Mario Nocifera, of Denver’s Lower48, on Eastern European wines - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Mario Nocifera, of Denver’s Lower48, on Eastern European wines

Twenty years ago, Mario Nocifera moved to Aspen to escape the Phoenix heat. He was going to take a job at a golf course, but his housemate convinced him to take a job at The Little Nell instead. His housemate was Bobby Stuckey, who was making a name for himself as a precociously talented sommelier. Nocifera never looked back, working at restaurants from Spago Beverly Hills to Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder. He eventually specialized in opening restaurants—eight between 2006 and 2013. Last year, he decided to settle down and opened Lower48 Kitchen in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood, working with chef Alex Figura, another Frasca alum who put in some formative time at Blue Hill at Stone Barns as well.

Surprise success?
Rojac Malvasia from Slovenia. I’m really surprised how fast we are moving through it. It comes in through Indie Wineries. People are going bonkers over it. But when it’s just $11, $12, to get into something like that, people are blown away.

It also works really well with our food. Although we don’t talk about it, our menu is 65 percent vegetarian on any one day. But you’d have no idea of that because of how rich and savory the dishes are, and how much they carry that umami vibe. The chef uses a lot of egg in his cooking, in ways that add so much depth and flavor to dishes. So we look for richer-style wines with higher levels of acid, like ribolla gialla [Matthiasson] or this malvasia. 

Tokaj in the Top Ten
It’s in the lower spectrum of by the glass, $8, higher acidity and kernel of sweetness; if people are asking for a sauvignon blanc, this is not really in the same category, but sometimes people are looking for the structure more than the flavors in sauvignon blanc, and then we can talk to them about the Tokaj. Sauvignon blanc, at end of the day, has high acid, and that’s what we reference.

For more people drinking richer style whites. We sell more red wine than white wine, and I think [some of those red wine drinkers] would have a better experience lot of times with a richer white.

is W&S’s editor at large and covers the wines of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe for the magazine.