Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. HayesAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado

Those who fly a lot know that the friendly skies have become an uncivilized place. Gone are the white-glove meals served by welcoming flight attendants. Now we get rubber-gloved pat-downs served up by unsmiling TSA agents. The joy of travel, it seems, is a distant memory.Ah, but for those who connect through the Denver International Airport on our flights from Aspen to the rest of the world, salvation has arrived in the form of a sleek, newly opened and oh-so-sophisticated modern wine bar called, appropriately Lounge 5280. Located on the mezzanine level of United’s Concourse B, Lounge 5280 offers the beleaguered traveler sustenance and solace, serving up world-class cocktails, hand-selected wines and freshly-made nibbles including cheeses from around the globe, fresh-cut salumi plates and sumptuous pats. Even though DIA lies on the high plains east of the Rockies, step into Lounge 5280 and you’ll know, instantly, that you are not in Kansas anymore. Wine bars in airports are a growing trend. From JFK in New York to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino to Sea-Tac in Seattle, airport operators have reacted to a growing demand from upscale travelers who want a degree of civility added to the airport “hurry up and wait” (sometimes for hours) experience. Vino Volo, a San Francisco-based wine retailer, has been at the forefront of this movement, opening seven wine bars tied to their wine clubs in international airport terminals across the country. The concept of Lounge 5280’s one-and-only Denver location is simple. Their goal is to provide travelers a refuge where they can wait out the inevitable delays in style with a glass of wine, a cocktail or a light meal. “We wanted to create something a little nicer,” Niels van Leeuwen, vice president of operations for Skyport Companies, the project’s developers, told me as I sipped a glass of 2008 Marc Bredif Chinon one recent Saturday between my flights from Aspen to Green Bay via Chicago. “We want to have some good food made from scratch, wines that are representative of the regions they come from and cocktails that are made with the freshest and best ingredients.”Though it has been open for less than a month (Oct. 18 was the first pour), Lounge 5280 seems well on its way to achieving its objective. The feel of is open and welcoming, thanks to the Aspen-Denver design team Rowland & Broughton, who spent the last two years working on the project. The colors are red and white, like wines, and the lines are clean and simple. There are four large HD television screens for sports fans, but the immense ceiling of the terminal makes them unobtrusive for those who wish to ignore, say, the LSU-Alabama game.Wines are sold “by flight,” by the glass, or the bottle. Fine stemware is available and the selections are affordable, global and first-rate. Wine flights offer travelers the opportunity to select three two-ounce pours from either a First Class ($13), Business, or Economy cart, each offering value, though you get a little more leg room with the Business flight. (Rim shot here.)A light and refreshing Lunetta Prosecco Brut ($9) shares a place on the whites by-the-glass list with a Spanish Albarino from Vionta ($10) and Erath Pinot Blanc ($9) from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Reds range from an $8 glass of the 2007 Rosenblum Zinfandel to an earthy and electric Cruz Malbec 2006 from Mendoza for $14. The cocktail list and bar are especially impressive, but be forewarned – they can be dangerous. There are quality spirits from around the world, but there is a special emphasis on Colorado home-grown products and a page of the cocktail list is devoted to Colorado-inspired Cocktails. Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, Leopold Bros. gin and vodkas from Denver and a personal favorite, Montanya Rum, which is made in Silverton using Hawaiian sugar and Rocky Mountain water, are used in drinks that feature house-made infusions. I opted for a Bold’er Bloody Mary, which combined bacon-infused Svedka Vodka from Sweden with freshly made Bloody Mary mix served in a glass rimmed with Alderwood-smoked salt from Seattle. It was as good a morning repast as any in recent memory.For the weary traveler who has had enough of crackers and Coca Cola in the overly crowded and increasingly expensive airline “clubs,” Lounge 5280 provides an opulent option.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@wineink.com.