Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk |

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

Of all the places to eat in the Roaring Fork Valley, I get most excited when I go to Carbondale’s Six89.

It always seems to be a special event, something to look forward to even though it is as comfortable as my own dining room. It may be because chef and owner Mark Fischer is not afraid to use big, bold flavors in his repertoire, which crosses and combines food cultures from around the world with the very best in local and fresh ingredients.

But as I sat back at a dinner recently ” during a successful fundraiser for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s local office ” it occurred to me that as much as I love the menu at Six89, I may love the wine list even more.

The list, like the restaurant, is laden with quality but totally lacking in pretense. Offering both great and interesting wines that are as affordable as they are approachable, it perfectly represents both the palate and sensibilities of its creator, Bill Bentley, who does double duty as the manager of the front of the house and as the sommelier. Or, as he likes to describe himself, as “the wine guy.”

Bill has been with Six89 since it opened in the fall of 1998. He came to the job with a passion for wine that was honed during a stint as a server at the Flagstaff House outside of Boulder (that restaurant boasts more than 20,000 bottles and a Wine Spectator Grand Award), but little formal training. As fate would have it, chef Fischer is a nondrinker, so there was a void begging to be filled.

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And that is just what Bill did.

“We had about 20 different bottles on the list when we began,” said Bill. It was not long before both the chef and wine guy realized that the entire Six89 experience could be enhanced by the food and wine pairings that the two created. Today that list has grown to include around 200 different wines and Bill tastes upward of 50 different wines a week to tweak it and keep it current.

Bill says that he is a “random buyer,” which is to say he selects wines that strike his fancy and appeal to his senses rather than making decisions based on what should, or should not be, on a “serious” list. This fits perfectly in a restaurant that promotes “random acts of cooking” as a definable and admirable trait.

The list features wines from the majority of the world’s most significant wine growing regions. “If I put something on the list I want it to not just be from a region, I want it to be a great representative of that region,” he says.

To that end, Six 89 has wines available from the Alsace region in France produced by legendary Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, from Mendoza in Argentina made by the pioneering Catena family, and, from Northern California, wines created by Sean Thackrey, one of the great innovative winemakers in the world.

“We probably focus a bit more on New World wines,” Bill said reflectively. “Mark [Fischer] is pretty aggressive with flavors so we look for wines that have vibrant acidity. We don’t think that wines that are overly delicate work so well with our food.” That means that you’ll find a number of selections on the list from Australia, Washington State and Oregon to complement the Old World offerings.

Bill is also a promoter of Colorado winemakers and has hosted a number of wine dinners featuring local labels. On Feb. 11, Six89 will host a dinner featuring the McElmo Canyon wines from Sutcliffe Vineyards, a winery based in the southwest corner of Colorado that has been receiving lots of good press lately.

Bill has been tasting the Sutcliffe Vineyard wines and making lists of various flavor profiles. He then passes them on to the teetotaler chef, Mark, so that he can develop a menu that will pair with the wines. It is a little different process perhaps, but one that has worked time and again.

Maybe that is the key to the joys of Six89 for me. They do things a bit differently from other places, but always instill passion and professionalism in every random act they undertake.

Six89 is located at 689 Main St. in Carbondale. Reservations for the Sutcliffe Vineyards wine dinner ($68.90 per person) can be made by calling (970) 963-6890.

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