Total Beverage Thornton

Total Beverage Thornton's wine manager Kurt Mayo is a wine educator, both on the floor and at Metro State.

“I brush my teeth with wine,” Kurt Mayo says, matter-of-factly.

It’s not exactly what you think. He’s tasting wine just a few minutes after spitting out an Altoid, meaning swishing some vino through his mouth is a requisite to rid the minty taste before offering his notes on the Mesa Park Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Franc ($17 at Total Beverage; notes below). Still, a comment such as that gives you glimpse into the diehard wine geek that he truly is.

Mayo is the wine manager for Total Beverage, the massive liquor utopia along Interstate 25 in Thornton that carries more than 5,000 bottles at any given time. He can talk most wine nerds under the table when it comes to most any subject in the industry.

“There’s so much useless junk in my head that you’ll never get to spit out of me,” Mayo says. “Most people don’t care what’s below the six or 12 feet of terra rosa soils in the Barossa Valley in Australia.”

He does, but he’s no wine snob opting to embrace everything from Sutter Home white Zinfindal to a fine Grand Cru Burgundy. If a wine is made well, there’s a purpose for it. It’s as simple as that, especially if you can match the right food to it.

“All wine needs food, and all food needs wine,” he says, describing his mantra.

He quickly points to Retsina as an example. It’s a Greek wine that was historically capped with pine, a tradition that has carried on into modern times producing a wine that, to many, tastes like Pine Sol. That is, he says, unless you’re on the beach in Santorini, with a plate of fried kasseri cheese and a few fresh lemon wedges. “Then, it’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever had in your life.”

Dropping knowledge like that is fun for him. Simply, he loves to educate (he happens to teach wine curriculum as part of Metro State’s Hospitality, Tourism and Events program.)

To think, for the better part of the last decade — he just took his job at Total Beverage in April — Mayo was working collections for a large Denver law firm. “Things happened with the firm; they restructured, reorganized,” he says. “Let’s just say I didn’t like it anymore. It was one of those things you get to the point in life, as long as you have enough money, it’s about what you want to do.”

So he found himself looking for meaningful employment in early 2011, and if his five years at Metro (and his adult life learning everything he could about wine) taught him anything, it was he dug the wine business.

A frequent customer of Total Beverage — it’s where he buys his wine for class — he heard about the job opening to lead the wine department and a few employees. It was a no-brainer to seek it out, and it turns out the liquor giant was all too pleased to welcome him aboard.

The change of pace has left him as content as a cork dork could be, even if Mayo is working harder than he has in two decades. “I hit the floor running,” he says. “It’s been very fast paced. In 20 years, it’s the longest and the hardest hours I’ve worked.

“I don’t mind it because I like it.”

It comes back to education.

“It’s nice when I really bring it down to them and explain it to them this is what’s up and this is why,” he says, referring to both his Metro students and Total Beverage customers. “They get excited when they learn something new.”

Kurt’s Mesa Park Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Franc tasting notes:
“It’s one of the few Cabernet Francs I actually like. This wine is very well balanced. It’s fruity yet it’s got great structure. You pick wood up but the fruit comes first. The biggie to me is this bottle is 16 percent alcohol and as far as the detectability, it only detects a little hot. There’s no way in the world it feels 16 to me. Whenever I find something that fakes me out on the alcohol, it tells me how well balanced it is.

“It’s my No. 1 recommendation for a Cab Franc in the store because I like the idea that it’s a very easy drinking, fruit driven wine, it’s got great structure, and it’s an opportunity to push a Colorado wine and say, ‘guess what, we make good wines in Colorado.”

What Kurt’s eating with it:
“I would do some kind of barbecue short ribs in a slow cook with onions and garlic. Slow cook it so lot of the fat is cooked out of it so its nice and tender and kinda falling apart.”

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