What They’re Drinking in Boulder

Friulano, vanishing small shops, and Gewurtzraminer from the '70s—at 5,300 feet.
By The NWR Editors

June 9, 2023

Welcome to Boulder, land of bluebird skies, Flatiron Mountains, happy dogs and their performance sportswear-clad owners.

Long a spiritual vortex of the craft beer movement, Boulder’s chops as a wine town have been under-appreciated for years.

“They call Boulder the Napa Valley of beer, and I drink a lot of beer myself,” says Master Sommelier and James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Bobby Stuckey. “But the great secret here is that beer people are big wine drinkers, too.”

When Boulderites opt for wine, it’s often really good, really interesting wine from an increasingly diverse array of bars, shops and restaurants run by a remarkably knowledgeable group of proprietors.

Boulderites cite value-driven Spanish and Tuscan reds as the prevailing local favorites. And while Barolo reigns supreme among the collector set, the city’s outdoor tables are usually littered with bottles of Sancerre and Friulano during the sparkling Colorado summer.

“People here drink everything,” says Stuckey. “We’re maybe the healthiest city in the United States, but it doesn’t matter if you’re a marathoner, mountain biker, triathlete, any kind of athlete–Boulderites still love to drink.”


Flagstaff House

Colorado fine dining institution boasting one of America’s great wine lists in an absolute stunner of a setting

  • Flagstaff House is a Boulder staple. We’re at the top of a mountain, overlooking the city. We’ve been here for 52 years, owned by the same family. We’ve got over 16,000 bottles in four different cellars. We’ve got bottles for $50 or $70,000.
  • My predecessors as Beverage Director left this magical treasure trove in our cellar. There’s stuff in there you can’t find anywhere else in America. One person was obsessed with Alsatian Gewurztraminer from the ’70s and ’80s. Another loved Schramsberg sparkling wine from the ’60s. And we’ve still got some! That’s crazy! People come here just because they know we’ve got these hidden gems you can’t really buy anywhere.
  • I came here from Boston, and you know heading into Boulder that the organic thing will be a big deal, but it’s really a big deal. Everyone here wants to know how something is made, how it’s farmed, how it got here.
  • In the summer, you want to be on the terrace here. It perches on the side of the mountain and you can see the whole city, the Flatirons, hiking trails, this little farm we get our cheese from, the University [of Colorado]. When the weather changes, you can sit and watch the rain clouds roll in. It feels like you’re in a snowglobe.
  • In the winter, the insider move is to sit by the fireplace near the bar. Have some cheese. Get a badass wine. It’s great. Our regulars know to do that.
  • People here love Barolo. I’d say they love Italy, but it’s really Barolo. Everyone drinks where they’ve traveled, and a lot of Boulder people seem to have been to Piedmont.
  • It’s hard to get people into Riesling, but we’ve got a 2020 Hexamer Quarzit Riesling we’re pouring by the glass–and people are actually ordering it! It’s got this great sweet-but-not-too-sweet balance.
  • Wine enthusiasts in Boulder love to talk about their cellars, but they’re much more open to trying new things. In Boston, people would say, ‘I only drink Gaja or Harlan,’ but people here say, ‘I like Harlan, but what else do you have that’s cool?’
  • There’s a real wine community here. We all know each other. Everyone works with the same charities, the same local farms. It’s not competitive. It’s very special.
  • The non-alcoholic trend is real–it’s blown up. We now do N/A wines, cocktails, tasting menu pairings. We’ve decided to lean into it.
  • Not long ago, someone came in and asked me what the best wine I’ve had all year is. I told them I’d recently had a 1990 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape that was amazing, and they were like, ‘We’ll take it.’ People in Boulder are quirky and crazy. They go for it.
  • An awesome day here starts with a hike through the Flatirons–start at Chautauqua Park. Then walk down Pearl Street, which has so many cool shops and restaurants. Maybe get lunch and a drink from a brewery or a cidery. Walk around CU’s campus, which is architecturally beautiful. Drive around and look at the old homes here. The Dushanbe Tea House is amazing, and not many visitors know to go. Then maybe get some cool wine from Frasca or come up to us and sit on the patio.

