Venice Ristorante and Wine Bar — that’s Italian

The Colorado Statesman

When filmmaker Steven Spielberg comes to Denver, where does he go to eat and what does he drink?

You might find him sipping on a 2004 bottle of wine from the Villa Donoratico winery, which is what’s sitting in his wine locker this week at the Venice Ristorante and Wine Bar at 1700 Wynkoop.

The wine cellar, which contains more than two dozen wine lockers for its most prominent customers, is the centerpiece of this LoDo eatery, rated by Westword as a Best of Denver for Italian in 2008.

Venice Ristorante and Wine Bar is located at 1700 Wynkoop in Denver.

But if you don’t want to spend like a celebrity, the food and wine pairings at Venice are made for you, and all of it delicious.

Per the recommendation of our personal waiter Chaz, our mid-week staff luncheon started off with a 2009 Greco Di Tufo Dei Feudi San Gregorio, a slightly dry white wine that its maker describes as “mineral-infused,” with hints of peaches and apricots and which goes well with fish and cheese. On our visit, it was paired with perfectly (and lightly) breaded crab cakes that came with a choice of a sharp and pleasing pesto sauce or a mild golden saffron sauce that produced just a tiny bite at the end of palate.

We also sampled a butternut squash ravioli with walnuts and brown sage butter and nicely presented in a sweet marinara sauce, paired with a 2007 Villa Antinori, a dry red and very smooth “Super Tuscan” wine, which is made by combining two to four kinds of grapes but does not adhere to traditional Italian blending laws.

When it came to the main course, we chose the Tortellini Torinesi, which was stuffed with roasted veal and mortadella, parma prosciutto, spinach and topped with a gorgonzola cream sauce. The vegetarian on staff chose the Gnocchi al Pesto, soft potato dumplings served with pesto and gorgonzola cream sauce and topped with toasted walnuts and parmesan cheese. And our crustacean-loving diner selected a Risotto all Aragosta e Fraole, which featured imported Italian rice, lobster, and fresh strawberries.

These were paired with a 2005 Travaglini Gattinara that was less woody than the Villa Antinori and with a hint of cherries, and which went well with all of our main courses.

Dessert came with Moscato d’Asti, a dry and lightly carbonated wine that carried a pleasant honey flavor, and which we paired with a Kahlua crème brûlée and tiramasu. The Kahlua did a nice job of bringing out the crème brûlée’s Madagascar vanilla and was delicately carmelized, and the tiramasu’s espresso was well-balanced with the chocolate without overwhelming the dessert.

The nine-year-old ristorante is understandably proud of its climate-controlled wine cellar, which stores hundreds of bottles of mostly red wine. We took a short tour, where we learned the white wines are stored elsewhere since they require more chilling. The wine shelves are divided regionally, and despite the eatery’s Italian focus has a good selection of California and Washington domestic reds. The center of the cellar contains the wine lockers of the famous from Colorado and elsewhere, such as billionaire Phil Anschutz; world renowned singer Andrew Bocelli (who hosted an intimate evening of elegant vintage Tuscan wine and an exquisite seven-course Italian meal at the restaurant benefitting the Children’s Hospital); Academy Award winners George Clooney and Spielberg; sports figures such as former Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels and former QB Brian Griese, and 2004 Masters champion golfer Phil Mickelson. The cellar also contains some of the high-end wines from the owner’s private collection, including a 1976 Amarone, and an extensive collection from Gaja, Italy’s premier wine-maker, where the best wines start at $500 per bottle and can go upwards of $2,000 per bottle.