Looking for the Perfect Beat

Looking for the Perfect Beat

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Looking for the Perfect Beat

At Denver’s Sunday Vinyl, sommelier Clara Klein pairs bottles with LPs, approaching wine as a key ingredient in a total sensory experience.

BY AMANDA M. FAISON
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LUCY BEAUGARD

“We drink wildly and widely here, and we do so with gusto,” laughs Clara Klein, lead sommelier at Denver’s Sunday Vinyl. The downtown wine bar boasts a dynamic wine list that caters to next-“it”-region thrill-seekers and classicists alike, alongside a menu of elevated bar snacks and wine-craving dishes. All of this is accompanied by an impressive collection of vinyl records, with everything from Glass Animals to Miles Davis cued up on the space’s state-of-the-art McIntosh turntables.

A part of the Frasca Hospitality Group, Sunday Vinyl is the wild child in a family of restaurants that has garnered multiple James Beard awards and nominations—for wine, food, and hospitality—since launching in 2004. Its flagship, Frasca Food and Wine, in Boulder, has set the bar for fine dining across the country for nearly 20 years. But the jumping-off point for Sunday Vinyl, which opened at the end of 2019, came from a more playful place: Bobby Stuckey, partner in the business and widely respected Master Sommelier, has long had a Sunday at-home ritual (it’s his night off) of pairing records and wines with wife Danette. It proved to be the foundation for a new wine bar.

Whereas Stuckey’s other wine programs have made names for themselves with lists that dive deep into Italy and Burgundy, Sunday Vinyl’s list (a collab between Klein, Stuckey, and the group’s wine and beverage director, Carlin Karr) has a shorter bottle list and 45 wines by the glass, with options from all around the world. “We look for producers in regions we find super compelling,” Klein says. “And we are quite seasonally driven. When it’s winter, we focus our efforts on Bordeaux and fireplace reds, if you will. For spring, it’s crunchier, greener, refreshing, sparkling.”

Another difference: Klein estimates that 90 percent of the wines at Sunday Vinyl are natural. “The number one question we ask every time: How was this farmed?” she says. “The best wines are made by the best farmers—there’s an undeniable correlation. This is a product from and of the land, so of course the land matters.”

“The best wines are made by the best farmers—there’s an undeniable correlation."

Klein, a Denver native, graduated from high school early and studied civil engineering at Columbia University, but had always been enchanted by the magic of restaurants. On a whim—and admittedly knowing nothing about wine at the time—she applied to work at The Little Nell in Aspen, well-established as a launchpad for many wine careers, including Stuckey’s. During her time at the Nell—first as a breakfast back server and eventually cellar sommelier—her eyes were opened to what wine could be. “All those tastes of incredible wines were like collecting little bits of art for my scrapbook,” she says.

Fast forward several years and Klein now oversees Sunday Vinyl’s bold and fresh wine list—one that pairs beautifully with chef de cuisine David Zboray’s menu. With dishes as varied as duck liver gougeres and charred cabbage with miso Caesar dressing and chicken skin, there’s a lot of room for deep thinking about pairings. Klein goes so far as to consider it an ingredient. “Hopefully the wine will help season the dish,” she explains. “We think of the wine as intrinsically tied to the dish instead of being separate.”With Zboray’s scallop crudo with winter citrus, olive oil, and celery leaf, Klein likes to pair Champagne—particularly Champagne Chavost’s Blanc d’Assemblage, a near 50-50 split of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. “Champagne always has lively hidden acidity, so matching that energy [with the brightness of the citrus] is nice to have.” It’s a bright, clean, even joyful, pairing, exactly the vibe Klein—and Sunday Vinyl—shoots for.

With Zboray’s scallop crudo with winter citrus, olive oil, and celery leaf, Klein likes to pair Champagne—particularly Champagne Chavost’s Blanc d’Assemblage, a near 50-50 split of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. “Champagne always has lively hidden acidity, so matching that energy [with the brightness of the citrus] is nice to have.” It’s a bright, clean, even joyful, pairing, exactly the vibe Klein—and Sunday Vinyl—shoots for.

Champagne Chavost’s Blanc d’Assemblage.

Klein says she’s always on the lookout for the next great classic—especially in Champagne. “It’s like with music, you want the greats but you also want those who might be the next great.” As far as Klein is concerned, Chavost is just that. Produced by a co-op of 70 organic growers in the village of Chavot, Chavost is pushing boundaries in a region famously averse to change. In 2019, instead of selling its grapes and juice to other Champagne houses as was convention, 30-year-old Fabian Daviaux convinced the co-op to go organic and make its own wine.

“Chavost isn’t following in the richer, nuttier, opulent way [of most Champagnes]; theirs is more terroir-driven,” Klein explains. “If you think of Champagne, it’s usually the celebration of process, not necessarily the celebration of place. I think Chavost emphasizes the place, and the process is a means of getting there.”

It’s a pairing trifecta: a glass of Chavost, a bite of crudo, a great song over the speakers. “It's about appreciating and really enjoying what people have put their heart and soul into through the decades,” says Klein. “It’s wine made well, it’s records made well. There’s a timeless factor to these things that we want to celebrate.”

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