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Inside the Wine Cellar at Boulder’s Frasca Food & Wine

In this round of "Anatomy of a Wine Cellar," we go behind the scenes at Frasca Food & Wine, where Bobby Stuckey, Carlin Karr and Matthew Mather oversee one of the country's most iconic wine programs.

It has been 14 years since chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey teamed up to open Boulder’s iconic Frasca Food & Wine. In that time, with its unwavering focus on the culinary traditions of Italy’s Friuli region, Frasca secured its reputation as one of the nation’s most influential Italian restaurants—celebrated not only for its innovative wine list but for Stuckey’s approach to service.

“When I was studying for the [Master Sommelier] exam, poring over the food and wines of all the different regions, I fell in love with the wines of Friuli,” says Stuckey. “As an extension of that, I also fell in love with the idea of the frasca—the neighborhood restaurant of Friuli.” Having partnered with Mackinnon-Patterson (with whom he’d worked at The French Laundry), Stuckey looked to this local, informal institution—essentially, a small, family farm serving humble, regional dishes alongside the area’s wines—for inspiration.

Considering the number of wines available in the market at the time, an exclusively Fruilian wine list would have been impossible, even if Stuckey had wanted to create one. His approach, instead, was to combine a tireless commitment to Friuli with a focus on essential touchstones from the canon of classics, starting with Italy and extending outward to France, lower Austria and beyond. In his words, “We wake up in the morning and we think of Friuli first, northern Italy second and then the rest of the world.”

Over the years, this recipe has earned Frasca a number of awards, including a 2013 James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program. One of the restaurant’s most enduring legacies, however, is that it has served as an incubator in the careers of many of the trade’s top sommeliers, including Dustin Wilson (formerly of Eleven Madison Park), Erica O’Neal (of Italienne) and Nate Ready (of Hiyu Farms), among others.

Ever the consummate service industry professional, Stuckey ascribes this track record to simple old-fashioned hospitality. “We’re just a very old-school place, the type of restaurant that cares the utmost about wine hospitality,” he explains. “Young wine people want to be around people who are doing the same thing they’re doing, and have been doing it for a long time.”

That’s why, unlike others who share his distinguished pedigree, Stuckey can still be found on the floor six nights per week—at least, whenever he’s in town—either at Frasca or at Tavernetta, its more moderately-priced sister restaurant. “You have to be there in the trenches with your people, and not just flying in from 6:30 to 8:30,” he says. “I want to be what we call ‘bell to bell’ with my team.”

If you ask current beverage director, Carlin Karr, who oversees the wine program alongside veteran sommelier, Matthew Mather, it’s this hands-on approach to service that accounts for Frasca’s ability to attract young talent. “To work with individuals like Bobby and Matthew, who have been at the wine game for so long, with such an amazing depth of experience, is an incredible thing,” says Karr. “It’s this crazy insight that you can’t get elsewhere.”

Since her arrival in 2012, the Colorado wine scene has rapidly expanded, but the fundamentals of the list have remained faithful to Stuckey’s original vision. Despite an encyclopedic selection of icons from the established roster of regions (think Piemonte, Tuscany, Burgundy and Champagne, plus Austria, Friuli’s neighbor to the east), Karr estimates that Friuli still constitutes one-fifth of the selections. “We always have a Friulano tasting menu with regional wine pairings, and our by-the-glass list always has a number of Friulian wines,” she says. “We feel a massive obligation to turn people onto Friuli.”

It’s a bit ironic of for Friuli to be the focus of such a classically-minded program, given its modern image as ground-zero for the highly fetishized “orange wine” renaissance. But even as it continues to gain attention, riding the wave of hype surrounding its macerated whites, Friuli’s historical identity encompasses much more—and, according to Karr, the list at Frasca delivers a powerful testament to that fact.

“Everyone thinks of Friui as being just orange wine, but in reality it’s just ten or 15 producers who are responsible for creating that reputation,” she says. “People forget that Friuli is actually the birthplace of great modern white winemaking in Italy… and we feel that it still delivers more than any other region.”

The point is to showcase all that Friuli—with its array of traditional and international grapes, from friulano, ribolla gialla and malvasia to sauvignon blanc and merlot—can be. “There’s truly no more diverse region in the world,” offers Stuckey, citing the region’s range of crisp, mineral-driven wines fermented in stainless-steel; its barrel-aged expressions modeled after Burgundy; its elegantly structured reds; and yes, of course, the skin-contact wines that have lately attracted so much attention.

“We weren’t trying to be fashionable or ahead of the curve,” says Stuckey. “We just fell in love with the region and its wines. Fourteen years later, here we are.”

Frasca Food & Wine in Five Bottles

Venica & Venica Collio Sauvignon Blanc “Ronco delle Mele”

This single-vineyard sauvignon blanc from Venica & Venica—one of Friuli’s most beloved family-run estates—represents “a textbook example of how great sauvignon blanc from Friuli can be without being too heavy,” says Karr. Approachable yet complex and chiseled, it functions, in her mind, as a “gateway drug for Friulian whites, occupying the perfect intersection of drinkable and thinkable.”

  • Price: $103
  • Vintage: 2016

Ronco Del Gnemiz Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano Bianco “San Zuan”

Located in the heart of Friuli’s rolling Colli Orientali region, on the hill of Rosazzo, Christian Patat and Serena Palazzolo of the organic Ronco del Gnemiz estate are producing some of the region’s most exciting and age-worthy wines, as evidenced by this “chiseled and laser-focused” barrel-fermented expression of the friulano grape. “They’re almost Roulot-like in style,” Karr says, referring to the legendary Meursault-based winemaker. This is “sunny, but mineral and delicious, with great breadth on the palate.”

  • Price: $88
  • Vintage: 2016

Petrussa Colli Orientali del Friuli Schioppettino di Prepotto

In “the teeny-tiny hamlet of Prepotto” in eastern Friuli, the indigenous schioppettino grape assumes what Karr describes as a more “aromatic and lifted expression” than in other parts of the region. This example from the Petrussa winery exemplifies the “thrilling high-toned, syrah-like green peppercorn character” that so excited her about the area. It’s also a difficult wine to find outside of Frasca: “We probably buy 90 percent of the allocation that comes into the U.S.,” she says.

  • Price: $150 (1.5mL)
  • Vintage: 2014

Vietti Barolo “Rocche”

Given its wider celebration of northern Italy, the renowned wines of Piemonte have always featured prominently on Frasca’s list, and the Vietti estate’s Barolo from the Rocche vineyard represents a longtime staple. “The wine is great—so consistent, site-expressive and delicious—but the reason it represents Frasca is that we’re so focused on the people behind the wines,” Karr explains. “We have such strong relationships with many winemakers, but no one sums that up better than [Vietti winemaker] Luca Currado, with whom we’ve done so many amazing wine dinners.”

  • Price: $316
  • Vintage: 2011

Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

“I can’t stop loving sangiovese right now,” Karr says, explaining how the variety—which she believes is often more crowd-pleasing than, say, nebbiolo—is playing an increasingly large role on the list of late. Biodynamically farmed since 2002 and committed to natural yeast fermentations, Stella di Campalto’s estate represents a new paradigm for Brunello. “She’s an amazing example of a wonderful farmer and a soulful winemaker in Montalcino,” says Karr. “The wines are ethereal and juicy, and just as exciting as Brunello can get.”

  • Price: $245
  • Vintage: 2010

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