With eyes now opened, I am delighted by where I find myself: A sunlit room nuzzled in the bosom of an expanse of snowcapped peaks, where a fire crackles and no one seems to be in a hurry. And there is more cheese, and cured meats, and wine to taste. There is, of course, more skiing to be done as well. But like the rest of my fellow diners atop the Telluride Ski Resort, sharing cozy indoor benches or lounging at sun soaked deck tables, I am in no rush to leave this mountain hamlet nestled into the flanks of Gold Hill.
Alpino Vino, the Telluride Ski Area’s newest restaurant, is a stone- and wood-embellished illustration of the new face of dining on the mountain. It is intimate and quaint, oozing with character like a fine wine emanates its bouquet. Located in what locals still call “Trommer’s Cabin” (built years ago by local craftsman Eric Trommer, but sitting empty for at least the last seven,) Alpino Vino embodies the resort’s fresh take on the Telluride ski experience.
“Alpino Vino has added that intimate, exclusive, high-end experience to Telluride’s on-mountain dining,” says Telluride Ski Resort Director of Food and Beverage George Bigley, explaining that the vision for the small, high altitude wine bar was to give it a European-inspired flair. “It’s as if you’ve stumbled upon a chalet in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. We were going for that kind of niche; that lifestyle, in which you enjoy things like wine and cheese, and move away from our fast-food culture.”
To be sure, Alpino Vino is no place to go for a quick hamburger and fries. And as soon as you’ve snuggled into a seat there, you’ll understand why. The eclectic, homey atmosphere, garnished with church pew seating and reclaimed wine barrel tables amid the glow of a stone-framed fireplace, coerces an air of leisure.
The menu’s offerings, which includes an antipasto plate trimmed with fine cured meats, an array of imported cheeses, assorted olives, soups served in miniature copper pots, and grilled Italian paninis, are meant to be enjoyed at an unhurried pace.
Alpino Vino’s wine selection furthers the mood, boasting a surprisingly extensive array of wines by the glass and bottle, as well as a number of wine flights that give tasters the opportunity to explore three different wines at once.
The simple yet elegant fare and eclectic wine selection, enjoyed under the spell of a high alpine cabin, is all part of the Alpino Vino experience, say managers Mike Weist and Sue Berger. The couple (he is the head chef, and she is the certified sommelier,) bring European inspiration to Alpino Vino’s tables. After working at the Telluride Ski Resort’s Allred’s Restaurant for three years, Weist and Berger took their talents to France. The two have operated a small chateau in Burgundy on and off for the last five years, during which time they honed what they call their “Old World palates.”
“When you do sit down to enjoy a meal, we believe you should take the time to make it an event,” says Berger, explaining that many who have visited Alpino Vino since its December opening have expressed surprise at how the ambiance has the ability to transport them to another place – say, France’s Mont Blanc or the Italian Dolomites. From the family-style seating, to the Italian music, to the elegant presentation of a simple plate of imported cured meats and artisanal cheeses alongside a glass of fine wine and a locally made baguette, Berger admits many of this winter’s diners have been wooed into an Alpino Vino state of sated shock. “A unique experience does have that ability to take you to another place…[Coming to Alpino Vino] should be a memorable experience.”
“I think we have surprised a lot of people,” agrees Bigley. “They just didn’t expect the level of what we’re doing – the location, the intimacy of it.” Bigley admits that while space (Alpino Vino is legitimately tiny) is a limiting factor during busy times, the size of the chateau hasn’t limited the restaurant from creating a very high end product. Because of the cabin’s small size, chef Weist doesn’t have a full kitchen; but as Bigley explains, most diners wouldn’t notice the lack of stove or oven. “We looked at what we could do in this space and what we could do well,” Bigley says of Trommer’s Cabin’s transformation from virtually abandoned luxury two-bedroom cabin to the ski resort’s highest restaurant. “I think we hit it,” he says, explaining that while the menu’s offerings may be simple, they are far from austere. Alpino Vino has up to 20 different cheeses from all over the world on any given day. They bring fresh Cindy Bread up via snowcat or snowmobile every morning. There are Italian cured meats and imported olives and specialty extras like giant capers, truffle honey and fig salsa. And they’re not inexpensive; a decadent lunch at Alpino Vino will run you about as much as a nice dinner in Telluride. But the level of service is comparable, while the setting is tough to beat.
Alpino Vino’s wines are similarly decadent. As sommelier Berger describes, nearly all of the menu’s wines originate from small, family-owned vineyards whose wines’ identities have not been diluted by the rigors of mass production. “I want to help people to think outside the box,” Berger says of wine tasting at Alpino Vino, adding that the menu’s wine flights offer just that opportunity. “You have the ability to sample new wines, and may discover something you love.”
I finish my Spanish red, part of the Worldly Reds flight, and decide I can’t leave until I’ve tasted Berger’s recommended dessert wine, made from grapes kissed with Botryis cinerea or “Noble rot.” I then feel compelled to linger a bit longer in front of the fire with a cappuccino. Weist offers me chocolates, and I can’t refuse.
Speaking of the ambiance she and Weist had hoped to create at Alpino Vino, Berger says, “We want people to feel like they’re having a glass of wine in our home.” I could be the houseguest who never leaves, I think, concluding that the sunny outside deck is just begging for another visitor on a leisurely stroll around Alpino Vino’s menu.
Alpino Vino, located on Upper See Forever below Lift 14, is open every day until 3 p.m. Bigley recommends coming before 1 p.m., since seating is limited.