Bobby Stuckey, Master Sommelier and Owner

Frasca Food and wine

James Beard Award-winning restaurant with a tight and uncommonly knowledgeable focus on northeastern Italy

  • We specialize in the wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and we’ve done a lot of educational programming over our 19 years. Now there’s a big community of people here who really know the wines of that region extremely well. It’s not uncommon for Boulder to influence the national taste for wines in Northeastern Italy. We’ve got a ton of wine from that region here that you don’t often see even in bigger cities.
  • Boulder’s got an amazing wine scene, particularly for a city of 100,000 people. We’ve got great retailers like Boulder Wine Merchants and Dedalus. Restaurants with terrific wine programs. There’s the Boulder Burgundy Festival. We had the Festa del Chianti here in Colorado this year; it’s the first time the Chianti Classico Consorzio has done something like that in the U.S. And they’re coming back next year.
  • People here are wildly adventurous wine drinkers, but also really well educated. I worked at the French Laundry, and Bay Area people really know their wine, but Boulder people don’t stay in their lane as much–they’ll try anything.
  • I’m seeing a lot more Champagne being ordered than I used to. A lot more cocktails, too. I think people changed their nightly habits during COVID. They learned to have some bubbles or a cocktail while cooking, and they brought those new preferences into restaurants when they came back.
  • The right way to come to Frasca is to do the whole thing. An appetizer and a glass of wine is fine, but really you want the four course menu. It gives you the full sense of warmth. It lets you taste things you can’t get anywhere else. It lets you feel you’re eating at a restaurant in Friuli, which is what we want you to feel.
  • Some trends have a megaphone, and others you don’t hear much about. One quiet trend we’ve definitely noticed: people have rediscovered Chianti Classico and Montalcino. It’s not being written about or posted on every social feed, but we sell a lot more of it than before. It’s Darwinian drinking. The quality of Sangiovese has just gotten so good, and look, you might go out and have a weird hipster wine experience, and you might not love it, and then you have this great Chianti, you love it, you want more, and it continues from there.


Boulder Wine Merchant

Master Sommelier-run specialty shop with deep Burgundy roots

  • I’m now the third owner of this small, curated shop that was originally modeled after a London or Paris merchant. Really special, service-oriented retail.
  • I love Boulder’s weirdness. There’s a lot of kooky, fun, interesting people here that give the place a quirky, wholesome, earthy feel. Sometimes you have to dig it up. But it’s still here.
  • We want people to understand blue chip wines. Certain wines have a distinct flavor profile, a character, a style that’s been around for hundreds or thousands of years. There’s a reason for that. Those aren’t going to go away just because orange wine becomes popular for a while.
  • Sancerre has gone through the roof in popularity here. Everyone wanted Sancerre coming out of COVID.
  • I wish I could get more customers to drink more Riesling, Alsatian wines, and sweet wine.
  • The allocation game and the price increases we’ve seen in Burgundy are so over the top, it’s turned me off a little. Wines that were on our shelf for $25 or $30 two years ago are now $75. Allocations can be five times more the second time around. I don’t know how long the Burgundy category will be able to sustain that pattern.
  • The Pét-Nat thing is still a trend. So are macerated, skin-contact wines. Some of them freak people out, but Boulder folks love to try anything.
  • The pinot noir craze has definitely tempered recently. High-end California cab, too. People are more selective these days with some of those wines.
  • We sell a ton of Spanish wine. Tuscany and Sangiovese-based wines are really popular here. There’s lots of value in those areas for what they are.
  • If you visit, you should tap into old Boulder. We like this divey Mexican place called Efrain’s. But also find the weird shops like El Loro for jewelry, or The Fitter for pipes or even McGuckin Hardware. These are small, service-focused spots. They’re cool. But they’re being replaced as time goes on. They won’t be around for long.

Collin Griffith, Beverage Director


Sleek Spanish steakhouse known for its world-class sherry program and buzzy outdoor happy hour

  • Boulder is a mecca for all things outdoors. It’s eclectic. You get all different walks of life here: academics, scientists, outdoor athletes coming to train at altitude, college kids out partying. It’s a melting pot.
  • People love our gin and tonic program. People in the U.S. think of it as gin, tonic and a lime, but if you go to Spain it’s an entire experience served in a wine glass with different tonics, different garnishes. It’s fantastic.
  • There’s a continued shift toward quality in Boulder. It’s known as a party town, and on Friday and Saturday nights you’ll see the college kids doing that, but the party has become a little more upscale these days.
  • People come to us for our Spanish wines. There just aren’t many places you can go in Colorado to get a wine list that’s this deep and good in Spain.
  • Summer weekends are pretty crazy here–we have this patio that seats 100 people up on the fourth floor. You can order a drink and just gaze at the Flatirons. It’s awesome. And when the bar’s full, the restaurant’s full, the patio’s full, It’s just beautifully orchestrated controlled chaos. If you’re here around 6:30 any summer evening, you’ll see what I mean.
  • We’re one of the biggest Vega Sicilia accounts in the country–people definitely come to us for that. But we’re also serving a lot of other weird stuff. We’ve got a Canary Islands producer called Envinate that a lot of people are excited about. They use native varieties in these untrellised, patchy vineyards set in volcanic soil on islands. It’s pretty weird. But people get into it.