The friendly, global curator

Modena Wine Cafe in Longmont brings in the best from elsewhere

Susan France

I wonder what Teddy Roosevelt would think of a swanky wine bar. You are confronted with that question at Modena Wine Cafe in Longmont. It’s located next to Roosevelt Park, but more pertinently, its large windows open up to a Rough Rider-era Roosevelt, cowboy hat and spectacle on, no doubt ready to storm the hill with nothing but testosterone and an under-manned army behind him. Peering into the other corner of Modena is Roosevelt, the politician, yelling reedy from a train car railing, summoning those who had forgotten his prowess as a leader of state with gritty determination and soul-weakening personality.

What would Roosevelt — a man who overcame asthma and chronic stomach troubles (and quacky 19th century medicine) on his own, who wrestled wild game in the Dakotas and who chartered a trip in the Amazon and nearly died — think of a refined, elegant 21st century wine bar?

He’d love it.

Above all, Roosevelt was a man with an insatiable appetite for knowledge and for whom global travel was a lifelong occupation. He, and us, can get that at Modena; a globe-spanning wine list, interesting tapas fare and a resilient and knowledgeable wait staff provides it.

Now Roosevelt I am not. My questions are born out of stupidity not insatiable curiosity. But our friendly server at Modena had the patience and deep knowledge of wine necessary to answer the questions we brought.

First a few softballs: a buttery white and an easydrinking Bordeaux. The buttery white was a sauvignon blanc from Lake County, Calif. It was wellrounded with subtle sweetness and roasted butter. The 2010 Bordeaux was indeed approachable, with dirty freshness.

The next request was a little tougher: an earthy, weird red with pleasant funk. The answer was another wine from Lake County, this time a cabernet sauvignon. It had medium brightness and was tonguestarching. The funk was unmistakable, taking on the characteristics of a muddy bog sometime in the mid to late morning, maybe around 11.

Before the next wine challenge, I asked the server to bring about five tapas dishes to the table. One was a plate of three chorizo tacos. The spicy chorizo was cut into chunks and paired with cilantro, guacamole and a Fresno chile sauce. They were surprisingly light and the spice interacted well with the last few sips of the funky dry red on the table.

There was also a greek plate on the table with tabouleh, hummus and naan slices. The tabouleh was crazy — the base grain was an earthy quinoa that tasted like the barely burnt edges of a fresh brownie. The hummus was immediately fruity on the tip of the palate, before giving way to smoky pepper, honey and creamy chickpea. Overall, a fantastic starter.

Elswehere, there were small meatballs with two dipping sauces — one spicy and one acidic. There was also a flatbread with cut shrimp, spinach and feta cheese. It was a remarkable little bite — fresh and perfectly textured, and aesthetically interesting.

The best thing on the table, for me, was the deviled eggs. And that sounds nuts, because you don’t see deviled eggs on menus, and you don’t immediately think they can be elevated. These were, with a Fresno chili aioli, Hawaiian sea salt and fresh-as-the-day-it-wascrushed paprika. If you have a hankering for deviled eggs, go to this wine bar.

The final question posed was to pair cheeses with wines. What came back was three cheeses, from mild to weird: buffalo mozzarella, a sharp, havarti-like cheese and Humboldt Fog, a popular hybrid goat’s milk cheese — paired with two floral whites, one from Germany and the other from California. It was an educational finale, seeing how flavors change on the tongue and seeing how easily modern society has made bringing aworld of food to any table anywhere in the world. That globalization of experience is something Teddy could get behind, I think, and it’s where (besides this corner in Longmont) he and Modena overlap.