Winter Park landmark Deno’s wins recognition for world-class wine list
A champagne created for the tzar of Russia, a signature bottle of Dom Perignon and a $7,000 Chateau Petrus are just a few of over 650 labels that fill out the world-class wine list at Deno’s Mountain Bistro.
For the eighth year in a row, the Winter Park staple has been awarded the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. The award is an international recognition of the size of the restaurant’s collection, its diversity and quality.
Deno’s is also named on Wine Enthusiast’s 100 best wine restaurants in America this year.
“This is a diamond in the rough because we’re in Winter Park so nobody expects it,” said Nick Kutrumbos, the owner and wine director.
Wine is a kind of lifeblood at Deno’s, according to Kutrumbos. Not only is it a key part of the apres ski menu and an excellent way to enhance the flavor of their famous steaks, but it brings people together.
Drinking a bottle of wine, like enjoying a meal, is an experience.
“Wine is meant to be shared, it’s a social occasion and every bottle has a story,” Kutrumbos said.
Wine has also played a prominent role in the restaurant’s 43-year history. Back when the restaurant first opened in 1976, Deno Kutrumbos began building relationships with California vineyards.
“They would want to come out here and ski, and then in return, Deno was going out to California to visit the wineries and built some pretty incredible relationships,” Kutrumbos said.
How to taste: Wine is made of four major components: sugar, alcohol, tannins and acid. Kutrumbos said he learned from his father to focus on your palette. He suggests noting different flavors while you sip and pairing it with food. The best advice he’s gotten, though: “Drink a lot of wine so you know what you like.”
Since then, Deno’s wine list has grown, especially in the last 12-15 years. California still features prominently on the list, but the French, Italian and Spanish wines are also a major focus.
Aside from an array of regions and varietals, Deno’s also offers a variety of different price points and tries to keep its more expensive bottles reasonable.
Kutrumbos said he tries to pick wines that are well balanced in their sugar, acid, alcohol and tannin content as well. His favorites include Burgundies and Bordeauxs.
“I’m looking for wines that are not out of balance,” he said. “It’s not too sweet, it’s not too tannic, it’s not too acidic, but it has acidity and complexity to it.”
Deno’s wine list includes big names like Opus One, as well as small-production wines and more exclusive labels brought to the restaurant directly by the distributors.
Particularly notable is the restaurant’s selection of First Growth wines, which is an exclusive designation given to five of the most reputable and quality wines in France’s Bordeaux region.
So, who’s coming to Winter Park to drink premier French wine?
“We have customers coming from all over the world,” Kutrumbos said. “We’re not always selling these really expensive bottles, but what we can say is that I believe the Ikon Pass and the combination of having a bustling economy has brought in a different clientele.”
How to pair: Try to match the region of your wine to the region of your food. For example, if you’re eating coq au vin, pair it with French wine. Diners also don’t want the flavors in the food to clash with the flavors of the wine, so sweet wines pair with sweet foods and acidic wines with acidic foods.
While sales of the pricier bottles are few and far between, each one reminds Kutrumbos that he never knows who will stop by his old stagecoach-turned-restaurant.
The oldest and most expensive bottle Deno’s has sold was a $4,500 bottle of Taylor Fladgate port to a member of the 10th Mountain Division, who selected a port from the same year as he was born.
Kutrumbos can’t remember all the details of the sale, such as the year of the port, but he remembers how they spent that evening.
“We hung out in the wine room with them and told them stories, and it was definitely unforgettable,” he said.
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Winter Park approved an across-the-board raise for town staff that had initially been paused due to the coronavirus pandemic’s expected impact on the budget.