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Award sweetens Dolce Vita’s appeal

By Dave Buchanan
Say what you like (or dislike) about the tentacles of Wine Spectator magazine stretching into every corner of the wine arena but until some better way comes along of recognizing the efforts of restaurateurs serious about wine, the Spectator's annual listing of restaurant awards is a good tool for the wine-lover's toolbox. Those readers living in large cities with numerous WS award winners will yawn at one or two more restaurants being added to the list. But those of us who spend most of our waking hours in small cities, where fine dining means not having to answer "Y'all want fries with that?" and the wine with dinner comes in crystal stemware not plastic cups, are happy to discover a place where the owner has put some thought into his/her wine list and the pairings that make a meal so much more enjoyable. The love of all things Italian has been sweeping the U.S. for several decades and this year one of Grand Junction's more-popular Italian places, Dolce Vita, was honored with the Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence.
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The always enthusiastic Rick Crippen of Dolce Vita Owners Rick and Sue Crippen have worked hard making Dolce Vita, 336 Main St., one of western Colorado's busiest wine scenes and wine reps tell me that Dolce Vita is at or near the top in wine sales in western Colorado, which includes such deep-pocketed resorts as Telluride, Aspen and Vail. Dolce Vita's wine list includes 315 bottles and 41 wines by the glass, priced from $5-$15. Rick wants to make wine affordable, and while you can spend into the three-digits for a bottle, he keeps the mark-ups surprisingly low, which helps his wine sales. "I want to infuse enthusiasm into the community to worldly wines at reasonable prices," said Rick, who somehow maintains his warm smile even when the work days stretch into 12 and 14 hours. "I just want to pay my bills and introduce people to what's out there." For instance, an Alfred Eames 2005 Pinot Noir, which retails for $22 at a nearby wine shop, is listed at $29 at Dolce Vita, an almost unheard-of low markup for a terrific wine. Crippen also has an ongoing education program for his staff, which includes regular classes on service and lots of tasting. He personally prefers Old World-style wines and counts among his favorites the 1997 and 2001 vintages of Barolo. His menu, fitting for a restaurant specializing in northern Italian fare, has a three-page section devoted to Italian wines. He also offers 25 Colorado wines (featuring Ken Dunn's Hermosa Vineyards) and lengthy offerings from California and around the world, many available in the popular half-bottle (375 ml) format. "I'd love to get some wines from India, I've heard they're pretty good," said Rick. "Wouldn't that be great to turn people on to?" Dolce Vita is the only Grand Junction restaurant on the WS list, which is unfortunate but not surprising given this town's blue-collar background. Appearing on the Spectator's list can be a big draw. Several years ago, the now-closed Chef's restaurant became the first local restaurant to make the WS list and owner Dave Dame discovered people coming from Aspen, Vail and other resorts simply because they saw his name in the Spectator. "I've been watching this gradual change in the valley's clientele," said Rick, "and this was a goal I've had in mind for two years. Now, it's a matter of education and exposing, exposing, exposing people to great wine."

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