Wine at the Warwick: Proximity to Capitol makes Randolph’s a hit with pols

By Kimberly Dean
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

One doesn’t need to go far to have a good time, so why not walk to a wine tasting near the Capitol? And if you over-indulge in a wine you really like you can always get a room upstairs to avoid driving…


Though there are now 40 Warwick Hotels around the world, Randolph’s Restaurant and Bar exists only in the Denver and New York locations. The restaurant was named after William Randolph Hearst, who built the original hotel in New York (the first Warwick Hotel in the U.S.) for his Hollywood friends to visit. The site in Denver first served as luxury condominiums. Here is a little known fact: In 1967, the top floors of the Denver Warwick were home to the famed Playboy Club, and so of course, the world’s most famous playboy, Hugh Hefner, occasionally visited.

The scene at the patio at Randolph’s Restaurant and Bar at the Warwick.
Chef Garrett Whitlow hand ­delivers some creative appetizers.

In recent years, lawmakers would stay for extended periods of time during the legislative session, and to this day, many still frequent the restaurant on a daily basis for lunch, which makes up about one-third of their total lunch business throughout the week.

The contemporary spot not only has a spectacular happy hour seven days a week from 4 pm to 7 pm, offering 50 percent off well liquor, wine and drafts, it also features a monthly wine tasting on the fourth Thursday of every month from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Well, since The Statesman office is only two blocks from the Warwick, I couldn’t resist attending one of the tastings, which includes live jazz.

The atmosphere on the patio is comfortable and welcoming, which is what they were trying to accomplish throughout the hotel and its 219 rooms and suites with their $25 million renovation in 2009. It’s no wonder that their lunch business usually brings legislators and other government-related guests.

I arrived at Randolph’s to find a live jazz duo playing on the patio near the wine-tasting bar at the far end, creating just the right ambiance conducive to tasting wine. Jeff Jenkins was on a keyboard and Tina Phillips scatted cheerfully. I love that I get to be a tourist in my city and look forward to a few years passing when I know the cracks in the sidewalk on Grant Street like I did Lexington Avenue in New York. This is what home feels like to me.

According to Garrett Whitlow, chef at Randolph’s, the wine tastings are an opportunity for the kitchen staff to showcase their creativity. “These monthly events give us the freedom to do what we want,” Whitlow said, “as well as the opportunity to speak with the people, which we don’t often get to do when we’re in the kitchen.”

At the other end of the patio was an appetizer table, where Chef Whitlow was serving small plates of seared buffalo tenderloin and mini potato pancakes with tomato chutney, as well as a chilled squid salad with cilantro. I’m normally not a fan of squid served any way other than fried calamari-style, but this was divine. Refreshingly different.

It seems that a mainstream interest wine has evolved over recent years. It used to be that wine connoisseurs would never buy wine out of a box, nor one that came in a screw-top bottle, but these days it is not so surprising to find some of the best wines packaged just so. The wine tastings at the Warwick are both novice as well as snob-friendly. There is nothing wrong with going to a wine tasting when you don’t know much about wine. It is important to pair the learning process with the tasting process.

Chef Whitlow said the people who come to the tastings are regulars, and the events even bring out some customers who normally come in just for lunch. He said they offer the “whole package. Food, wine, and atmosphere.” The singer is usually Tina Phillips, but she doesn’t always have the same back-up band, which shakes things up from month to month.

The gentleman serving wine was Kevin Arndt from Republic National Distributing Company (Denver branch) and there were six wines available to taste. I arrived early so I could pick his brain a bit on the particular selection of wines. The theme of the evening was “Summertime Porch Pounders.” Clever. All the wines were white, so they could be served cold, theoretically to cool us down, though I’m not entirely sure it works that way.

Nevertheless, the wines were refreshing. There were two Rieslings, two Chardonnays, one Sauvignon Blanc, and one Pinot Grigio. I wouldn’t know where to start, so I followed Kevin’s lead.

The first one he served me was the Estancia Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from Monterey County in California. He described it as light-bodied and crisp with a grapefruit aroma as well as other tree fruit, and is fermented in stainless steel barrels. Very nice.

Second was the Magnus Riesling 2007 from Clare Valley, Australia. It was not very sweet, as Rieslings tend to be. The grapes are grown in Southwest Australia, a cool growing region where you get Syrah. It has an elevation of about 1000 feet, according to Arndt. This, as it later turned out, was my favorite. It was a versatile white that can age for many years. There were hints of green apple and lime.

Third was the Lumina Pinot Grigio 2008 from Venezia Giulia, Italy. Now, I love Pinot Grigios, not to mention Italian food, and this tends to pair nicely with almost any light Italian fare. That’s just my own opinion. This wine is made by Ruffino, which I’m told was actually the first Italian wine imported to the U.S., and was in fact allowed during prohibition, according to Arndt, with a doctor’s note, and sold only in pharmacies. It was prescribed for stress relief. Hmph! I guess we just self-medicate these days. No Rx needed here!

This Pinot Grigio is not a fruit-forward wine, where my tastes sometimes lean, and it is lighter and drier than similar wines from California or Oregon. It is also higher in acid. When I express my partiality, Kevin tells me that when asking for wine in the future, I should ask for “medium-bodied wines higher in acid.” Good to know…

Fourth down the line was the Mendocino Vineyards Chardonnay 2009, grown north of Napa and Sonoma and with organic grapes. It is considered “organic wine.” To be able to claim that status calls for a strict regulatory inspection. The grapes must be grown organically, with no additional sulfites. Sulfites must occur naturally only through the fermentation process.

Some people claim sulfite headaches after drinking wine, but it is Kevin’s belief that tannins or sugar in wine is what can actually cause headaches. I’m not normally a fan of Chardonnays, but this one did not have as much oak as would normally turn me off. (Apparently, the French only use oak barrels for more expensive wine. La De Da.) It was crisp, light and “lean,” and also had a bit of a green apple aroma.

Also served were Solaire 2007 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay, made by Robert Mondavi and Hogue Late Harvest Riesling 2009 from the Columbia Valley. The Hogue was admittedly too sweet for me. “The longer the grape is allowed to shrivel, the sweeter the wine,” Arndt said. This one must’ve been made from raisins, then. Not that it wasn’t a good wine, but you have to be in the mood for something sweet. To my palette it was almost a dessert wine.

After tasting the other wines, including the sweeter Hogue, I admittedly went back for a glass of the Magnus. I also went back for seconds on the food. Not a bad night to experience by yourself, as I found out, but next time I will have an entourage.

Every year, Denverites get the opportunity to help choose items on the new Randolph’s menu at a food and wine tasting in September. You will get the chance to try seven courses consisting of multiple dishes for each one. Vote on your favorites, and the winners make it to the actual menu! How’s that for making sure there are no complaints about the food? This is a fun event for locals and a way to influence the food at one of your favorite restaurants in town.

The monthly tastings are by reservation and cost only $25. Also, the Sept. 24 wine and food event from 6-8 p.m. also requires reservations, which can be made by calling 303-318-7272, or by visiting www.randolphsdenver.com, and there is always complimentary valet parking.