Starting Thursday, wine will flow through the streets of Durango once again for the 11th annual Durango Wine Experience.
The experience consists of three days of wine and food tastings at nearly two dozen local eateries as well as educational seminars and wine dinners.
It all culminates at the Grand Tasting and Restaurant Showcase on Saturday, where Durango’s most talented chefs feature their finest and participants have their choice of more than 100 wines.
Cities throughout the state host yearly and well-attended wine festivals, but the Durango Wine Experience is one of the first of the spring/summer seasons in Colorado.
It’s also a quintessential Durango event in that it attracts a motley mix of Durango’s worst dressed as well as those who don their best for the occasion.
“When you think about wine tasting, there is a misunderstanding that it’s snobby or stuffy,” said Mandi Davis, event director and coordinator.
“But you don’t have to be a snob to be into wine,” said board member Leah Deane. “If McDonald’s had wine, I’d go there.”
Compared with the Taste of Durango, which draws huge crowds, the Wine Experience is a more refined, smaller affair. Attendance, however, has increased.
The Walkabout on Friday is among the most accessible events, allowing participants to wander leisurely through different downtown restaurants to taste food and wine.
“When the first glass drops, and it always does, there’s a huge roar,” Davis said. “Everyone cheers.”
The royalty of alcoholA metaphor since the earliest biblical and literary texts, the rich drink summons thoughts of harvest time, abundance, sex, merrymaking and laughing visions of Dionysus.
In literature and bad films, wine has been a dark inspiration (Edgar Allan Poe’s Cask of Amontillado), a backdrop for romance (“A Walk in the Clouds”), and even the impetus for a Merlot boycott (“Sideways”).
It’s also an unmatched complement to food.
For white wine drinkers, Highway 3 Roadhouse & Oyster Bar’s specialty, oysters on the half shell, are worth seeking out at the Wine Experience.
“A lot of white wines are good with oysters,” said Chuck Norton, executive chef and owner. “White wines are lighter, fresher and cool.”
Norton’s business was part of the Wine Experience since year one, and oysters have always been the centerpiece of Highway 3’s spread. Last year, they served more than 70,000.
“You have to support local events, and the Wine Experience is a great thing for the city,” Norton said. “We’re rolling out something different this year, but we’re not quite sure yet what it’s going to be.”
For those who find red wines more palatable, Michael Lutfy, co-owner and chef at Chimayo Stone Fired Kitchen, will come up with some Mediterranean-inspired fare that might pair well with it.
“We’ll have a dish that is a slightly different style of food than we’ve been doing in previous years,” Lutfy said. “It’s a lighter cuisine, more Mediterranean style. In the past, our featured food has been southwestern, and that’s still our major style, but we’re mixing it up.”
The dish will include lamb and therefore pair well with a fruity, full-bodied red, Lutfy said.
Though wine is the highlight of the festival, Lutfy said the Durango Wine Experience is arguably the most significant culinary event in town.
“Unlike a cocktail, which isn’t devised to complement food, food and wine almost really co-exist together,” he said. “The wines are often paired with food, and it’s a really important component for you to truly taste certain wines, which can’t be appreciated unless you have food. It has to be there in a lot of instances to balance or fully appreciate some wines.”
Deane said the Wine Experience was catered until about 2008, when the coordinators decided to pull in Durango’s local culinary talent.
Davis, who was co-manager at the Ore House at the time, said it inspired local chefs to get creative and deviate from the usual menu.
“We made pork belly and white asparagus, which was out of our comfort zone, but people really loved it,” she said.
“From a restaurateur standpoint, we can showcase what we can do but also engage our customers,” Lutfy said. “The people who attend are people who do frequent our restaurant.”
Wine, happily, is just as fitting a companion when it’s in a box and shared with a group while river rafting, as it is pouring lavishly from decanters at a fancy dinner.
That’s why the Wine Experience is accessible to anyone, Deane said.
Wine seminarsEight seminars will offer educational experiences to wine appreciators of all knowledge levels.
El Moro will host a “Talk Derby to Me” workshop in which participants will learn the history and virtues of classic Kentucky Derby cocktails.
If you want to cross the border, Ore House will host a session on the wine, food and signature dance – the tango – of Argentina.
“People sometimes think a seminar will be over their head, but it won’t be,” Deane said. “Pick one that sounds interesting and go to more than one thing.”
Contact Jessica Pace at email@example.com.