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Untapping a Wild Wine List at Linger

[caption id="attachment_977" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Sian Nagan has brought some fun to the wine list at the super popular Linger eatery in LoHi."]Linger Denver[/caption]

When Sian Nagan spent a few months in New Zealand in 2010, she toured the country with little more than a $5 tent, a pair of hiking boots and a bus pass. Sure, she had a few contacts at some of the famed wineries down there and probably ate some pretty darn good food, but her travels were more rugged than, say, a Dom brunch.

“Part of it was adventure, climbing volcanoes, swimming with dolphins. I sky dived, too. Bad ass,” she recalls.

Not exactly the stuffy attitude you might expect to hear from a seasoned sommelier working at a Denver restaurant, Linger, that has enough hype to overshadow a Michelin-star standout in New York. To eat at Linger at 7:30 on a Friday, you’ll need to call several weeks in advance. To get a spot at the bar during a weekend happy hour, expect an hour wait.

Since opening in the spring, Linger (a LoHi restaurant from the same folks behind Root Down) has become perhaps the most popular restaurant in Denver. It took over a historic mortuary building, offering an eclectic and affordable small plates inspired menu featuring global street food. Just like its sister restaurant, there’s an emphasis on farm-to-table and being green. Perhaps the highlight, though, is the incredible restaurant design, a stunning interior with sky-high windows and a roof top deck that offer the best views of the Denver skyline. Period.

It’s certainly the trendiest restaurant in the city today, but that doesn’t mean it’s a pretentious space. It fact, Linger, a clever play on the Olinger Mortuary building it took over, is anything but. It mixes city chic and fresh, tasty fare with campy fun such as using embalming jars to hold spices above the kitchen and toe tags as menus. The neon "Olinger Mortuaries" sign lights up to say "Linger" and "Eatuaries."

Nagan fits right in.

She’s a talented wine personality who could find work at just about any high-end wine-centric restaurant (in fact she ran the wine program at Capital Grille prior to touring New Zealand with her budget tent).

She holds sommelier degrees from both the International Sommelier Guild and the Court of Master Sommeliers. Heck, she dreams of becoming one of the 100 someodd American Master Sommeliers one day. “I see myself walking out of the room. I see myself falling to my knees, ‘oh my god, I passed,’” she says of the Court of Master Sommeliers test that only a single-digit fraction pass.

But instead of being stuffy about the world’s most intimidating beverage, she embraces the wine list (including [d] Red off the tap) and has turned it into something that is as fun as the décor and diverse as the food that spans every continent.

“Ultimately (our list is a) not big, overly oaked, overly fruity red wine-driven program,” she says. “Those big wines overpower most of our food items.” Instead its fresh, reasonable and versatile.

Her selections span the globe, featuring obscure grapes such as Rivaner, Nero d’ Avola and Gamay, alongside more common styles. In keeping with the green attitude, a majority come from organic producers, plus she gets to fill three dedicated tap lines to keep flowing with keg wine year round.

Bonacquisti has been a mainstay since the summer, starting with Bella Risa before that handle switched to [d] Red in the fall. “It was really exciting to have it on here,” Nagan says. “It fits the concept.”

The concept, of course, being good, fun, green and simple.

Order [d] Red and one of these three dishes:

Nagan offers three pairing ideas for [d] Red, a Syrah/Merlot blend ($6 glass/$20 bottle). “The Syrah is a little spicy, so it picks up the aromatics and the heat from some of our dishes.”

Masaala Dosa ($9): Crispy Rice & Lentil Crepe, Masala Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts, Black Mustard Seeds, Tamarind-Date Chutney and Coconut Chutney.

Bhel Puri ($7): Puffed Rice, Crunchy Lentil Noodles, Chickpeas, Red Onion, Cashews, Tomatoes, Cilantro, Melon Raita and Tamarind-Date Chutney.

Waggu Burger Sliders ($13): Breenton’s Bacon, Beehive Promontory Cheddar, Curried Sour Cream, Sweet Potato Waffle Fries and Chipotle Ketchup.

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