on wines made only from Colorado grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Viognier and both white and red blends are offered in the tasting room in a Broomfield office park.

Owners Tom and Mary Joan Bueb specialize in a Bordeaux-style blend, a hand-crafted boutique wine. They also have a Riesling and a Pinot Noir that have received some praise. They pride themselves on smooth, velvety wines low in tannin. They don’t produce dessert, fruit or port wines.

Tastings are offered on Saturday afternoons or can be arranged by appointment. The winery also will do barrel tastings for small groups of up to 25 or 30 people.

555 Burbank St., Unit Q, Broomfield; 303-653-3822; www.turquoisemesawinery.com

If You Go

All wineries mentioned here can be found at www.coloradowine.com. The Website includes hours, addresses, directions, maps, and phone numbers, as well as lists of wines they carry or make, and awards they have won.

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs.

From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.