Wine and food’s comfort zone

The Colorado Statesman

The American Wine Society is a national, non-profit, consumer-based organization devoted to educating people on all aspects of wine. Its members are typically wine novices, experts, grape growers, amateur and professional winemakers, chefs, wine appreciators, wine educators, restaurateurs, and anyone interested in learning more about wine and gastronomy. AWS’s Denver chapter, founded in 2001, is a bit different. The first board meeting was held over pizza and Champagne and, as Joe Hubbard, the chapter’s first president relates, “we resolved that our chapter would be open to anyone with an interest in wine and a desire to learn.”

American Wine Society – Denver Chapter

Panzano Italian Restaurant
909 17th St.
Denver, CO 80202
General Manager: Josh Mayo

Marczyk Fine Foods
Marczyk Fine Wines
770 E. 17th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203

Marczyk Fine Foods
Fairfax Wine & Spirits
5100 East Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80220

I recently attended AWS-Denver’s October meeting, at which Pete Marczyk and Maxine DiJulio of Marczyk Fine Foods and Marczyk Fine Wines presented a seminar on some of their favorite Italian holiday bottles. The event was hosted at award-winning Panzano Restaurant on 17th Street, which has long been a bit of Italy in the heart of Denver. Executive Chef Elyse Wiggins designed the menu and, to add an interesting twist, each course was paired with two wines (more on that later). But the real fun began when I brought up politics.

Pete Marczyk of Marczyk Fine Foods and Marczyk Fine Wines in Denver presented a seminar on some of his favorite Italian holiday bottles.
Photo courtesty of Kristen Photography

The Law Matters

Both of AWS-Denver’s current co-presidents, Michelle Bainbridge and Joy Mathews, strongly believe that our state’s political climate directly affects their endeavors. “Of particular importance to our national organization are laws that affect home winemakers,” says Bainbridge. “But our membership — mostly wine enthusiasts — also follows any legislation that affects their ability to purchase wines.” For example, the costs and benefits of residing in a non-chain-store state such as Colorado can be a divisive subject, particularly in that part of the wine community not making a living from the grape. But Bainbridge feels that our state’s rules actually foster consumer exposure to a broad selection of domestic and international bottlings, which is a good thing. “This also promotes competition among retailers that lowers prices.”

The other side of AWS, consisting of producers and sellers, is more definitively linked to the business realities of wine. In this regard, Mathews focuses on the local economic climate, which is improving and fairly supportive of new ventures. “But consumers are still careful with their spending and more could be done. Smaller businesses such as wine shops and restaurants continue to struggle because of the recent downturn. More governmental attention to buying locally, including publicity for these family run enterprises, would be very helpful.”

Laws that reduce the legal limit of blood alcohol are also of concern. “Our members like to consume responsibly,” continues Bainbridge, “But do not want to be considered drunk after just a few glasses of wine. They’ve also expressed exasperation at not being able to carry their own wines into an on-premise licensee.”

Walking the Walk

At the seminar, Pete started out by saying that northern Italian meals, Panzano Executive Chef Elise Wiggins’s specialty, while always enjoyed, were a bit out of his comfort zone in terms of matching food with wine. “But with Maxine’s help I figured out a way to present two very different pairing methodologies with each course. One shows commonalities and the other focuses on differences, with one retailing for $15 or less and the other more expensive.”

One dish consisted of fried Brussels sprouts tossed with apple cider reduction and pistachio.
Photo by Ben Weinberg/The Colorado Statesman

We started with bubbles (NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut from Lombardy that showed slightly sweet in the glass, with elements of citron, white pepper and ash, $30), then headed directly to our first tasting comparison. The dish consisted of fried Brussels sprouts tossed with apple cider reduction and pistachio. The wines were a floral, mineral-laced fiano from Calea in Puglia (2012 vintage, $13), and a ripe, stone-fruit infused 2011 Fontevecchia Verdicchio from the Marche ($17).

To me, the dish seemed best with the Verdicchio (a match of opposites). This was probably because the frying process, particularly the browning reactions caused by intense heat, as well as the sweetness of the apple component, interacted brilliantly with the ripeness of the wine. The hint of green character in the fiano was okay on its own but the verdicchio carried the day.

The Rest of the Verdict

There were several other memorable pairings, including slow roasted lamb ribs in a fig maple glaze with goat cheese, walnuts and parsley over creamy polenta, alongside a jammy, berry-infused 2011 Luccarelli Negroamaro from Puglia ($15), and a powerful, earthy Perticaia Sagrantino from Umbria ($47). Both wines held up equally well to the big flavors of properly prepared lamb.

