Frasca – cradle of sommdom


Burgundy lovers are everywhere – except perhaps at US Immigration at Denver airport. 

That is the conclusion I arrived at last Saturday evening as we were dropped at Frasca restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, for the dinner that was the highlight of this year’s Boulder Burgundy Festival with winemaker Etienne de Montille, who was to co-host a tasting session on whole-bunch fermentation on the Sunday morning. The tickets for the dinner were $395 per person and the restaurant was packed. 

There was a certain personal empathy involved, too. When I told my good friend, New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, that we would be spending one night in Boulder, his immediate response had been, ‘Do eat at Frasca if you can.’ They did not disappoint.

The restaurant, as the name would suggest, is principally focused on north-eastern Italy for its menu although its extensive wine list ranges across the world, as one would expect of a restaurant that has been the training ground for so many top sommeliers in the US. And it is an à la carte restaurant, normally offering four courses for $78, so switching for one night to offering a complex five-course French menu for over 100 guests was a challenge that the kitchen and the waiting staff rose to.

That all this seemed to happen so effortlessly, as well as the serving of six wide Zalto glasses to each diner – a feat for which the restaurant’s co-owner Bobby Stuckey (pictured) gave selfless praise to his wife Danette – was largely due to Stuckey’s personal involvement. He seemed to be everywhere I looked but never seemed to stay in the same place for too long, any successful restaurateur’s key attribute. And the walls that line the corridor that leads from the restaurant to the lavatories are lined with the James Beard Awards that Stuckey, chef and co-owner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and their respective teams have won for Frasca over the years.

Our places were opposite the Festival’s director Brett Zimmerman and next to Betsy Heneghan, a red-haired architect of Scottish and Irish descent who immediately greeted me with the comment that we had just arrived in the most exciting city in the US. My immediate questions for Zimmerman, who owns the Boulder Wine Merchant, one of the city’s main liquor stores, was how is business and why does the Boulder Burgundy celebration coincide with the Wine Spectator’s Wine Experience in New York?

The answer to my first question was ‘fantastic’, as I expected. Wine is certainly reaching most parts of the US today and Boulder, with its fresh air, fabulously rugged mountain scenery and the University of Colorado campus, seems ideal for attracting the many thousands of new inhabitants to this city which has grown remarkably fast over the past decade (although its population is still only just over 100,000).

His answer to my second question was somewhat more nuanced. ‘It isn’t my intention to clash with the New York Wine Experience although over the past two years they have coincided', Zimmerman explained as the noise in the restaurant began to mount, ‘but our date has to depend on the fixture list of the local Colorado Buffaloes American football team. If they’re at home, our hotels get too busy so we have to schedule the Festival for when they are playing away.’ (They were beating Stanford 10-5 as we spoke.)

In the interim, Jancis and I caught up with the rest of the guests, who sensibly had not waited for us to arrive. First up was a glass of Krug that Stuckey had kindly opened to celebrate our 35 years of marital bliss that very day. Then came a slice of pâté en croute with the first white wine, a delicious 2013 Meursault Perrières, followed by a slice of poached sturgeon in a delightful sauce of finely sliced, local and highly seasonal matsutake mushrooms and Meyer lemon together with glasses of Puligny-Montrachet Cailleret 2001 and a great 2006 Corton-Charlemagne, both from magnum. All of these were supplied by de Montille.

Then Etienne spoke. To a hushed room he described the next couple of wines, a Beaune Grèves 2005 and a Volnay Taillepieds 2002, before ending on a very personal note. As the final wine of the evening was being served, a 1999 Pommard Rugiens, he explained that it was this wine that had been in the glass of his father Hubert, a very strong character, as he passed away in the company of close friends. He was greeted with very warm applause.

Then it was on to our meat course, a piece of white and dark meat from a poularde raised at McCauley Farm in Longmont, Colorado, with black truffle and thinly sliced celery; a slice of Harbison cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont; and a thin, but extremely rich slice of chocolate tart. None of the five courses was overly large; each was complementary in flavour and texture; and each was served remarkably quickly. We were, as usual, the first to leave – at 9.45 pm, although in our defence this was 4.45 am London time.

And we had enjoyed the evening despite being stopped an hour or two earlier at Denver airport’s immigration department by an officer who had not heard of Burgundy and snarled, ‘What’s a Burgundy Festival anyway?’ He very firmly held the view that as Jancis’s flight was being covered by the Festival, she was earning and needed a working visa rather than the more usual ESTA visa waiver. Fortunately, he was eventually overruled by someone who wished us Happy Anniversary and we made it to enjoy Boulder, Frasca and some extraordinary burgundies.

Frasca 1738 Pearl Street, Boulder, Colorado 80302; tel +1 (303) 442 6966