Maxine DiJulio of Marczyk Fine Foods and Marczyk Fine Wines.

One of my favorite moments of the entire evening was when Maxine mentioned that she doesn’t like to sell a food-friendly wine to someone who just wants a glass without food! I totally agree; these are very different purposes and deserve the proper bottle for the occasion. Wines that have buoyant fruit and intense tannins, perhaps perfect with a big steak, are rarely appropriate when enjoyed alone. Conversely, acidic, older juice that can be overwhelmed by strong food flavors often comes alive when served in a vacuum.

I don’t have enough room here to detail all of the courses and pairings I enjoyed that night, but suffice it to say that if you are into wine then you should give AWS-Denver a chance. There’s only one more event this year, a Wine Tasting Seminar with Reidel Glassware on Wednesday, November 13, from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Cherry Creek Inn. I’ve included more information below along with a listing of other fun beverage-focused events in Colorado through the end of November. So stay warm and explore the best our local wine culture has to offer!


9th Annual Denver International Wine Festival: Thursday, November 7 – Sunday, November 10 from 4-9 p.m.

Named one of the “Top 10 Can’t Miss Fall Wine Festivals In America” by Fodor’s, this event showcases more than 400 international wines from 18 countries and also features selected premium spirits, sake, craft beer and a Belgium Beer Garden complete with gourmet food samplings expertly paired with famous Belgium beers that are served in custom glassware. Attendees enjoy a multitude of delectable foods and wines, fresh produce, gourmet products, wine accessories, fine art, and exhibits by luxury travel destinations. All events take place at the Omni Interlocken Resort, 500 Interlocken Blvd., Broomfield, CO 80021. Special $99 festival room rates are available. Call 303 438-6600 or go to

AWS-Denver Wine Tasting Seminar with Reidel Glassware: Wednesday, November 13, from 6:30-9 p.m.

The last AWS-Denver get-together of 2013 takes place at the Cherry Creek Inn, 233 Clayton St., Denver, CO 80206, 303-377-8577. Tickets are $65 for members, $75 for non-members and guests. Heed the 6:30 p.m. check-in, because it will start promptly at 7 p.m., with suggested attire being business casual. Due to limited seating, registration is online only via BlackTie (but you can email for more information). This event always sells out, so you’ll want to reserve your seats now.

The Chef & Brew Festival: Thursday, November 14, from 6-10 p.m.

Join me at the wildly popular Chef & Brew Festival, back for its second year in Denver at the EXDO Event Center Theater, 4335 West 44th Ave., Denver, CO 80212. This action-packed event, named “Best New Festival” by Westword readers, will feature 15 top chefs and the same number of local brewers in a competition to create the ultimate beer and food pairing. Attendees will have the opportunity to sample a plethora of one-of-a-kind food alongside the best craft beers the Colorado Front Range has to offer.

Beer and food will be served in a tasting format — two-ounce beer pours paired alongside an appetizer from each chef. Guests will receive a souvenir tasting glass and have full access to all beer and food. The 2012 festival sold out well in advance and this year’s tickets are selling even quicker. I will be there reporting on the day’s events so be sure to get your passes early in order to join me. Tickets are $49 advance/$59 door for general admission, $59 advance/$69 door for VIP. Go to for more information.

Beaujolais and Beyond Festival: Thursday, November 21, 2013 from 5:30-9:30 p.m.

The French American Chamber of Commerce is thrilled to announce the 15th edition for the Beaujolais & Beyond Festival, a fun and dynamic evening with elegant wine, foods and entertainments. Celebrate the arrival of the “Beaujolais Nouveau” and vote for your favorite chef in the Culinary Competition. Share and enjoy a wide variety of French Wine and Gourmet Cuisine from over 20 of Colorado’s most creative chefs. Don’t forget to purchase your raffle tickets for winning amazing prizes, including a “Package for Paris in Business Class,” a special Nuggets package, a “High Life Experience Package” and more. For more information and to purchase your tickets, visit, call Mélanie at 720-443-1763, or email her at

Certified sommelier and editor-in-chief Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, pens Weinberg’s Wine Tech in Sommelier Journal and has written for the Daily Beast, Worth Magazine, The World of Fine Wine, Wine Enthusiast and The Tasting Panel Magazine, where he is the Rocky Mountain Editor. He also leads luxurious, behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s most famous wine regions via Ben can be reached at